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Music can move us at the speed of sound like a time machine

By Matt Prichard | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-15 11:19
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In this year of limits on social contact due to the novel coronavirus, music has become much more important to many people. In my case, it's a balm to the soul, evoking nostalgia for past times, people and places.

I always had a great curiosity about the world. As a child, I was fascinated by the ancient civilizations of China and India, which stoked my interest in Asia.

Matt Prichard

In college, I attended a summer program in Mexico City, my first real step abroad, which opened up an entire new world for me. I fell in love with Latin America. But it was not just the lovely people or the delicious food. It also was the huge variety of music and other forms of culture that captivated me.

My memories of my young adulthood are intertwined with Latin America and its music of many varieties. Just as in many parts of the world in the 1970s and 1980s, ballads were immensely popular, as were protest songs and expressions of cultural pride during some difficult years for the region.

What defined this time for me were such singers as Mercedes Sosa, a singer with a haunting, rich voice from northwestern Argentina. She rose from humble origins, which she never forgot, to become a leader of the Nueva Cancion, or New Song, movement.

Some of her songs dealt with harsh conditions in the Andean highlands, though the song Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life) is very life-affirming. Her music often was accompanied by such instruments from the highlands as the zampona wind pipe and the charango, a small guitar.

Brazil, the giant of Latin America, also had a large influence on the music of the era. The bossa nova, a jazz-inflected derivative of samba that became the signature pop music of Brazil, was created in the mid-1950s, with Antonio Carlos Jobim being credited as the standard setter, according to writer John Dougan. Billboard magazine called Jobim "one of the most important songwriters of the 20th century in any language".

But the genre was redefined by Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist Joao Gilberto, known as O Mito, the Legend, Dougan said.

Gilberto collaborated with great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz from the United States. Another legend was Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, whose voice was immortalized in 1964 in the song The Girl from Ipanema, one of the most sensuous songs ever recorded.

While living on the border of Mexico and the US for several years, I learned to appreciate music from the borderlands area such as that of Los Tigres del Norte (The Tigers of the North), a group founded by Mexican-American brothers. Biographer Jason Birchmeier writes on the AllMusic website that the group often has employed the corrido, which is an age-old style of narrative song.

A lot of Latin American music has been written about the feelings experienced by someone who moved away from home-often to a different country. Jaula de Oro (Golden Cage) was a moving song about an immigrant's longing that was a big hit for the Tigres in 1984.

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Another song using that theme is Alla Se Quedo (There It Remained) sung as a duo by Cuban-American singer Willy Chirino and Johnny Ventura, a singer and bandleader from the Dominican Republic known for merengue and salsa music. It talks about a man's longing for his hometown and his family.

Virtually everyone has songs like these that become part of us, and can transport us back to earlier times, often more easily than a picture or a scent.

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