Latin American activism
to The rhythm of bluegrass
BY gabriela olmos
“Lord, when all is said and done, and this tired old race is run, is there room for love beneath the sun?” So goes the refrain of the Argentine-American band Che Apalache’s song “The Dreamer.” It tells the story of Moisés Serrano, who was brought to the United States as a one year old. He grew up in the Appalachians facing a life in which, by the words of the song, “dreaming is forbidden.”
Che Apalache performs bluegrass, music from the American roots’ tradition, blending it with the Latin American rhythms salsa, tango, and corrido.
The band’s history goes back to 2002, when Joe Trooper of North Carolina traveled to southern Spain to pursue a graduate degree. Argentina was suffering through an economic crisis that drove thousands of its people to other countries. In Spain, Trooper met and befriended many of them.
Trooper moved to Buenos Aires inspired by Argentine culture. To make ends meet, he taught music. Blessed with gifted students, he invited them to make a band. They named it Che Apalache to account for everyone’s origin, che being the word used to greet a friend in Argentina.
At first, they played only bluegrass in Buenos Aires. Over time, they integrated Latin American rhythms and performed around the world. Their repertoire grew to include songs portraying social problems.
“There is a lot of movement against undocumented immigrants in the South of the country; there is a lot of racism. But there are also untold stories,” Trooper says. With songs such as “The Dreamer,” the band seeks “to create different stories that help people imagine new spaces in which we can all live.”
Trooper envisions places in which North American and Latin American cultures could not only coexist, but also speak to and feed each other. The band members are convinced that music can make a difference. Trooper says that changes happen little by little, “at a baby’s pace. Big changes are the union of small changes happening simultaneously. But every interaction, every human connection, every spark of justice drives us forward.”