Death of ‘La Negra´

At the Feria de los Matadores in the far west of Buenos Aires  last Sunday, there was a distinct lack of gaucho (cowboy) displays, my main incentive for making the long trek out there. But in the prettily colonnaded Plaza de los Mataderos, charismatic Juan in spotless white shirt and cloud grey felt hat, compered a lively set of regional singers, bands and dance troupes. There was no shortage of audience participation. As the beats revved up, a skein of sheer handkerchiefs in blue and white appeared and were whipped and fluttered around in time to the resonating guitar rythms and the spirited hand clapping they stirred up. The feria was started in 1986 to create a permanent space to preserve and celebrate Argentinian traditions and it was refreshing to see people of all ages participating unashamedly in what could be seen as the Latino equivalent of the Morris dance (though much more tasteful!).

There was an added poignancy last week that (almost) made up for the lack of daring cowboy feats: Mercedes Sosa, widely beloved Argentine folklore singer and political activist, had died just that morning, at the age of 74. Later I watched the tributes on TV as fans and mourners, including the President, filed past Congreso (the parliament building) to pay their respects. Mercedes as known affectionately as La Negra (literally the dark, or black, one), which seems to be an endearment quite widely used here. Laura, though nobody calls her that, at the community centre in the barrio of La Boca (also home to the famous Bombonera football stadium) where I´m volunteering, also goes under  the name of La Negra. As one of her colleagues wryly observed as Laura/La Negra bellowed out greetings and instructions, “yes, she´s got the same name, but she shouts, not sings”. 

At the feria, several groups dedicated songs to Mercedes,  Juan delivered a grave eulogy to her and the crowd rumbled respèctfully. In La Clarin newspaper the next day, there was a full page homage to her, with the simple message “Gracias a La Negra. Hasta siempre.”  inscribed over a colour photo of the revered singer. The same paper published a poll a few days later that canvassed the public on their favourite song by ´La Negra´: the winner was Alfonisina y el Mar, with 23% of the votes. It was touching to be at the feria and see the emotion stirred up by the death of ´La Negra´: I can always see gauchos another time …


3 thoughts on “Death of ‘La Negra´

  1. Lovely to read your limpid prose and get a sense of the life and vibrancy of BA. I once went to a concert with La Negra on the South Bank – and it turned out to be one of the most moving musical events I’ve ever attended (lots of Argentinian ex-pats there). So I’m not surprised she’s a national treasure… Look after yourself amongst the gouchos! 😉 Asta luego…m

  2. My first comment is that not many people know how to spell the word rhythm. You don’t appear to be one of them.
    Good to see you getting stuck into the B.A. way of things. You’ll notice that famous people keep dying all the time you’re there. The Argentians always make the effort to give them a good send off.

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