The Sound of Latin America: Sandro and the Invention of Latin Pop

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:40 AM
Room A707 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Matthew B. Karush, George Mason University
Matthew Karush:  The Sound of Latin America: Sandro and the Invention of Latin Pop

This paper will explore the career of the pop star Sandro in order to illuminate a major transformation in Argentina’s position within transnational, mass cultural circuits. Sandro began his career in the early 1960s as a rock ‘n’ roll singer, recording a series of Spanish-language, cover versions of U.S. hits with his band Los de Fuego. A working-class kid, he carved out an aggressively sexual, bad boy image that earned him a great deal of media attention. However, beginning in 1967, Sandro abandoned rock ‘n’ roll in favor of romantic, pop ballads. This shift reflected a conscious decision to pursue an audience beyond Argentina’s borders. Thus, his first album in the new style was called Beat Latino, and by 1969 he began to perform under the name “Sandro de América.” The move was an enormous success; with his new music, Sandro become a huge star throughout Latin America.  By reinventing himself as a balladeer, Sandro helped create the genre of Latin pop and in so doing constructed an extremely influential, musical expression of pan-Latin American identity. He had transformed himself from an interpreter of the latest North American fad to an architect of a new music that expressed an essential distinction between Latin American and North American identity. Yet scholars have largely ignored Sandro and the Latin ballad genre he helped create, because of the overt sentimentality and crass commercialism of the music. This paper will examine the ways Sandro, his fans, and CBS, his recording company, reconfigured Argentina as a Latin American nation. I will argue that Sandro’s ambiguous racial identity facilitated his emergence as both a Latin symbol and a new kind of Argentine star.