I did my final Argentine barbecue on Saturday for my girls' birthday party. A Columbian friend brought over a cd of greatest hits by Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, nicknamed La Negra. After everyone had gone, I played the cd and found myself moved to tears by one sing in particular, Solo le pido de Dios, I only ask of God.---
Known as the voice of the voiceless, Sosa's magnificent singing conjures up the poverty of Latin America. Rich, right wing acquaintances of mine in Argentina despised her for being, as they described her, a BMW-driving communist. I always felt they resented how she used her voice to sketch out the struggles of the slum dwellers and those in the countryside who lived on next to nothing. There's a strength and purity to her voice that seems almost godlike. In a country as staunchly Catholic as Argentina, lending your talents to those who live on the margins perhaps inevitably led to the powerful and the wealthy taking offense. Like so many on the left, she went into exile during the military regime, only to return just before la guerra de las Malvinas, the Falklands war.
Listening to Solo le pido de Dios, I recalled traveling on el tren de los nubes, the train of the clouds. It wends its way up so high in the province of Salta that they carry oxygen tanks for those who pass out. It stopped on a plateau near a small town. Children begged in the cold, selling single cigarettes and candies. You looked in their faces and you saw the same expression you'd see in a child's face in Machu Pichu or the slums of Santiago, Chile. A look of absolute hunger.
Sosa died yesterday, aged 74.