The muleteer, The axles of my cart, Guitar, you tell me, Sleep, sleep, nigga. Only four titles (among more than 300). But four stainless classics of Argentine folklore. And a common denominator: Atahualpa Yupanqui.
The man who lived, wrote and sang them. Root and trunk of Argentine folklore, Hector Chavero (Atahualpa Yupanqui for the world), was born 105 years ago. Here we remember him through the always lucid pen of our late comrade, the music critic Federico Monjeau.
“France has been a sort of second homeland for Yupanqui since his first trip in 1948, the result of a universalist appetite and Peronist persecution. Paris welcomed him warmly; at the home of the poet Paul Eluard he met Edith Piaf, who invited him to close one of her recitals at the Athens theatre.
And she would also be French, although born in Canada, the woman of his life: the classical pianist Antoinette Paule Pepin, nenettewho under the pseudonym Pablo del Cerro signed in collaboration perfect compositions such as The sorrel, Chacarera de las piedras Y guitar tell me . But Yupanqui and Nenette did not meet in France, but in Tucumán in 1942, during one of his concerts.
Yupanqui was born with the name of Héctor Roberto Chavero on January 31, 1908 in Campo de la Cruz, a place in the province of Buenos Aires. His first musical studies consisted of two years of violin with Father Rosaenz.
Then he met his great guitar teacher, Bautista Almirónwhich introduced him to the classical repertoire through pieces by Tárrega and transcriptions by Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and others.
a unique style
That repertoire and the villagers’ milongas and songs provided the model his unique style, advancing in the only direction of a perfectionist asceticism, deaf to fashions and the new songbook of the 60s. He even made fun of those vocal groups with a very famous comment: “One sings and the others make fun of him.”
They sang what they sang, no matter what they did, four voices was definitely a huge amount for Yupanqui. He made solitude a musical and poetic principle. His songs talk about the road, the traffic, the weather. He has always stayed away from “cosmic belts” and metaphorical expansionism.
His images are less demagogic, drier, more true; and perhaps more tragic, since the love for nature that the solitary experiences is profoundly unreciprocated. There is nothing more indifferent to human feeling than the landscape.
His two most prized possessions were the guitar and the horse. Hardly anyone spoke of the horse in such a moving way.
The shamrock, “ribbon of fire”, is perhaps the most sublime example, but not the only one. In El tordillo the narrator names the tree planted on the grave of the animal he rescued from the refrigerator: “A shadow for the shadow of a friend’s memory”.
Musician, poet and performer
Yupanqui was a virtuoso as a musician, poet and performer. He was an exquisite guitarist; without the almost orchestral projection of Eduardo Falú’s guitar, but no less subtle. It crossed a narrower area of the register (mid-high), in parallel with a voice that was not too resonant.
He had a unique way of speeding up the phrase a bit, and there was no vibrato (that little “shake” you get by swinging your fingertip over the string and fret of a guitar) as expressive and right as his . .
Yupanqui expresses a conservative ideology. He died the same year as Astor Piazzolla and this has led to certain parallels. They are literally parallel in the sense that they do not touch. If Yupanqui is the conservative, Piazzolla is the revolutionary, but before the aesthetic differences there are those of the trade.
The Piazzolla factor
Piazzolla is a musician in a very different sense from Yupanqui, as is generally the case with tango and folklore musicians: the former are more technicalwhich no longer implies the superiority of one gender over the other.
And if Piazzolla’s revolution was so powerful that no musician was exempt from its influence, Yupanqui’s encapsulated and solitary art closed with him. He left no heirs. His epigrammatic asceticism today seems to us to be a more Japanese form of expression than properly local.
And of his veneration for Japan, the master has left several testimonies, such as that verse which says, like a sober farewell: “I return to the shade of the old carob trees, taking a shy shoot from your cherry trees”.
Piaf, definitive meeting
“Dude, I love you so much”, Edith Piaf greeted, naturally and in awkward Spanish every time she set foot on American soil. She was not a chamuyo but an acquired learning thanks to his meeting with Atahualpa Yupanqui in 1950 and, above all, to the Franco-Spanish dictionary that has accompanied it since 1955, when it first arrived in Mexico.
Perhaps due to its history of sacrifice and deprivation, the mom Edith was above all a sensitive and generous artist, willing to help her unknown or needy colleagues, offering them a place alongside her at her concerts. Our Atahualpa knew this well.
They met in the summer of 1950 in Paris. Atahualpa, he had arrived in Europe in August 1949 from Uruguay where he had decided to go into exile in May, censored and forbidden by Peronism. After giving recitals in Eastern Europe, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, he landed in Paris on May 31st.
There he met the French poets Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard.two fundamental people in the change of course of his artistic career.
At that time the reality of Yupanqui was harsh, with no scheduled dates other than a series of concerts organized by entities linked to the Communist Party. He spent the night in a seedy hotel in the Latin Quarter, “a small hotel of numbered fleas”as he himself defined.
On June 24, 1950, he gave his first concert in Paris, at the “Maison de La Pensée Française”., and in the audience, in addition to Aragón and Eluard, was Elsa Triolet; famous Russian-French writer who wrote a laudatory article in the newspaper Les Letres Francaises.
“Paris must listen to you…”
The following week Yupanqui performed at the Sala Pleyel, the Maison du Peuple de Lens and at the Congress of the FMP (“Popular Music Federation”) at the Town Hall of Saint-Denis. Those shows preceded the great meeting of his life, generated by Eluard who one day said to him: “Tonight come with your guitar, I’ll surprise you.”
And indeed it was. Atahualpa could not hide his amazement when he saw Edith Piaf enter the poet’s apartment. She listened to him enraptured, and dazzled by his art asked him:
-Where do you work?
-Nowhere, I’m leaving, I’m going to my country.
-You can’t go to Argentina before Paris has listened to you. Not, Paris must listen to you. Come tomorrow at 8 at the Athenée with your guitar. I send a car to the hotel.
More than a plea, that seemed like an imposition, because that’s how she was.
Without further ado, he was in charge of circulating the recital. In the newspaper Les Lettres Francaises of 29 June 1950, n. 318, page 1, the announcement of the concert is published. “Edith Piaf will sing for you and for the great Argentinian guitarist and folklorist Atahualpa Yupanqui.” It’s amazing to verify this Don Ata’s name was written in a slightly larger font than his landlady’s.
The first night
On July 7, 1950 at nine in the evening both artists shared the stage of the Athénée Theater: Piaf with Yupanqui. She sang over twenty songs that night, then took his hand and announced to her audience: “I present to you Atahualpa Yupanqui, a very talented musician, who I let close the show. I want you to listen to it as it deserves”.
Yupanqui’s zambas, milongas and poetry moved the Parisian public and thanks to Edith el de Pergamino not only extended their stay in France, but also she signed her first record label deal Song of the World. With them he released the LP Soy Minero, e received first prize for foreign record from the Charles Cros Academy.
In the same year he offered more than sixty recitals in that countryconsolidating the foundations of his international career.
At that point, Piaf also helped launch the career of Charles Aznavourshe recorded some of his songs, took him with her on tours of France and the United States and made him her secretary, chauffeur, confidant and rumor has it something else… But that’s another story.
Charles Hurd is an entertainment journalist for News Rebeat. He brings a fresh and engaging voice to the world of pop culture, covering the latest developments in film, television, music, and more.