Pete Seeger – a connection to Latin American Song

Bernardo Palombo
Bernardo Palombo

As a child in Mendoza, I listened to Pete Seeger without understanding much about who he was. The first time I listen to “Guantanamera”, I learned about Jose Marti and a type of music that did not really reach Argentina.


Guantanamera: Jose Martí, by Pete
Guantanamera: Jose Martí, by Pete

Siendo un nino en Mendoza, escuche a Pete Seeger por primera vez, sin entender mucho quien el era  fue la primera vez que yo escuche la ‘Guantanamera’ y me entere de la existencia de Jose Marti y de un tipo de musica que no llegaba mucho a Argentina.

The first time I saw Pete, in person, was at an activity against the Vietnam War – there was a big concert in a famous Church on 4th Street and there were several bands playing. I sang a song following Pete and after he approached to greet and talk, but I did not understand because at that time, I did not speak a word of English. However, I through an interpreter, I let him know that I really liked the song he sang by Victor Jara, “Song of the Hammer”. His wife, Toshi, made a face, and although I did not understand English, I could understand that she said that Pete had written the song, which was “If I Had a Hammer”. I felt terribly embarrassed!

La primera vez que vi a Pete fue en una actividad en contra de la Guerra de Vietnam, hubo un concierto muy grande en la famosa Iglesia de la calle 4, en aquella ocasión habian varios grupos tocando. Pete cantó y despues que yo canté se acerco a saludarme y a hablarme de cosas que yo no comprendí  porque yo no hablaba una palabra de Ingles , en es occasion hice un tremendo papelón porque a travez de un interprete le pregunté que como conocia la cancion  que el habia cantado  y que no alcance a entender el titulo pero que yo la conocia como “Cancion del Martillito”, Toshi su esposa puso cara de Samurai, y a pesar que yo no entendía bien Inglés pude entender que ella dijo que Pete habia escrito la cancion, que era “If I Had a Hammer” , que yo la conocia como “Cancion del Martillito”.

My confusion was due to the fact that thousands of Chileans were singing that song especially during the election campaign in which Salvador Allende was the winner. Allende, used folk music instead of military marches that were traditionally the ballads of the parties, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and so on, with the help of many folk groups like “Quilapayu” and others. Victor Jara sang a Spanish language version of “If I Had a Hammer” called “Cancion del Martillito” (Song of the Hammer) that thousands of South Americans knew without knowing that it had been written in the USA by Pete Seeger.

Miles de Chilenos cantaban esa cancion  sobre todo en la epoca de la Campana Electoral de la cual finalmente Salvador Allende salio ganador. En aquel tiempo Allende por primera vez, uso musica Folclorica en vez de marchas militares que son las marchas de los partidos, el Partido Socialista,  el Partido Comunista etc. , con la ayuda de muchos grupos Folcloricos como ” Quilapayu” y otros. Victor Jara hizo una version en espanol de “If I Had a Hammer” que le llamo “Cancion del Martillito”que miles de Sudamericanos la conocieron sin entender que es cancion de Pete Seeger.

the Clear Water, El  Grupo, Northern South, Talisman, Tao Rodriguez
the Clear Water, El Grupo, Northern South, Talisman, Tao Rodriguez

Pete invited me to many activities where he was singing, and also invited me to spend a couple of weeks on the “Clearwater”, the boat that was leading the effort to clean up the Hudson River. Through him, I made many contacts with North American musicians that were participating in the Anti-War movement. First Pete invited my group “El Grupo” to sing with him on several occasions, and when I formed another group, “Northern South”, with Mauricio Nakht, Valerie Naranjo and Wendy Blackstone, we performed in the Clearwater Festival. Later, a third group I performed with, “Talisman”, did a big concert with Pete Seeger and Tao Rodriguez Seeger (his grandson).

Pete me invito a muchos esenarios  donde el estaba cantando , y tambien me invito a pasar un par de semanas en el “Clearwater”, el barco con el que estaban limpiando el Rio Hudson y a travez de el fueron mis contactos  con el movimiento Anti-Guerra y con todos los músicos Norteamericanps que en aquella epoca participaban en el movimiento.

In 1984, Pete came to greet and introduce Mercedes Sosa on stage when she sang in New York

Pete vino a saludar y a presentar a Mercedes Sosa cuando ella canto en Nueva York , en 1984 hubo un festival que trato de ser similar al de la ”Nueva Cancion” que se hizo en  la Republica Dominicana,

Pete was the representative of the International “New Song” Movement here in the U.S., and we went as a delegation to Ecuador where there was a festival of political music. Also at this festival were Armando Tejada Gomez, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Holly Nears and musicians from all over Latin America including Noel Nicola, Silvio Rodriguez. This festival was like a repetition of “Seven Days with the People“, the festival held in the Dominican Republic, this time with many more musicians from the U.S.A.

