Like most Anglo-Australians, I do not speak a second language. I would love to, and have tried to learn a few: Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, even Latin back at school. It never quite stuck. But I will try again, and this time I have my heart set on Spanish. It is partly that I have been exploring Mexican food, and want to know how to pronounce the names of all those delicious dishes. But more important: there is so much wonderful music which is sung in Spanish, and I wish I could appreciate the lyrics properly.
Case in point: Atahualpa Yupanqui, a folk singer and guitarist. He was born in 1908 in provincial Argentina. He had indigenous heritage, what was then calleretratod ‘Indian blood’, and he became a champion of indigenous rights and culture throughout Latin America. He was also involved with left politics, including a time as member of the Communist Party. Because of this his music was banned and suppressed, and he himself was arrested and incarcerated many times. He broke with the Communist Party in 1952, but always remained concerned for the poor and oppressed.
Long famous in Argentina, he was discovered by Edith Piaf and became a major figure in music circles in France and Spain. In the Anglophone world, not so much. The taint of Communism may have had something to do with it, but more likely it is just that the language barrier was too great.
I discovered Atahualpa Yupanqui quite by accident: a random purchase of a record in an op-shop. I cleaned it and played it, and wow. One thing which transcends language is instrumental music, and quite apart from his songs, Yupanqui plays the most crystalline, beautiful guitar, as on the first track below, El Coyita.
The songs are harder for me, obviously, but you can pick up a shadow of the poetry, and the power of delivery is obvious. The second track is Le Tengo Rabia Al Silencio, which I understand to mean something like “I am angry at the silence”. Whether you speak Spanish or not, just listen!
Disc Details: Atahualpa Yupanqui, Retrato De Atahualpa Yupanqui, (compilation LP), Odeon, Argentina, 1972.