Buenos Aires is an anomalous city that is fast-paced while also being laid-back. In the corners you can hear cumbia that gets your shoulders rolling and in the balcony milongas you hear the melancholy of tango. Amidst the confusion, an Argentine musician who plays a different kind of genre, jazz, is blossoming: Ligia Piro.
Ligia Piro is claimed to be nourishing the jazz scene in Buenos Airesas few people connote the city with a music style that is difficult to historically and geographically peg. Although jazzologia has entered the scene, this study wasn’t on the radar until 1984.
It shows that branching out as a jazz musician in Argentina is not necessarily easy, despite its rise in popularity in the past decades. The genre has experienced waves of repression within the country, but has been able to fight back to garner its rightful recognition.
Jazz is a musical force in Argentina that began in a time when smooth caramel sounds were the necessary sweet effects of the roaring 1920s. Buenos Aires was one of the only cities in Latin America to feel the economic boom alongside European and North American cities such as London, Paris and New York. Although it prided itself in tango and folklore music, jazz was a cultural aspect of the ‘boom’ for the newly created global city. The genre had such a large impact on the people and culture that it is now celebrated annually in a festival that draws thousands from all over the world.
It was not always this way for jazz. During the 1970s dictatorship, there was a movement inwards towards ultra-nationalism. It meant that the mainly the leaders rejected jazz as un-Argentina, seeing it as a threat to the cultural identity. The music needed to adapt to the conditions, find other places to be inspired from, incorporating elements of bossa, swing, soul, and funk. It began to spring up in coffee shops and these ‘café concerts’ became so popular that they are still celebrated today. It was turned into the kind of music that flourished like wild flowers.
In 1971 as the dictatorship was about to commence, Ligia Piro was born to tango singer Susana Rinaldi and bandoneonista Osvaldo Piro. Her name was chosen by her mother from a character in the Latin novel “Quo Vadis” (“Where are you going?”), and who was the daughter of a deceased king of barbarians. Ligia was held hostage by the people of Rome and eventually forgotten about by her own people. She was rumoured to be of great beauty.
The beauty transpired into the Argentine Ligia’s voice. From her earliest 2003 album, “LP”, classics in English (“Cry Me a River”) and Portuguese (“Anos Dourados”) show you, not only the velvety vocals, but her versatility in language as a jazz performer.
Within a decade, she has released five more albums and has played alongside her mother and father in concert. She has been acclaimed to have nourished the jazz music scene and to show that she can grow as a musician within the genre. Where the music struggles, the artist is bound to struggle, too.
“I come from a family of strong women, heavy, bosses of the house. Women that represent little fighters and that is something I want to pay homage to,” Ligia explained to Pagina/12.
From her latest album, “Buenas Flores” (2011), her ability to confront struggle resonates in the song, “Las Buenas Flores de Javier”, where it translates:
I promise you that your poetic flowers/ shadows, silence, pain/ cry even deeper to remember/ waging war with your good flowers
It’s smooth, it’s sad, it’s real. It’s real because of the pain and real without any flash. It is a genre that may not culturally symboliseArgentina, but relates on the human level of emotion.
Life is not always easy, as a musical genre, as a struggling artist or as a people that have experienced oppression. Perhaps that is the life of an artist, the weight that Ligia Piro carries on her shoulders: to interpret life’s struggles through a medium that struggles to thrive itself.
Active since: 2003 to Present
Genre: Jazz moving towards incorporating elements of tango
Most well-known song: ‘Barro tal vez’