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September 17, 2014
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Herrero: ‘Musical genres must converse'

Liliana Herrero poses for a photo at her home, with her portrait and keyboard.
By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

Famed folk singer speaks to the Herald for the first time in 30 years

Liliana Herrero still keeps a copy of the last article written about her in the Buenos Aires Herald. “It was in the 1980s, written by a woman from Rosario, a poet,” she recalls. “And the headline was something along the lines of ‘Singing and singing,’ ‘Song is thought.’” She excuses her pronunciation in English. “I can’t remember exactly what it was, but whatever she wrote, that headline was me.”

There’s a particular certainty in the way Herrero explains — curiously enough — the uncertainties of music. Whatever comes out on stage, you can be sure the musician in front of you is playing for the pure joy of playing, she says. “It’s then that everything is renewed: life, sound, and also what you’re trying to share, in that very moment you’re sharing it. A celebration of music.”

Roughly the length of her music career, thirty years is a long time for a philosophy teacher, as Herrero simultaneously is, to reflect on the songs and sounds of Latin America. And never mind that she’s interpreted them across over a dozen albums, including the latest, Maldigo, which she’ll be presenting this Friday at ND Teatro. The 13-track record includes songs by Orozco-Barrientos, Miguel Abuelo, Raúl Carnota and Aníbal Sampayo.

On the breadth of her repertoire, this time ranging from rock nacional to folk music, Herrero suggests that musical genres must “converse with their own traditions,” but adds that it’s unfortunate when they can’t properly dialogue with each other. “It’s not about dissolution, but rather conversation, or dialogue. Genres must converse.”

Legendary singer-songwriter Violeta Parra is another artist featured on the new album, in Herrero’s interpretations of Run, run se fue pal norte and Casamiento de negros. Not the first, second or last time a Parra song will be interpreted, she concedes.

“Violeta’s presence in our music is very strong. It doesn’t matter if we’re doing her songs or not. What’s important is her musical legacy,” Herrero explains, pointing to the “sound, Violeta’s continual grievance, that composition and that extraordinary, complex instrumental play.”

She notes the folk legend’s Chilean roots as an example of the permeability of national borders in the face of the potent artistic expressions that the region has to offer. (Herrero, incidentally, was born in Entre Ríos, an epicentre of sorts of the robust national folk scene.)

“That’s not to say you can find a reference — though, it’s never explicit — of a musical legacy or a poetic legacy, a cultural legacy,” she says. “In some ways, these legacies sentence us to belonging to a place, and even if we want to shake off that belonging, we can’t.”

And still, Herrero does see some borders. With hundreds of interpretations to her name, the musician celebrated by the late Mercedes Sosa as her “successor” is yet to sing a tune in English.

To that almost sacrilegious suggestion for an Argentine folk singer, she says this: “No, not because of any prejudices. But because the pronunciation is very beautiful. I worry I wouldn’t be able to sing the way I hear the language.” She points to “that beautiful pronunciation Jorge Luis Borges had in English” as an example.

‘Media isn’t a marker of success’

Argentina’s musical heritage has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the past decade, even extending as far off stage as the government’s appointment of singer Teresa Parodi as the country’s inaugural Culture Minister.

From Herrero, who’s witnessed the comings and goings of the folk scene, a word of caution: that the genre’s underground popularity in Buenos Aires — and perhaps as reflected in political appointments, too — shouldn’t be taken as a marker of its success.

“The musical life of a society isn’t just measurable by media’s interest,” she concludes.

And on that note, here’s to hoping Liliana Herrero finds it in her heart to keep a copy of this, the latest humble article about her in the Buenos Aires Herald.

When and where

ND Teatro (Paraguay 918). July 18, 9pm. Tickets: from 120 pesos.

@jaysonmcnamara

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