THE BLOG
10/05/2009 11:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Argentina's Mercedes Sosa: "She Died in Peace, a Free Woman"

"Music can't solve problems. Human beings have to resolve their own problems. But music can console people who suffer from problems, and perhaps it can inspire people to try to solve their problems." ~~ The late Mercedes Sosa

Argentina's "voice for the voiceless ones" passed away on Sunday, and the country's National Congress declared three days of mourning with flags to be flown at half mast on public buildings. This is the power of music. This is the power of true "folk singing." Mercedes Sosa was the most loved Latin-American singer of her generation; "La Negra" championed the rights of the poor, the forgotten and the dispossessed. To view her performances is to be transformed and transported and to realize the authority of truth. Sosa fought oppression, brutality, lies, and tyranny with a voice that was strong and a personality that was without artifice.

Joan Baez has said that she bowed down and kissed Sosa's feet after a performance.

Sosa's life was exemplary, and her art was impeccable. True artistry reflects the universal. It is not grounded in internal reflection and angst, but speaks to shared humanity.

Sosa was not known primarily as a songwriter but as an interpreter of the folk songs of the nueva canción movement for human rights. She was forced to live in exile in the late seventies during the "Dirty War," which pitted the ruling military junta against the poor. During this period trade unionists were targeted for assassination.

These political leanings caused Sosa trouble when the Argentinian military, under Jorge Videla, staged a coup in March 1976. Initially, only some of Sosa's songs were censored, but as she became seen internationally as a literal voice of freedom, the harassment increased. In early 1979, Sosa was performing in the Argentinian university city of La Plata when the military stopped the concert. Humiliating Sosa by searching her on stage, they then arrested her and 350 members of the audience. Sosa was detained for 18 hours until international pressure forced her release (she had to pay a large fine) but this event - alongside increasing numbers of death threats - forced her to flee to Europe, where she lived in Madrid and Paris.

In spite of this, Sosa never thought of herself as an activist and avoided the narcissism prevalent in singer/songwriter circles. "An artist isn't political in the party political sense - they have a constituency, which is their public - it is the poetry that matters most of all," Sosa said.

Her family is quoted in the Argentinian press, saying she "died in peace, as a free woman," having accomplished all that she wanted to do in life.

Sosa won best folk album awards from the Latin Recording Academy in 2000, 2003 and 2006. Sosa, is nominated for three awards at this year's Latin Grammys, including album of the year and best folklore album, for Cantora 1.The awards ceremony takes place in Las Vegas on Nov. 5.

Seventy albums survive. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and Grammy should look to the award it bestowed upon Sosa before it starts handing out awards in the new, diluted "Americana Album" category this year. NARAS has divided the Grammy category for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album into two categories, Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Americana Album.