In my Masters thesis on rock music in Argentina, I argued that rock musicians like Leon Gieco and Charly García exemplified the way youth of that era both resisted dictatorship and participated in it. I was interested in what happened to them during dictatorship, and after. Argentina had been through practically 50 years of non-stop dictatorships by the time of the coup in 1976. When it finally came to an end, they wanted to know how they’d prevent a repeat occurrence.
Their answer? The youth.
But could they rely on Charly Garcia, who’d done pretty well for himself under the regime? What about Leon Gieco?
1960s – 1973
The rise of Folk Music, starting with Nueva Trova in Cuba of which Silvio Rodríguez is a good example:
Here, “La Maza”:
Nueva Cancion in Chile takes up the cause of socialism in support of Salvador Allende, Victor Jara and Violeta Parra being two of its most celebrated examples.
Here is Leon Gieco, singing at Argentina’s Buenos Aires Rock Festival, a very Woodstock-like affair:
Rock Music took off in Argentina, first in English (With the Wild Cats) and then in Spanish (who then become Los Gatos Salvajes)
On March 24, 1976, a miltary junta overthrew the shaky presidency of Isabel(ita) Péron. They were:
General Videla, Admiral Massera and Brigadier General Agosti
In words he would later regret, Jorge Luis Borges called them “The Gentlemen of the Coup.”
What led to the coup?
What has been called a “very real war” between left-wing Guerrillas such as the Montoneros and the paramilitary group, the Triple A led to the coup. The guerrillas had successfully kidnapped high-profile business-men, both international and domestic (CEO’s of Kodak, Exxon, and Ford were among their more well known victims); the Triple A had inspired terror amongst not only the guerrillas, but those suspected of being guerrillas.
That young people, inspired by rock movements and the hippie culture of the United States and Britain, looked and acted left wing made them prime targets.
In 1977, General Adel Vilas of the Fifth Army Corps said:
Up to now, only the tip of the iceberg has been affected by our war against subversion…It is necessary to destroy the sources which feed, form and indoctrinate the subversive delinquent, and this source is the universities and the secondary schools themselves. (Novaro and Palermo 485).
The segment of Argentina’s total population killed by the state in the Dirty War represents roughly the same proportion of U.S. citizens who were killed in the Vietnam War. Its enduring repercussions have proven no less profound.(13)
Historian Patricia Marchak, in her book God’s Assassins says that, “individuals who were between the ages of sixteen and thirty in 1975 [represented an]… estimated 81 per cent of the victims” (12). Youth, many of whom were becoming fervent rock music fans, represent an overwhelming number of those disappeared. Rock music recorded and amplified the reality of disappearance and censorship.
Victims of the military were killed or detained in manners previously seen in the war in Algeria and the Nazi concentration camps, but the Argentine military was no slouch and contributed its own inventions to the modes of killing.
In 1976, and again at the end of 1978, there appeared numerous cadavers floating in the coastal waters of the River Plate…On one occasion, the media started to fantasize that the bodies of various youth had appeared floating in Uruguay as a result of an orgy party in the open sea that had ended in shipwreck. This explanation seemed to satisfy the majority and no one spoke more about the matter. (Novaro and Palermo 485).
Key figures, such as Rodolfo Walsh, were killed in just such a manner. His death, and this method, would later be referenced by both Charly García and Leon Gieco.
My thesis studied how rock music and fan-dom became an important way for youth to reject dictatorship.
And they went to concerts. The military recognized the danger of youth attending concerts, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to park their military wagons outside the concert and round people up as they left. Similarly, they banned songs they considered dangerous. Charly García’s Señor Tijeras is one example among many to refer to censorship.
Leon Gieco wrote the song Solo le Pido a Dios (All I ask of God) and it became an anthem for anti-dictatorship youth.
Even when it was banned and Gieco could no longer sing it in concert, his audience knew the song so well that they would sing it themselves at the close of the concert. By doing so, they all took the risk of arrest. By doing so, they prevented Gieco from being held responsible for the song.
And yet, there is an almost endless list of songs that address the violence of the dictatorship and the impact it was having on youth.
Most famous is Los Dinosaurios, but my favourite is Cancion de Alicia en el Pais.
The faces of the Disappeared
This image, entitled “Que digan dondé están,” comes out of the most violent period of dictatorship Argentina ever saw. Between 1976 and 1983 a military junta ruled the country; the result was that anywhere between 10,000 (the official number) and 30,000 (most historians and human rights groups agree upon this number) people were disappeared. The term “to disappear” someone may sound unusual in English. Desperecerse sounded strange in Spanish as well. The reason it sounds strange is because we don’t normally think of disappearance as transitive, that is, as something that can be done to another. To disappear someone is, in many ways, a more insidious form of violence than to murder. To disappear someone is to, in the language of dictatorship Argentina, to make someone not exist. Vos no existes is an insult that appeared at this time. The poster’s title is written in the subjunctive. It translates as “that they [may/should] say where they are.”