R.I.P. Mercedes

October 7, 2009

An icon of Latin American folk music – the great Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa – died Sunday. Thousands of people attended her funeral and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, declared three days of national mourning. In Canada, it would be like Leonard Cohen leaving us – that’s how enormous a loss this is for Argentina. As a leading figure in the Nueva Canción (new song) movement that combined folk and other styles with political protest, she was truly the voice of the people.

In 2002, I interviewed Sosa for the Vancouver Courier. It wasn’t a typical telephone interview. The usual procedure for “phoners” is the writer calls the subject directly (or vice versa) and conducts an interview. But Sosa only spoke Spanish so a translator was needed. Complicating matters was that fact that another journalist wanted to interview Sosa, and we both needed translation. So the promoter of Sosa’s concert at the Orpheum arranged for a group interview, with a translator present. It took place at a beautiful house in Point Grey. I wasn’t told whose house it was, but I spied a piece of mail that had the name of the person who lived there: a well-known CBC broadcaster.

The interview went well. I asked most of the questions, which Sosa answered thoughtfully and the translator translated thoroughly. Here’s an excerpt from my story on Sosa: “We’re huddled around a speaker phone that connects us to Sosa in her Buenos Aires apartment overlooking Avenida 9 de Julio, known as the widest avenue in the world. At one point Sosa answers a question by doing what she does best: sing. We collectively smile as the 66-year-old icon vocalizes with a clear and rich tone that resonates through the speaker.”

Sosa singing her signature song: “Gracias a la Vida”:


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