BUENOS AIRES – The son of Argentine folk music legend Atahualpa Yupanqui says his father’s transcendent, humanistic work remains a guiding light for the world a quarter-century after his death.
“He was always a thinker. He reflected on existence and expressed that in songs, coplas (poetic compositions), in poems and verses,” Roberto Chavero, Yupanqui’s only surviving son, told EFE amid a multitude of items that make up a temporary exhibit in Buenos Aires honoring his father’s prolific career.
Born Hector Roberto Chavero Aramburu in 1908 in Pergamino, Argentina, the poet, songwriter, singer and guitarist as a young man adopted the stage name for which he became famous worldwide: Atahualpa (a reference to the 16th-century Inca emperor) Yupanqui (which in Quechua means “he who arrives from faraway lands to say something).
“His whole life was an apprenticeship. And all the difficulties he had. And he never complained,” Chavero said of his father, the composer of songs including “Camino del indio,” “Los ejes de mi carreta” and “Luna tucumana.”
The son of a Spanish mother and a father of Indian origin, Yupanqui grew up in the Argentine pampas outside Buenos Aires.
His father committed suicide when he was just 13, an event that deeply marked him and coincided with the birth of an itinerant spirit that lasted until his death in the French city of Nimes in 1992.
“He was an adventurer. Losing his father forced him to start looking for ways to make some money playing guitar, as an assistant at a printing shop and a proofreader at a newspaper at age 16. His ties to literature came very early even though he was a boy of humble origins from the countryside,” Chavero said.
Books were always readily available at home, allowing him to immerse himself in literature and philosophy: his critical makeup, Argentina’s turbulent history and his affiliation to the Communist Party led to his being arrested, tortured and forced into exile.
Having already established a following in Argentina through his music, he traveled to Europe in the late 1940s and met Edith Piaf, a star of that era who befriended him and helped support his career.
Yupanqui toured far and wide, traveling to Colombia, Japan, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Italy and other countries. He came into contact with other societies that recognized his authenticity and capacity to communicate universal values such as love of the land and human fraternity through his lyrics, many of which were filled with Argentine idiosyncrasies.
“The artist’s task is to take those regional expressions absolutely rooted in that landscape (and make them) understandable by others ... who are unaware of them but can appreciate the beauty of those cultural phenomena,” Chavero said.