Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Censorship in Argentina

Anna Banchik

Si se calla el cantor calla la vida
porque la vida, la vida misma es todo un canto.

si se calla el cantor, muere de espanto
la esperanza, la luz y la alegría.

If the singer is silenced, life stops

because life, life itself is all a song

if the singer is silenced, from horror dies
hope, light and joy.

–Mercedes Sosa 1972, Si Se Calla el Cantor, If the Singer Is Silenced. (Full lyrics and translations are included below.)

These are the words of Mercedes Sosa, the renowned Argentinian musician and “voice of the silent majority.” During her career spanning six decades, she asserted herself as the spearhead of the nueva canción movement of the 60s and 70s, writing and performing political folk songs about social justice issues in her native country and around the hemisphere. Viewed as a threat to the military, her songs were banned from television and radio for years before she was body-checked and arrested onstage during a 1975 performance in which many audience members, too, were arrested. After the incident, she withstood bomb and death threats and performance prohibitions for four more years until she left the country and continued her advocacy and political song-writing in Europe.


Despite becoming a so-called democracy almost thirty years ago after the end of the ‘dirty war’ in 1983, governmental infrastructure is still too weak to fully protect the freedom of expression of musicians, celebrities, citizens, and journalists and editors in particular. The Argentina Report by the Human Rights Watch highlights rampant discrimination tainting the allocation of official advertising, noting its preference for favorable coverage and punishment for any critical journalism. This abusive use of official advertising is considered by many to be the primary control mechanism in exerting subtle, indirect censorship of the media. Lacking transparency and policies for objective regulation, the percentage of advertisements that are government-paid can be as high as 75% in some provinces.

According to Página 12 foreign news editor Santiago O’Donnell, this injustice is due to the lack of intermediaries, or filters, between journalists and political or commercial pressures. Although former President Kirchner ran a campaign entitled “Argentina, a country for real” to allow for more commentary and debate, direct phone calls from the Cabinet to the newsroom are not uncommon. Pepe Eliaschev, author of “Blacklist—the Return of the 1970s” and the former host of a daily radio news show who was himself fired, maintains that “a real country wouldn’t put out those kinds of ads,” glorifying its achievements yet “refusing all proper, formal contact with the media. They seem to think these ads replace normal journalistic coverage. These people recoil from contact with actual journalists, but they’re obsessed with the press.”

One of the latest attempts to control media coverage occurred when current President Christina Fernandez Kirchner proposed a law that would break up one of the largest newspapers and cable TV companies after it featured of illustration of the President with an X taped over her mouth. In late 2009, Fernandez also ordered newspapers and other materials to be sold only at stands run by unions, a move that could lead to the total prevention of non-friendly media distribution.

Quino, author and illustrator the Mafalda comic strip, is the pen name of another Argentinean artist who has used his stage to promote human rights through the mind and mouth of a 5-year old. First appearing in 1964 in the journal Argentina Primera Plana, Mafalda is the brainchild of Joaquín Salvador Lavado and is still in print and on television today. The character reflects a nonconformist stance towards global issues during that period and constantly worries about peace, politics, the future of the planet, and the suffering of the poor, nuclear weapons, ecological destruction, violence, racism, power in the hands of the few, and other injustices, all while believing in Santa Claus “because my dad told me.” As an ironic and seemingly innocent comic strip, Mafalda was an incredibly effective medium with which to criticize the Argentinean governments and other political leaders abroad.

In the scene below, Mafalda comes across graffiti on the wall, which is cut off from saying “Enough Censorship!” In the second box (on the right), she contemplates: either he ran out of pai, or he cou not fini becau it is in the publ doma…” Clearly, this strip addresses the country’s recurring past failures to provide true freedom of speech to its citizens.


After being in exile for three years, Mercedes Sosa returned to Argentina and continued to play shows and produce albums to an ever-increasing, captive audience. Esquire magazine wrote that “Your Spanish may or may not be good, but Mercedes Sosa requires no translation. Hers is the song of all those who have overcome their fear of singing out.”

Blog Post by Anna Banchik


Below is a link to her song sung with Horacio Guarany, accompanied by the lyrics of the song in Spanish and the best English translation I could muster!

Si Se Canta el Cantor by Mercedes Sosa

Composer: Horacio Guarany

Si se calla el cantor calla la vida
porque la vida, la vida misma es todo un canto
si se calla el cantor, muere de espanto
la esperanza, la luz y la alegría.

If the singer is silenced, life stops

because life, life itself is all a song

if the singer is silenced, from horror

dies hope, light and joy.

Si se calla el cantor se quedan solos
los humildes gorriones de los diarios,
los obreros del puerto se persignan
quién habrá de luchar por su salario.

If the singer is silenced, alone remain
the humble sparrows of the newspapers,

port workers make the sign of the cross (or cross themselves)

who will fight for their salaries?

'Que ha de ser de la vida si el que canta
no levanta su voz en las tribunas
por el que sufre,´por el que no hay
ninguna razón que lo condene a andar sin manta'

What is there for life to be if the one who sings

does not raise his voice in the stands

for the one who suffers, for the one for which

there is no ground to be condemned to be without a blanket

Si se calla el cantor muere la rosa

de que sirve la rosa sin el canto
debe el canto ser luz sobre los campos
iluminando siempre a los de abajo.

If the singer stops singing, dies the rose

what is the purpose of a rose without a song

the song should be a light over the fields

illuminating always those underneath.

Que no calle el cantor porque el silencio
cobarde apaña la maldad que oprime,

no saben los cantores de agachadas
no callarán jamás de frente al crimén.

Do not silence the singer, because silence
cowardly protects the cruelty that oppresses

the singers do not know of bowing down
they will never keep silent in the face of a crime.

'Que se levanten todas las banderas
cuando el cantor se plante con su grito
que mil guitarras desangren en la noche
una inmortal canción al infinito'.

Let all of the flags be raised

when the singer stands with his shout
let one thousand guitars serenade into the night
an immortal song to infinity.

Si se calla el cantor . . . calla la vida.

If the singer is silenced... life stops.

Works Cited:

"Argentina: Events of 2009." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, n.d.

Carrillo, Edgardo. "Un poco de diversion: Mafalda." Club Delfines de Sonora. N.p., n.d.

"Kirchner and Clarin: Argentina Media Fight Gets Personal." The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 13 Sep 2009.

Tarnopolsky, Noga. "Critiquing Argentina’s Yellow Journalism." The Jewish Daily Forward. Forward Association, 19 Jan 2007.

Valente, Marcela. ""Subtle" Means of Censorship." Inter Press Service News Agency. IPS, 13 Feb 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Estimados amigos, muchas gracias por la traducción de "Si se Calla el Cantor" al inglés.

    Les deseo mucho éxito y espero que no abandonen su esfuerzo con el blog.