If your knowledge of Latin music only stems from Glee‘s latest episode, then you’re probably convinced that all hits south of the border are in Spanglish and Ricky Martin is a mandatory presence. Blasphemy! Everyone knows Latin American musicians are only obligated to have a rap interlude by Pitbull. The truth is, when it comes to musica en español, most of my friendly North American neighbors have only been exposed to whatever fits their preconceived notion of it to begin with: cheesy salsa, cheesy bachata, cheesy ballads, and cheesy reggeaton. Did I mention it was all cheesy? Don’t get me wrong–much like you have to deal on a daily basis with Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Nickelback, or that dude who sings about the red plastic cup, we also have to live in a world where Elvis Crespo, Enrique Iglesias, RBD, and Jennifer Lopez (butchering the Spanish language) blast from every bodega. But beyond all that there is a wide, wonderful, moving, unique, lyrical world of South American music that generations of teenagers have turned to for all things angst.
Luis Alberto Spinetta was one of those singer-songwriters who provided just that. The Argentinian rocker passed away this week from lung cancer. He was 62 years old. Over the course of his career, he released 40 albums and became a living legend. Now before you roll your eyes at me and tell me how rock in Spanish is “weird,” or how I’m somehow culturally oppressing my entire continent by not dropping my panties at the sound of rumba, let me just point out that rock in South America is not an imitation of whatever the UK and the US has produced. It has its own history, its own influences, and its own idiosyncrasies. It came about at a time when countries like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil needed it most-during brutally violent dictatorships that resulted in the deaths and disappearances of thousands of innocent lives. Rock n’ roll rebellion was perhaps nowhere more dignified, nowhere more essential than in that time period when everything was scrutinized by political censors. Spinetta was part of that movement and I salute his courage. But most of all, I thank him for the beautiful poetry he left behind. Gracias, flaco.