Blowing in the Wind: El Zonda by Sonido Guay Neñe

Nature reveals that humanity is not in control of the outside world. How much does nature shape our internal landscape?

Vineyard in San Juan Province, Argentina © Ariel-SJ
Vineyard in San Juan Province, Argentina
© Ariel-SJ with GNU Free Documentation License

There is a hot, dry wind that blows down from the Andes Mountains into Argentina called the Zonda. Humid air rises off the Pacific Ocean into the Andes, where it leaves its moisture in the form of snow. This wind sometimes continues eastward down the other side of the mountains. Temperatures in its wake can rise in excess of 50 degrees Fahrenheit within a few hours and wind speeds can range anywhere from 25 to 120 miles per hour, damaging harvests, tossing birds through the air, felling trees and playing havoc with life. This heat wave is often followed by a strong cold front, rapidly plunging the temperatures to levels lower than those before the Zonda.

People are able to sense the Zonda before it appears, experiencing anxiety, insomnia and depression. The oppressive anticipation gives way to an eerie whistling sound. The sun turns a brown color and dust billows in the air. Being overtaken by the Zonda out of doors can be perilous. In a strong event, cars are blown across streets and roofs are removed. The Zonda is an experience that binds together the communities on the eastern side of the Andes. It is interwoven into the consciousness of that region, shaping its personality.

This song, El Zonda, by the Argentinian band Sonido Guay Neñe, is ostensibly a cheerful one, but it has dark overtones that stem from the character of this wind. The video is humorous, as we see the band overtake a tourist who is exploring near Mendoza, a town in northern Argentina where Sonido Guay Neñe has its roots. This is an area of rugged peaks and twisted creosote bushes. The traveler irreverently clambers over rocks to find paintings, some of which feature aliens, shooting photos with his cellphone. His car breaks down on the road and he is accosted by members of the band as singer Sandra Amaya cries that the Zonda is her friend. They destroy his car, perhaps with some alien technology, and eventually hold him captive so that they can speak directly to him. It’s all a bit reminiscent of the X Files, but it has a serious message. When tourists and explorers come to the area they should be respectful of the struggles of native people and the sacredness of their land and culture, which are as foreign as those of aliens. As outsiders, we will not understand all we see, but we need to take the time to listen.

Video via Sonido Guay Neñë on Youtube.

The song is deeper than the entertaining video or the catchy and colorful tune suggests, expressing a desire to forget the past that is common to human beings all over the globe. There is little refuge and no escape from it, but at least the Zonda wind scours away the evidence of struggle. There is a profound longing to be green and alive, a longing which is both aided and thwarted by the wind. While the Zonda provides water for human habitation through snowmelt, it also occasionally tears everything to pieces when it comes over the mountains. Joy and sorrow come from the same source, and, while life is hard, one must learn to laugh in order to survive. There is a sort of joyful resignation which I find very poignant.

Sonido Guay Neñe translates in Spanish as Sounds Cool Neñe, and in Huarpe, the native language of the area, as the chant of the tree across the road. The band is comprised of singer Sandra Amaya, also a famous folklorist and songwriter; Lea Skames, musician, arranger, disc jockey and producer of digital music; electronic musician and producer Christian del Negro; and percussionist Lucas Luchetti. They do a fascinating job of blending traditional Argentine music with modern digital and electronic sound.

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