Tuesday, March 28

Suso Vaamonde: the rebel singer-songwriter and the first artist convicted of censorship in democracy

Before the cases of the rappers Valtònyc or Pablo Hasél, the singer-songwriter Suso Vaamonde was the first musician convicted of censorship in a democracy. In 1979, the artist sings in the Praza da Ferrería in Pontevedra: “I always have a phallus from Spain/I always have a dispute/I know Spain is my nai/you are a fucking whore”. He is denounced by a soldier and sentenced to six years and one day in prison for “insulting the country with publicity”. Vaamonde decides to go into exile in Venezuela and will not return to Spain until 1984. He turned himself in and was imprisoned, before being amnestied by the socialist government.

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The biography Suso Vaamonde, a free and committed song dun pobo (Editorial Galaxia), written by Fernando Fernández Rego, analyzes this episode with new data and opinions, the indisputable relevance of Suso Vaamonde in Galician music -a dozen albums, three of them for children- and other controversial situations, such as his disagreements with the group Voces Ceibes or the buried dispute with Juan Pardo, who ended up throwing eggs at a concert.

“He is a key artist in the history of Galician music and a pioneer. The first to music poems in Galician and popularize them, the first to make records in Galician for children or as a producer, rescuing popular music from taverns”, says Fernández Rego about this singer-songwriter, who also highlights “his ease in entering into controversies , due to his firm convictions and that he was always upfront”.

Xesús Vaamonde Polo (Pontecaldelas, 1950 – Vigo, 2000), grows as an artist among the ye-yé airs of Vigo at the end of the 60s. He listens to records by the Beatles and the Kinks, brought by the sailors who disembark in the port, and drinks from the influences of folk singers American people. From Pete Seeger to Bob Dylan, through Woody Guthrie, pioneer of American protest songwriters, whose famous anti-fascist sticker on his guitar was a forceful declaration of intent: This machine kills fascists -This machine kills fascists-.

“For me he is the Woody Guthrie or the Víctor Jara of Galician music, one of the most committed and left-wing artists we have ever had”, says Fernández Rego. He had a first musical attempt with the Marco Barolento group, until his friend Xerardo Moscoso offered him to join Voces Ceibes, the protest song collective that emerged within the University of Santiago in 1968, in parallel with others from the State such as Nova Cançó. Catalan. Vaamonde began to give concerts walking through the villages with the guitar on his shoulder, singing in associations and teleclubs with his foot resting on a stool and often fleeing from the police with the word in his mouth. “He never had a manager, people called him at home and he played many times for free wherever there was a strike, dismissal or social protest,” explains the author of the book. Regarding these concerts and his support for charitable causes, Vaamonde declares with much sarcasm and a touch of bitterness in one of the interviews rescued in the book: “When there was no budget they called me, but when there was money they hired Azúcar Moreno ”.

Vaamonde moved, despite the close surveillance of the Francoist Political-Social Brigade. “For 2,000 people to listen to us at a concert, it took three years, because we weren’t in the press or on the radio,” he says in one of the several recovered interviews, many of them thanks to the work of his nephew Gael Vaamonde , guardian of his memory through the complete website of the artist.

Actually, the discs were sent to the radios, but in many stations they were scratched on purpose so that they would be irradiable. His lyrics were censored and his concerts denied. Being a singer-songwriter was not an easy task and Vaamonde arrived in 1973 to perform in Cádiz disguised as a priest to go unnoticed.

In the endorsement of Voces Ceibes, he found an umbrella under which to shelter, but sometimes a certain detachment from the group can be sensed in his words. “I prefer to play for sailors or peasants than for university students”, he declared in an interview, marking distances with the environment from which the Voces Ceibes emerged. His disagreements with the group’s moral leader, Benedicto Villar, which marks the group’s argument, are staged publicly in a performance in the Portuguese city of Guimarães. “Benedicto directed the roost and marked the pace with an iron hand and Suso had a strong character that collided with him,” explains Fernández Rego.

The author approaches this controversial episode in the book. “In Guimarães they didn’t let Suso sing, with the excuse that he had arrived late and already with the times distributed and that was the trigger”, explains Rego. Benedicto came out to play and a good part of the public booed and insulted him. Among the public, once again, Suso Vaamonde, accused of heating up the spirits and inciting people against Benedict.