Pete era el representante del Movimiento Internacional  de la “Nuena Cancion” acá  en los EE UU, y fuimos como delegacion al Ecuador donde se hizo el festival de musica politica.  En ese festival estuvo Armando Tejada Gomez, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Holly Nears y musicos de toda la America Latina incluyendo Noel Nicola, Silvio Rodriguez fué como una repeticion  del festival “Siete dias con el Pueblo” con una colección un poco mas grande en donde se incluyo a los EE UU.

Leon Gieco y Pete Seeger: concierto en Buenos Aires
Leon Gieco y Pete Seeger: concierto en Buenos Aires

Pete became very interested in an Argentinian a singer because he noticed all these people chanting the lyrics to his songs and so he asked me who he was. He was, Leon Gieco. Pete had never heard the songs of Leon and he was impressed to see so many people singing the lyrics. Pete asked me to introduce him to Leon and after they met Leon invited Pete to sing in Buenos Aires where there was a concert at the Teatro de Opera.

 Estando allá Pete se intereso mucho en un cantante Argentino porque vio que toda la gente coreaba sus canciones y me pregunto quien era, era Leon Gieco ,Pete nunca habia escuchado las canciones de Leon, Pete se quedo impresionado al ver como la gente coreaba sus canciones. Pete me pidio que le presentara a Leon, despues que se conocieron Leon invito a Pete a cantar a “Buenos Aires” donde hubo un gran concierto.

ME PETE:YOU LEON 1990 benefit for El Taller @ Washington Irving H.S.
ME PETE:YOU LEON 1990 benefit for El Taller @ Washington Irving H.S.


Later, in 1990, we invited Leon to New York and he performed with Pete in a benefit for El Taller at Washington Irving High School, where David Byrnealso performed with them. Leon Gieco wrote a song for Pete.

En 1990 invitamos a Leon a venir a Nueva York y aqui Leon canto conPete Seeger en un beneficio para “El Taller” en el cual tambien participo David Byrne, Leon Gieco escribio una cancion  para Pete.

Pete Seeger's letters regarding The NYC Street Singers
Pete Seeger’s letters regarding The NYC Street Singers

When El Taller closed temporarily in 1990, Pete invited me to take part in a Choir that was called “The New York Street Singers” that he was co-directing along with Gene Glickman. He offered me an opportunity to work with the Choir curating a Spanish language repertoire  – a Latin American Songbook.

Cuando “ELTaller” cierró temporalmente en 1990 Pete me invitó a ser parte de un Coro que se llama “The New York Street Singers” del cual él era el director juntamente con Gene Glickman y me ofreció que viniera y trabajára con el Coro para formar un repertorio de Cancion Latinoamericana en Español .

2710 Broadway billboard, 1996
2710 Broadway billboard, 1996

In 1996, we opened a new “Taller” on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  We immediately had a concert called “Cancion del Inmigrante” (Immigrant’s Song) where we announced the performaces of “Pete Seeger and Friends” to let people know that we were opening this new space, but that it was still “El Taller”. We had to do two concerts because when the people saw “Pete Seeger” it sold out.

En el año 1996 abrimos “El Taller” nuevamente en el “Upper West Side” de Manhattan hicimos un concierto que se llamo “Canción del Inmigrante” en el cual anunciamos a Pete Seeger y Amigos para darle as conocer a la gente que abríamos el espacio en el que todavia esta “El Taller”, tuvímos que hacer dos conciertos porque cuando el publico vio “Pete Seeger”  se llenó increiblemente.

Pete Seeger is one of the main characters in a documentary about Latin American culture in New York ,”The Latin Beat”, which was filmed in 2000

Pete Seeger es uno de los personajes principales en un documental sobre la cultura Latinoamericana en Nueva York ,“The Latin Beat”, que se filmó en el año 2000.

About ETarchives

El Taller Latino Americano is a 501(c) (3) community-based arts and education institution founded in 1979 by Argentine musician and composer, Bernardo Palombo. He had arrived in New York not speaking a word of English, yet found no language barrier amongst musicians. He quickly realized the power of culture and art to cross barriers and began holding double-feature concerts featuring artists like Pete Seeger, Mercedes Sosa, Philip Glass and Atahualpa Yupanqui. Palombo also began teaching Spanish incorporating his songs and the languages of Latin America. This immersion model, combining the vitality of the arts with language learning, continues today.
This entry was posted in Chile, Ecuador, New York, Nuevo Cancion, Uncategorized, USA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *