You are forgiven for being worried about this record; after all, this is acoustic folk music, it’s all in Spanish, and Joan Baez did the line-drawing illustrations. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of, for most of us, and that’s okay.
But Mercedes Sosa is a legend, not just in her native Argentina, but all over South America. She was one of the founders of the nueva canción (“new song”) movement in the 1950s, a movement that cried out for justice and was responsible for at least one revolution. She gets mad cred points for having been jailed and exiled by the Argentinean junta, just for singing. (She’s not even a songwriter, which tells you a little bit about the power of her voice.) So, yeah, Mercedes Sosa has been a force for peace and justice and liberty for more years than most of us have been alive. So lose the reservations about her, because she’s more of a rebel than Bob Dylan ever pretended to be.
This album contains 16 songs. It’s not fancy; just her big lovely contralto voice, accompanied by a small group or just a guitar, and the occasional duet with one of her guest male singers. And the songs are not big huge shiny scary strident anthems, either - some of them are love songs, and even tunes like “La Canción Es Urgente” (“The Song is Urgent”) sound poem-like and introspective. Songs about forgotten children and beseiged gauchos—who of course represent the wild spirit of the people of Argentina—sound personal, direct, crooned directly to us instead of bellowed into the wind. So don’t come expecting turgid U2-isms or español versions of “A Mighty Wind”. Hers is a more subtle art than that.
But this is all the better to eat us with. These beautiful songs, whether they are classics like “Tonada del Otoño” or new tunes like “Lapachos en Primavera”, stick in the memory after a listen or two. The title tune, written by Rafael Amor, accomplishes an entire spectrum of tonal color with just a couple of instruments and that big ol’ voice asking her free heart to never give up it’s powerful stuff.
Many different song styles that most of us have never heard of are represented here: the zamba, the chacarera, the milonga, the chamamé, and more. (It’s all extremely well-explained in the booklet; one should get college credit for just listening and reading.) But they’re all tied together by the unbridled loveliness of the melodies, and by Mercedes Sosa herself. Her voice is one of the world’s great instruments, not least because of the passion and history behind it. She is 70 years old, and she just released one of her greatest albums. Can we give this woman some love, please?