Pop Music Review : Sosa’s Passionate Politics Still Brings Chills to Her Audience

Mercedes Sosa showed Thursday night in her first Los Angeles concert appearance in 10 years why she is a legend in the politically charged Nueva Cancion (New Song) movement.

Accompanied by a four-piece band in the first of the evening’s two sold-out shows at the Wadsworth Theater, the Argentine artist displayed her usual larger-than-life, almost spiritual presence and her still powerful, passionate contralto.

Her 90-minute set was built around a well-chosen collection of classic material from Cuba, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile--songs that speak in eloquent, universal terms about the way the human spirit fights social and economic injustice around the world.

The music carries an added emotional impact because of Sosa’s own history of persecution in the 1970s by her country’s military dictatorship. When she sings about social issues, it has been hard over the years not to feel the chills.


And there were clearly chills Thursday--yet not as many as on her best nights.

The program covered four areas of her eclectic repertoire: straight-ahead Argentine folk ( zambas, chacareras and milongas ); Latin American classics (by, among others, Chile’s Violeta Parra and Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez); popular versions of such edgier, contemporary artists as Argentine rockers Leon Gieco and Fito Paez and Brazilian fusion master Milton Nascimento; and two tango songs.

Despite the capacity crowd’s enthusiastic reception between songs Sosa, whose shows in South America often stretch two hours or more, seemed at times to rush through the material, causing her to sacrifice some of the passionate edges and normally smooth pacing.

The most striking example was at the end, when she gave us only the hard-driving, pop-flavored chorus of Nascimento’s “Maria, Maria,” a signature song that usually closes her shows. You left the theater with the feeling of an evening incomplete.