FOR ROLLING STONE’S THIRD annual Icons & Influences feature, we asked eight of our favorite artists and entertainers to pay tribute to the women who have inspired them, in life as well as in their careers. Silvana Estrada, the breakout singer-songwriter who won Best New Artist at last year’s Latin Grammys, talks about the deep influence Argentine activist and folk legend had on her music.
My parents listened to Mercedes Sosa, and we’d play her in the car — it was actually the music my dad would have on when he’d drop me off at school. Her voice is a force of nature that goes beyond technique. When she sings, it’s like she takes her heart and puts it in her throat so you can hear it and see it and feel every emotion with her. She has a voice that lets you hear the landscape where she grew up. You can hear where she comes from, where she’s going, and who she’s singing for.
Mercedes always moved me, but the first moment that truly stunned me was when I heard “Sólo le Pido a Dios.” She sings, “Sólo le pido a Dios que la guerra no me sea indiferente” (“I only ask God that war doesn’t make me indifferent”). I come from a part of Mexico where there’s death and violence because of the drug wars. I was about 11 or 12 when I heard that line, and I understood that fear of not wanting to lose the capacity to feel the pain of so much loss. It was so common in my neighborhood to hear about deaths every single day that suddenly it stopped becoming news. That’s where Mercedes hit something really deep inside me. It was also the moment I stopped and asked, “Wait, where does Mercedes come from? Why is she singing these things?” My parents explained to me, “Argentina had a dictatorship and Mercedes had to leave, and this is her story.” It seems to me that art that comes from an impossible situation, from a need to be free, becomes relevant to every generation.
My generation, we’re so tired and overstimulated and burnt out. There’s that need to go back to simplicity, to honesty, to the clarity that people wrote with: “Sólo le pido a Dios que la guerra no me sea indiferente.” People in Mexico didn’t know what Mercedes’ face looked like; her albums reached us first. It was the urgency of the music, of communicating sadness or hope. I listened to “¿Será Posible El Sur?” recently because the lyrics are from one of my favorite poets, Mario Benedetti, and that song is so moving. Just now, I experienced a wave of violence and a loss that hit me really closely, so I’ve been looking for songs that sustain me so I don’t lose hope. Mercedes has kept me going and given me strength.