December 10, 2013
Most musicians were creatures born out of the destructive experience of the dictatorshipSunday, September 15, 2013
Freedom burst on stage with vibrant bands
For the Herald
One of the (few) good things about being 40: I was in my early teens when democracy came back to Argentina. Though my friends and I hardly knew what was going on in the country in those dreadful years, it was easy to tell how significant — and transcendental — it was to have elections again just by looking at ours parents’ faces. Only a year later we were getting ready for elections, for democracy, for our first parties and, those who were lucky enough, for our first kisses.
And we were certainly lucky, for exactly in those years, between 1982 and 1984, a whole revolution was taking place on the vernacular rock scene. If Charly García was an already well-known veteran from his Sui Generis and Seru Giran legendary years, and in 1982 had released his first, epoch-marking album as a leader, Pubis Angelical, a whole cadre of new names burst around us, with an energy, a positive vibration, a happiness and a call to find your own way that was simply overwhelming.
Los Twist, with Pipo Cipolatti, Fa-biana Cantilo and Daniel Melingo, among others, was the band that best embodied this whole new spirit. Their début album, La dicha en movimiento (produced by Charly García) was an ineffable mix of danceable, catchy tunes on rock and classic twist rhythms with a hitherto unknown wittiness and acid humour in the lyrics, all accompanied with an aesthetic image that crowned an unstoppable combination, selling thousands of albums in just a few months.
Commanded by one of Argentine’s rock best poets and frontmen ever, Miguel Abuelo, Los Abuelos de la Nada released their eponymous album also by the end of 1982 (also produced by Charly García). Miguel Abuelo was one of the local rock pioneers, and this was a new version of the same group he had formed in 1967. This time, though, he had the young and rising talent of Andrés Calamaro by his side, and also Daniel Melingo, Gustavo Bazterrica and Cachorro López. In 1984 they released their best studio album, ***** Vasos y Besos, and in 1985 their live-recorded album, En vivo en el Opera. They sadly disbanded shortly after, and Miguel Abuelo died at the beginning of 1988.
Los Abuelos de la Nada were like a furious gust of freedom, which just in a few years marked forever an entire generation and left a group of unforgettable songs, that are still listened to nowadays, true hymns of Argentine rock like Sin Gamulán, Marinero Bengalí, Li-bertad, Himno de mi Corazón, Sintonía Americana, Asi es el calor or Costumbres Argentinas. They all blended a formidable groovy drive — at times festive and truly optimistic — with perfectly crafted lyrics, fuelled by the indomitable spirit of Miguel Abuelo.
Around that time, Sumo emerged. Led by Luca Prodan (a Brit of Italian descent), the group also included Roberto Pettinato, Alejandro Sokol, German Daffunchio, Ricardo Mollo and Diego Arnedo. Having played in the underground circuit some years before, the return of democracy was the perfect vehicle for this seminar group to arise from the shadows and gradually gain the scene. Their mixture of reggae, English progressive rock, a little bit of punk and a demolishing strength, together with, again, ironic and hard-boiled lyrics, made of Sumo a captivating force. Sumo symbolized, particularly through the charismatic figure of its leader, all the rebelliousness and aggressive, contestant attitude of a generation that was coming off age at the end of the longest and darkest night.
Still, the local rock springtime had yet more gifts to offer to us. These were the 1980s after all, and other trends were also coming from abroad. Harshly criticized at the beginning, Virus, led by the Moura brothers, were the first and main exponents of the local new wave style. Virus too, just like Sumo, had been playing in under circuits from 1981, and so 1983 found them ready to get into the major stages. Fe-derico Moura’s provocative manners and attitude, his openly gay orientation, at times clashed with a society that not always was ready to accept them. The intensity of Virus, its musical quality sustained by tremendous hits and their originality, however, were much stronger than any possible resistance, and Virus steadily arose as another leading, and truly colourful voice to animate the ebullient and never-resting scene. Just like Miguel Abuelo and Luca Prodan, Federico Moura would also meet an untimely death in 1988, though the band kept on working on and off under the leadership of his younger brother, Marcelo Moura.
An array of bands, of great bands, indeed, appeared around those years: Soda Stereo, Suéter, Miguel Mateos and Zas, Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota (which were also coming from the late 1970s underground, but which exploded to reach massive audiences only in the early 1990s), Fito Páez, Patricia Sosa and her heavy metal band, La Torre, a bit later Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Los Pericos, Don Cornelio y la zona, and so on. Of course, the old patriarchs were still there, as experienced luminaries still signalling the path: Charly García traversing his more fruitful and rich period, Luis Alberto Spinetta, León Gieco, Pappo.
While the horrors of the military dictatorship didn’t appear in the work of most of these bands and musicians — not explicitly, at least — they all were creatures born out of that destructive collective experience, since they all came to life with the strength of the re-born.
At the same time, for our generation another big, equally important flow of international events began to unfold. In 1985, The Cure played for the first time in Argentina, at Ferro’s soccer stadium. Serious incidents took place that night in the audience, and it was such a riotous concert that it took almost thirty years for The Cure to come again to play in Buenos Aires.
Sting came in 1987, and he invited Madres de Plaza de Mayo on stage, to sing together They Dance Alone (Ellas bailan solas), a song in which he denounced the disappeared persons during Chile’s military dictatorship.
In 1988, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Human Rights Now! Tour (20 benefit concerts on behalf of Amnesty International held around the world) ended no less than in Buenos Aires. It was a historical concert at River Plate, broadcast live to the rest of the world. León Gieco and Charly García opened that epic date from our local front, and then were followed by Youssou n’Dour, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce Springsteen.
No one of those who were there will ever forget that incredible, amazing, marathon-like concert, celebrating the Human Rights International Day with those musicians, just five years after democracy had returned. It was really a moving date, in a still optimistic atmosphere, in a time in our life where we still had everything just ahead of us, a time in which everybody thought and felt that as long as there were elections and democracy, everything would be all rright.