During my service as a missionary for the LDS Church in Argentina, one day in the small town of Choele-Choel a friend named Oscar sat down with his guitar and sang “Zamba de Mi Esperanza.” My companion, Elder Ed Rogers, had a great enthusiasm for gaucho culture, and shared that interest with me. One thing led to another, and during my last days in Argentina, in the the city of Santa Rosa in the province of La Pampa, my companion Elder Sergio Krasnoselsky took me to El Martrero and some music stores, and helped me select audio cassettes of some of the greats of Argentine folklore. Once home in the United States, I made backup tapes of the cassettes, and played those tapes numerous times over the years. A few years ago I purchased CDs with music by some of the same artists.
It seems I may have more interest in this music than the average Argentine. Most Argentines I meet don’t listen to this music, and don’t seem to relate to it. As for me, I enjoy listening to this music a great deal, and even took this music with me on my first trip to Japan in 1993, on the theory that I could immunize myself from culture shock by playing music from a foreign culture with which I was familiar. I arrived on a Sunday evening, alone, and worked all day Monday in a hotel room as it was a national holiday – - I played Argentine folk music as I worked away in my room at Tokyo’s New Otani hotel. At week’s end I listened the music as I traveled from Tokyo to Osaka on Shinkansen (bullet train).
While the music appeals to me, I have to admit that I don’t fully understand either the overt meaning of all the lyrics (there is a great deal of Argentine slang and gaucho terminology), let alone the intended messages or connotations of the songs, or the context in which they were written. I have some sense of Argentine history, of how the gauchos were marginalized members of Argentine society who with the stroke of the pen of wealthy politicians in Buenos Aires were converted into hired help for distant landowners of large estancias, but my understanding is superficial. But, even with that limited understanding of context, one is not surprised if much of the music has tones that invoke sentiments of protest, nostalgia, injustice, or some blend of all three.
During my days as a student at BYU, one day when I lived in apartment number 2 at Miller Apartments a friend passed by and heard my Argentine folk music playing. I believe a Jose Larralde song was playing at that moment. This friend, Alberto Polo, who is from Peru, asked in Spanish: “Hermano, que escuchas? Ese es comunista, o a lo menos socialista.” (“Brother, what are you listening to? This singer is a communist, or at the least a socialist.”) I’m neither communist nor socialist, I think, but learning the political leanings of the singers did not necessarily surprise me or bother me. My favorite of all the Argentine folk music is “Zamba de Mi Esperanza.” The political context of that song, and of the performer of my favorite rendition, appears below.
Today much of his music is available online. Here are some of my favorites, each appearing under the name of the artist that performs them.
Zamba de Mi Esperanza (video, audio, lyrics [english, espanol / castellano]) – - This is my favorite of all the Argentine folk music I have, though for many years I had little understanding of the life of the man whose recording I like best. The wikipedia article on Cafrune includes this background: “In 1977, after several years spent living in Spain, [Jorge Cafrune] returned to his country. Times were difficult for Argentina, as the government was under the restrictive military dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla. The government saw a menace in Cafrune’s outspoken music, particularly his politically controversial song, Zamba de mi esperanza. On his persistence, Cafrune said, `Although it is not in the authorized repertoire, if my people requests it of me, I am going to sing it.’ On January 31, 1978, Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Enrique Villanueva ordered the assassination of Cafrune. After being run over by a van driven by two nineteen year old men, Cafrune died within twelve hours.”