Mercedes Sosa’s Encore

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by Benjamín Haguindey, contributing blogger

The documentary “The Voice of Latin America” (Mercedes Sosa: La voz de America Latina) has been brewing for over three years now, ever since the passing of singer Mercedes Sosa in 2009 at the age of 74. It consists of a joint effort between filmmaker Rodrigo Vila and Sosa’s son, Fabián Matus, in a self-proclaimed attempt to “transmit Mercedes’ legacy to future generations”.

What would that legacy be? She was known for her support of popular struggle during the Argentine dictatorships throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. She didn’t sing so much as lament with a voice angelic, moving masses into mourning the ongoing military dictatorship and the horrors it held. The most famous lyric of her most famous song describes war as “a huge monster of steady footing”. The military junta was none too happy with this soi-dissant political agenda.

“The Voice of Latin America” may have been just a showbiz moniker coined during her European tour, but the lineup of talking heads assembled for this movie would have you believe every Latin American musician this side of history has been influenced by La Negra’s art. The scope ranges from obvious (Argentine folk and rock singer León Gieco) to surprising (Milton Nascimento) to puzzling (David Byrne) to the youthful:  “Calle 13´s” lead singer René Perez shows up near the end, no doubt to pave Sosa’s reach towards those prized future generations. Their accounts of Mercedes are nothing short of laudatory.

To Consensus about these movies usually boils down to telling fans they’ll enjoy themselves, and everybody else that ‘tis but a noble tribute bound to come sooner or later. In reality, Sosa’s songs show up in a cropped, conciliatory fashion – the focus is on her somber life, specifically around the bits that mirror the country’s fate at the hands of military oppression. And so we follow through her pursuit, harassment, incarceration, exile, return and decline in health.

Vila and Matus sat down with members of the press for a brief Q&A May 22nd. “Distributing a documentary at the theaters is very complicated,” said the director. “We hope the film distributors will support us,” he added, commenting on the ‘struggle’ of distribution at a local level while adding he’s “taking a risk with twenty copies showing at seven provinces”. “If the commercial circuit won’t support us, we plan to go to alternative exhibitors”.

This is not just a cursory homage to a deceased artist; it shines lights in ways that are both novel and scholastic. It’ll probably appeal beyond La Negra’s solid fanbase, like the good documentary that it is.

The movie premieres June 6th.

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