Who is Mercedes Sosa?

Devon Pryor

Argentine-born folk singer Mercedes Sosa is considered by many to be Argentina’s most widely known and successful music artist. She is recognized across the world and has performed in roughly thirty countries. Between the years of 1959 and 2005, Mercedes Sosa released over 40 albums. She is reputed for her beautiful contralto voice, and her moving lyrics, which often revolve around social issues. Mercedes Sosa is, perhaps, as much an activist as she is a musical artist.

A popular Latin American performer, Mercedes Sosa was born in Tucuman, a province in Argentina.
A popular Latin American performer, Mercedes Sosa was born in Tucuman, a province in Argentina.

Haydée Mercedes Sosa was born in the Argentine province of Tucumán on 9 July 1935. With her humble beginnings and mestizo descent, Mercedes Sosa was steeped in folk culture from the get go. She grew up with an appreciation and passion for folk music and danzas folclóricas, or folk dances. When Mercedes Sosa was 15, she competed in and won a singing contest in her home province of Tucumán. For her victory, Mercedes Sosa was awarded a two-month performance contract with a local radio station, and her spectacular career was set in motion.

By her mid 20’s Mercedes Sosa had achieved recognition as part of a group of distinguished folcloristas, or folk music performers, and was part of a movement called El Nuevo Cancionero. This movement, which began in the 1960’s in the province of Mendoza, called for a return from the popular and fleeting trends in music, and a focus on the roots of folk music and the quotidian Argentine life. Her songs gave voice to the daily emotions and experiences of the Argentine people.

In 1965, Mercedes Sosa performed in the National Folklore Festival in Cosquín, Argentina, an event that solidified her well-deserved fame. It was here, perhaps, where Mercedes Sosa began to create her status as the “voice of the voiceless ones.” Sosa would continue to develop this identity later on, during the period of political upheaval in Argentina that would send her into exile, and result in the disappearance of thousands of young people.

During the 1970’s, the political climate in Argentina grew tumultuous and oppressive, yet Mercedes Sosa continued to produce and record folk music, her albums full of social and political content. However, in 1979, Sosa’s political voice finally led to retribution, and she was arrested during a concert performance, along with attending fans. Following her arrest, Mercedes Sosa was banned from singing in Argentina.

Unable to perform the profoundly meaningful and content-rich songs that defined her, she fled her home country. Sosa continued her career in voluntary exile in the countries of France and Spain, until her return to Argentina in the 1980’s. Once returned, Mercedes Sosa began again to sing folk music. She continued to offer a voice to the voiceless, to put words to the condition of the Argentine people whom she had come to embody.

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