Mercedes Sosa was, along with Victor Jara, Violeta Parra and others a founder of the Nuevo Cancion movement, which was the driving force in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s. It marked a return to folk idioms in Latin American music. It also introduced political and social issues to contemporary song and made music a messenger for the reform and revolutionary political movements then sweeping the continent.
While the Chilean military coup of 1973 cut off the development of Nuevo Cancion (just as the coup plotters literally cut off Jara’s hands in Santiago’s national stadium and then murdered him), the influences of the music are felt to this day not only in Latin America, but throughout the world.
Mercedes Sosa’s incomparable, riveting song from that period, Gracias a la Vida (hear it), is her signature tune. Written by Violeta Parra, it is an anthem of Nuevo Cancion and a defiant, life-affirming response to all the juntas and dictators of this world who attempt to stamp out the life and vitality of the common man.
I had the privilege and pleasure of hearing her perform a few years ago at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The venue was packed to the rafters with an audience that was largely Latin American. The atmosphere was electric. Mercedes Sosa and her music meant something deep and primal in all their lives. When she came on stage, people didn’t merely applaud; rather the audience rumbled like a great earthquake or volcano with affirmation. There she stood far away on stage, a short and rotund figure like the figurines you see in museums dedicated to ancient Mesoamerican art. As she began to sing, you knew that in that squat round body resided an amazing force both musical and human. The voice, that amazingly penetrating voice welled up from it and filled the hall with majesty and life-giving vitality.
The concert was simply amazing. One of those once in a lifetime experiences.
If you speak Spanish, visit this site devoted to Mercedes Sosa and her career.
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Mercedes Blanco says
Como se atrave a cantar ‘gracias a la vida’ en Jerusalen? Despues de todos los muertos que ha causado el gobierno israelita? Ninos! Cientos de muertos!!! Y como es posible que ella cante alli, usando las canciones de nuestros pueblos! (Ella no ha escrito ninguna de las letras que ha utilizado en su vida). Pienso que ha perdido toda su integridad como artista. Mercedes, en ti ya no creo. Te has perdido en el espacio.