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WOMAD 2009 Featured Artist: Mercedes Sosa

WOMAD 2009 Featured Artist: Mercedes Sosa (Argentina)

World of Music Art and Dance 2009
13-15 March
Brooklands Park & TSB Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth
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A titan of Latin American music, Mercedes Sosa combines traditional melodies, strident politics, tango and splashes of Anglo-American pop. As a target of the violent 1970s military dictatorship, the emotive singer fled to exile in Paris, then Madrid, before retuning triumphantly to Buenos Aires as the doyenne of Argentine folklore.

It’s been said: "For Latin Americans, especially her fellow Argentines, Mercedes Sosa is like Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt and Paul Robeson rolled into one. With her magnificent voice she sings about the dignity of the poor and about the hope for freedom backed by the willingness to struggle; the songs vow that human dignity will survive and eventually prevail."

Her artistic history, which cannot be separated from her personal history, ran the same course as that of anyone wishing to leave the limits of provincial life and show her art to the world. She began to act in her native Tucumán when she was just a child, winning a contest under a pseudonym.

In the 60s, she was part of the "New Song" movement, along with musicians from the Argentine province of Mendoza such as Armando Tejada Gómez, Óscar Matus – who would become her first husband and the father of her only child, Fabián – and Tito Francia. This was certainly her defining decade: she debuted and triumphed at the growing National Folklore Festival at Cosquín, she recorded with Eduardo Falú and Ernesto Sábato the monumental Romance de la muerte de Juan Lavalle (Ballad of the Death of Juan Lavalle), and to that she added various other albums, among them the emblematic Mujeres argentinas (Argentine Women), based on a repertoire written by Ariel Ramírez and Félix Luna.

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The next decade brought her first foray into film, in the movie El santo de la espada (The Saint of the Sword) by Leopoldo Torre Nilsson. The albums kept coming and she recorded Cantata sudamericana (South American Cantata), another essential work from the duo Ramírez/Luna. But she also began to extend her repertoire to include the work of other great Latin American authors and composers, such as Bola de Nieve, from Cuba, Pablo Neruda and Víctor Jara, both from Chile, and the Argentine musician Atahualpa Yupanqui, to whom she dedicated an entire album.

In 1976, one of the bloodiest military dictatorships in Argentine history had taken control of the government. Mercedes Sosa, who had committed herself to justice as an artist with her songs and with the voices of the poets whose words she sang, was by no means an agreeable figure for the de facto rulers. Towards the end of the 70s, harassed by threats – she was even detained by the police, along with her audience, in the middle of a concert in the city of La Plata – she decided to live in exile in Europe, first in Paris and then in Madrid, where she finally settled. Although no official decree prohibited her from returning to Argentina, she was on the dictatorship's blacklist and hence could not perform there. Her re-encounter with her Argentine audience would have to wait until February of 1982, with the military government somewhat weakened – soon afterwards it would undertake the ill-fated adventure of the Malvinas or Falklands War. The reception she received in Argentina was extraordinary. She performed a dozen concerts at the Teatro Colón – the legendary opera house of Buenos Aires – with a long list of invited guests, and these performances were captured in the double album called Mercedes Sosa en Argentina (Mercedes Sosa in Argentina), another of her essential works.

While residing in Europe, Sosa became an influential artist for musicians and singers from around the world. She performed on the greatest stages of Europe and the Americas, recorded both studio and live albums, and began to broaden her repertoire by moving into new genres.

It would be impossible to list all the countries, cities and towns that Mercedes Sosa has graced with her singing; or to count the number of audiences that have applauded her throughout her intense and fruitful artistic career, or the number of musicians from all over the world who have shared the stage with her, or the festivals in which she has played a central role, or the awards and honors that have been presented to her by great figures of both culture and politics. What is most important, certainly, is the body of work that she has created in the eyes and ears of those who have been lucky enough to see and hear her perform live, and in the albums and concerts still to come.

Mercedes Sosa's voice – because of its power, its expressiveness, its color, its warmth, its flexibility – is one of the greatest that Argentine music has produced.

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