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Author Topic: Uruguayan Music  (Read 894 times)

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Uruguayan Music
« on: September 14, 2006, 05:50:03 PM »
Uruguay experienced an incredible brief shining period when it was creating the best music in all of latinamerica by far, and among the best in the world.  At one point someone asked John Lennon what country, other than England, made the best music, and to the interviewer's surprise he said Uruguay. John always was the smart one.
 
It was a strange phenomenon, a little country of only 3 million, producing a dozen or so of the greatest latinamerican musicians of their time.  Their music was part of the continent-wide movement called "canto popular", which was music defined by three qualities:
1. The older folk music of latinamerica, which has had a long rich tradition of popular music with revolutionary flavour.
2. The musical movements and events of the sixties on the world scale.
3. The revolutionary leftist movements that were springing up throughout latinamerica.
 
The music of Zitarrosa, Viglietti, and the Olimareños (and others) were not exactly traditional uruguayan folk, they were all to one extent or another (though Zitarrosa by far the least) tinged with the influence of Dylan and the Beatles.
 
No one could say exactly when this musical movement had it real beginning in Uruguay, though everyone knows precisely when (for all intents and purposes) the movement ended.  1973, when a US-sponsored coup d'etat created a military dictatorship in Uruguay, as it already had or eventually would in almost every country in South America.
 
If its hard to pin down when the movement started in Uruguay,  it's easy to say who got it going in a big way: Alfredo Zitarrosa.
 
You may have guessed by reading this Blog or my other writing that I'm a far cry from what you'd call a communist, but when I listen to Zitarrosa's "milonga cañera", I'm ready to grab a kalishnikov and start the revolution. The power of his message, the way his voice trembles and vibrates with just how deeply he believes what he's singing, in every word, can't help but affect the most apathetic of listeners.
 
Its sad to even try to compare "our" first world hippies to these revolutionaries.  With few exceptions, "our" sad fuckers sold out or gave up the first chance they had.  I love listening to Bob Dylan's early work, but after hearing Zitarrosa even Dylan's most impassioned protest songs ("Masters of War" or "The times they are a chaning") ring hollow in comparison, like the childish whining of a kid who grew up in the suburbs and doesn't really give a shit about the oppressed; he's just singing this shit because he thinks its cool to imitate Woody Guthrie (a guy who WAS the real deal) and because it gets him laid.
 
On the other hand, you listen to Zitarrosa and you know, in his early works, that he has all the passion of someone who really knows oppresion and really wants to change his country forever. And his later songs ache with the passion of a guy who spent three years of virtual house arrest under the dictatorship, and finally had to go into a long eight-year exile.  Again, contrast that to Dylan; whose early songs are at least coherently revolutionary and listenable, while his later works are nothing more than mental diarrea, the drivel of a total sell-out growing old and stupid in a mansion in upstate new york.
 
By the end of it, Zitarrosa had become more than just the voice of his generation, he had become the voice of his country in exile.  You can't listen to his "adagio en mi pais" without feeling all of the tragedy and hope of the Uruguayan people.  And for a brief shining moment Alfredo became the singer and the soundtrack of their country.  In 1984 when he returned from exile, hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Montevideo to welcome him back, a crowd that was nothing like anything even the Beatles would ever have seen at an airport.  His music had become their struggle, and his return their triumph.
 
Zitarrosa died in 1989, still too young, but in one sense his story was done. And now he became immortal in his song.  Last year, the 20th anniversary of his return from exile, the communist-run city hall of Montevideo put on a concert in his honour, featuring old recordings of his voice floating like a ghost over the live performance of the Montevideo symphony orchestra.  And its incredible to think it, but something like fifteen thousand people showed up.  Think about it: fifteen thousand people coming to listen to old recordings of a musician who'd been dead for over a decade.  That's how much they loved him.  I was there, among them, and I saw and felt the vibe of the place. People were straining with their very being to catch a touch of him, a sense that Zitarrosa was still somehow with them. When "Adagio en mi pais" played, many of them openly wept.
 

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