Oscar Chavez, revolutionary Mexican protest singer, dies from COVID-19 complications at 85

Chavez was one of the proponents of 'Nueva Trova' music and was vocally critical of politics in his work


                            Oscar Chavez, revolutionary Mexican protest singer, dies from COVID-19 complications at 85
Oscar Chavez (Getty Images)
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Mexican singer, songwriter and actor Oscar Chavez has passed away from complications relating to COVID-19. Chavez was hospitalized on Tuesday at the 20 de Noviembre National Medical Center in Mexico City after experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus, which included fever, body pain and some difficulties with breathing.

The State Workers' Social Security Institute stated that Chavez had "evident respiratory difficulty" in addition to a chronic lung condition. He later tested positive for the coronavirus and eventually succumbed to COVID-19-related pneumonia on Thursday, April 30, afternoon. He was 85.

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Known for being one of the main proponents of Nueva Trova in Mexico in the '60s and '70s, Chavez included extensive social commentary in his music, often espousing left-wing ideas in his lyrics.

Nueva Trova is a movement within Cuban music that emerged in the late '60s following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and was thus birthed during a time of significant political and social change.

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The movement had its roots in traditional Trova, a popular style of Cuban music that emerged in the 19th Century, but differed from its predecessors in that it was extremely politically charged.

Nueva Trova was thus a style that fused traditional folk music with progressive, politicized lyrics as well as elements of popular rock and pop music of the time.

Despite drawing inspiration from American protest singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, as well as artistes like The Beatles, Nueva Trova was characterized by its criticisms of the United States government and its allies for what was perceived as an abuse of power.

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For instance, many Nueva Trova artistes in both Cuba and Puerto Rico often criticized the US in their lyrics for continuing to use Vieques, an island–municipality of Puerto Rico located in the northeastern Caribbean, as a naval training ground.

Mexican songwriter Oscar Chavez performs at Auditorio Nacional on August 29, 2015, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Edgar Negrete/Getty Images)

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Being a Neuva Trova artiste himself, Chavez's music was heavily influenced by Castro's revolution and included commentary on socialism, injustice, sexism, colonialism, and racism among many other issues.

His lyrics were part of a "new song movement" that saw artistes create narratives that were both socially conscious and self-aware and generally tended towards a more literary and formal approach.

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In addition to his music, Chavez was also an accomplished actor, educated in theatre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He also produced and acted in several plays, movies and telenovelas in Mexico during his long career that spanned four decades, though his music is what brought him international fame.

Some of Chavez's most popular hits include the 1974 track 'Por Ti' ('For You'), an extremely emotional song that sees the narrator weep due to an intense longing, as well as the 1975 track 'La Casita' ('The Little House'), which ridiculed the corrupt political elite via lyrics that described a fictional mansion belonging to a politician.

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Another popular track from Chavez was the 1971 release 'Macondo', based on a fictional town of the same name described in Gabriel García Márquez's novel, 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' that goes from a tiny settlement to a sprawling town, which ultimately leads to its downfall before a massive windstorm and a four-year rainfall wipe the town from the face of the earth.

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Chavez's song hauntingly recalls the forgotten town, in all its glory and beauty, creating a sense of nostalgia for more peaceful and happier times against the backdrop of social upheaval in Mexico in the '70s.

Tributes have poured in following Chavez's passing. Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, Mexico's Secretary of Culture, tweeted, "A fighting voice never fades, thank you Oscar Chavez, your life was a journey worthy of you. My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues in struggle and song. Long live Oscar Chavez!"

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Mexico's first-ever female Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero stated, "I am very sorry to hear the news that a voice of the struggle has been silenced. My deepest condolences to the family of the teacher Oscar Chavez."

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