In 1975 Vaamonde recorded Loita and his cassettes began to circulate clandestinely from hand to hand, but it would not be until 1977, when a much more ambitious album arrived: Nin touch a lick, the first live record of Galician music. This work includes the topic I returned to land but lost or lovea poem by Bernardino Graña to which Vaamonde puts music.

“There were no studios in Galicia, they brought a mobile unit from Madrid and it was recorded live at the Veiga de Moaña Cinema because it was the most affordable formula,” says the author of this biography, whose story runs parallel to the attempt to create in Galicia a own record industry. By then, a new path in Galician song had already begun to take shape. Voces Ceibes gave its last gasp and the so-called Movemento Popular da Canción Galega arose. A musical line of nationalist inspiration emerges, which displaces the protest song, which until then had the ideological and logistical support of the Communist Party. “A crossroads of accusations begins between the musicians who championed the use of Galician with a marked ideological and vindictive tone and those who used it stripped of political connotations, such as Andrés Dobarro or Juan Pardo”, recalls Fernández Rego about that moment of confrontation.

In 1976 Juan Pardo presents his album Galicia, mine nai two two seas, a blockbuster for the time, which further upset the sector that defended the protest song and viewed with suspicion the spectacular means that Pardo, who was considered an upstart in the Galician language, had had at his disposal. One of the culminating episodes of this confrontation takes place at the Nova Olimpia nightclub in Vigo, during a performance by Juan Pardo. “A great rain of eggs begins to fall on the stage and a great mess is made”, explains the author of the book. Juan Pardo’s musicians come down and hit back at the audience, among which a usual suspect is at the top: Suso Vaamonde. There is a crossing of complaints and the thing does not happen to majors, although the wounds will continue open.

Suso’s career progressed and he became a singer highly respected by the Galician poets of his time, whom he removed from the minority literary field to popularize them on a musical level, such as Bernardino Graña, Manuel María or Celso Emilio Ferreiro. Until the moment he lived in Pontevedra in 1979, which marks a turning point in his life. In an anti-nuclear recital in Praza da Ferrería, Vaamonde freely interprets the verses of one of his most popular songs, wowwhich will end up earning him a sentence, causing his exile and subsequent imprisonment.

The complaint of a military sympathizer of the far-right party Fuerza Nueva prospers and Suso Vaamonde is sentenced in 1980, five years after Franco’s death, to six years and one day in jail for a crime of “insulting the homeland with publicity” . A process “with few certainties and many irregularities, since it was never possible to prove that Suso sang this entire verse,” Rego writes in one of the book’s paragraphs. Vaamonde then decides to flee and go into exile in Venezuela.

The rise of the Socialists to power in 1982 changed things. In 1984 Suso surrendered and, after a month and a half in the Ourense prison, he was pardoned and released in an agreed amnesty process.

A short time later, a new disagreement would take place with Benedicto and the singers who had belonged to Voces Ceibes. In his eagerness to disseminate the history of Galician music as much as possible, Vaamonde promoted a double compilation album with the music of Voces Ceibes. Once published, a problem arose. It did not seem at all clear that Vaamonde had authorization to use the rights to those songs, and those who supported the Voces Ceibes brand organized a press conference announcing legal action against him.

“I think it’s a lack of communication with him and between them, a collective where each one goes their own way at that time, some say that Voces Ceibes had finished and others that it continued,” explains Fernández Rego.

The album ended up being blocked and Vaamonde continued with his career as an artist and his work as a producer: from popular tradition groups such as A Roda, Cuco de Velle or Verbas Xeitosas to rock groups such as Túzaros or Rastreros. With labels such as Ediciones do Cumio, he promoted the first compilation album of the then emerging bravú rock, and created his own label, Trebón, with which he was active until the end of his days. There he began his most ambitious work: the plan was to make twelve albums with twelve songs each, which would add up to 144 songs with which he wanted to reflect the history of popular music in Galicia. He only managed to carry out half of his project, because lung cancer crossed his path and his health began to be very weak.

At the end of 1999, his friends organized a massive tribute to him in Salvaterra de Miño, which was attended by more than 3,000 people. He died shortly after, in the year 2000, and his ashes were scattered in the Oitavén River, near Regodobargo, the village where he was born and to which he had dedicated a record. “My songs have given me a lot of satisfaction, but they have also given me a lot of trouble,” he declares in one of his last interviews, in what could be his epitaph.