Give Peace Songs a Chance

Mercedes Sosa is like a fairy godmother for most popular musicians in Argentina. Powered by her strong voice, her songs make their way around the world, pit-stopping in countries like Chile and Turkey. For recording artists who lend her tunes, international fame and royalties are usually instant rewards. Most songwriters beg her to pick one of theirs. When she does their names become recognized, even if they are already known. Sometimes she need only sing a song similar to a popular melody. Now that Colombian rock star Juanes has won lots of awards for his single "A Dios Le Pido," it should be noted that Sosa popularized "Sólo Le Pido a Dios" -- a similar call for peace -- 21 years ago, during the last military dictatorship in Argentina. The number, originally written in 1978 by folk-rock icon León Gieco, was blacklisted because it was considered revolutionary. When Sosa crooned it for the first time in 1982, after spending three years in exile, the song turned into a call for hope and gained radio airplay.

Overtly political, Sosa has befriended all kinds of pro-human rights musicians. She was not here a few weeks ago to receive her second Latin Grammy Award in the best folk album category, but she'll be in Miami now to croon sides from the acclaimed Acustico. During her 40-year-plus recording history, Sosa has been disciplined and incredibly strong. Her voice is unique and so are her interpretations, but sometimes her body has to remind her to take it easy. She has overcome heart problems and last December caught a bad cold in Mexico, which kept her from performing for the next four months. As soon as she felt stronger, she flew to Turkey to sing there for the first time. Suffocated by Turkey's more than 100-degree temperatures, she was exposing herself to the Argentine winter a few days later. "I'm fine; I thank God for that," she says over the phone. "I got scared in Italy, I couldn't sing in Milano, but I'm fully recovered now."

She first performed in Miami in 1967, appearing most recently in 1995. Some radicals protested outside her show in 1992, disturbed by the idea of Sosa embracing Cuban artists like Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez. She prefers to note that no one demonstrated during her last visit, and that she will always think of artists as such, without paying attention to where they come from. "What's really important is their artistic value," Sosa says, in the same sentence referring to Milanes, Rodriguez, and the late Celia Cruz as "extraordinary."

What really comes as a surprise about Sosa is that someone of such stature, who has sung with a long list of celebrities, can still be a fan. "I met Santana three years ago when I went to the first Latin Grammy Awards in L.A. and every time he was close to me, I grabbed his hand, over and over," she laughs. "I think that if he ever asks me to sing with him, I'd faint right there."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Javier Andrade