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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Luca Prodan- Brother You are Missed.

These musings were prompted by a statement made by a musician friend of mine whose band “Nayas” cover Sumo’s “Heroin.” Check out Sumo on my first radioblog entry at

Sumo was a band from Argentina that lasted from 1981 until the death of its lead singer/songwriter/force Luca Prodan on December 22, 1987. Sumo and Luca were one and the same. Upon Lucas' passing the remaining band members wisely dissolved Sumo. Some of the band continued as “Las Pelotas” – the balls- while others went on as “Divididos”- divided- an allusion to Sumo’s album “Divididos por la Felicidad”. Both bands can't hold a candle to Sumo on days when Luca had his worse hangover.

I don’t think there’s even been anyone quiet like Luca Prodan. He was completely unique. Perhaps that is why I found my friend’s comment that Luca ripped off Lou Reed’s “Heroin” odd.. Feel free to listen to Luca’s version at my radioblog (link above).

To this day Luca’s life remains shrouded in contradictions. The story goes like this: he was born around 1954 in Italy to an Italian father and Turkish mother, was of Scottish descent, went to a private school in England, moved to italy where he was arrested for failing to do his military service, returned to London for the punk explosion/music of the late 70s, got addicted to heroin, saw a picture of peaceful Cordoba an Argentine friend whom he’d gone to private school with sent him and decided he either got out of London or died. Altough his original idea was to become involved in agriculture he gravitated back to the music and in 1981 set up a band and moved to the more happening capital; Buenos Aires. He felt that Argentina was “behind the times" when it came to rock music and had not absorbed the punk and post punk revolutions; local bands were still largely focused on classic and prog rock. Luca introduced Argentines, in my opinion, to punk and all the strains of darker rock that come via the Velvet Underground. In effect all modern “alternative” rock in Argentina comes by way of Sumo. What is remarkable is how well he accomplished the synthesis of cultures and music in creating a variant of a modern rock and roll relevant to argentines…He really opened up argentine rock and single-handedly modernized it. Bands such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Soda Stereo would probably never have come about where it not for Sumo.

After slowly conquering the local club scene the old fashioned way Sumo cut their three important records; “Dividos Por La Felicidad”, “Llegando Los Monos” and “After Chabon.” Sumo’s music is a hybrid mix of punk, rock and reggae with songs dominated by Luca’s presence and charisma, sung in English or Spanish and featuring atypical instrumentation such as the saxophone. Sumo were an unorthodox band from the scottish romp "Cruachan" (loosely borrowing from Jack and the Bean Stalk) to the aforementioned "Heroin" which segues in and out of a woman's shampoo commercial (wellapon)!. Amazingly, Luca learnt argentine Spanish in a few months and sounds more Argentine than the tango! Luca's rarest attribute is that he is bilingual and multicultural. He sings songs in spanish or english and sometimes even moves effortlessly from one language to another, and even from one way of looking at your world to another, and does it convincingly. Thematically Sumo songs are mainly Luca’s impressions about the same things all rock'n'roll is about: sex, drugs, rock, growing up “Your daddy says I’m no good no good”, more drugs in his case, and the sometimes vapid society he saw around him (encapsulated perfectly in “La Rubia Tarada” aka “The Idiot Blonde”) all channeled through his sardonic punk lens. Make no mistake about it Luca was above all else punk:

Oigo "dame" y "quiero" y "no te metas"
"Te gustó el nuevo Bertolucci?".
La rubia tarada, bronceada, aburrida,
me dice "Por qué te pelaste?"
Y yo "Por el asco que dá tu sociedad.
Por el pelo de hoy ¿cuánto gastaste?"

I hear “give me” and “I want” and “don’t get involved”
“Did you like the new Bertolucci?”
The idiot blonde: tanned, bored,
Tells me “Why did you shave your head?”
And I: “Cause of how sick your society makes me feel.
For today’s hair how much did you spend?”

Like most punks in the 1970s be it the Clash, the Ruts or whoever, Luca took a lot from reggae and many of his more succesfull songs are reggae tunes (Kaya, 1989, Que Me Pisen). Check out Regtest:

Algunos lo llaman el reggae cordobes (some call it the Cordoba reggae)
Play I some music
I hope I don't come on too strong
You can't refuse it
But you know you might be wrong
You could call it reggae
You couldn't call i t rock and roll
Come on, get ready
'cos there's a big ball going to roll
You'd better get up brother, up brother,
Up brother yeah!
Don't you go too far!
'cos then you'll come down brother,
Down brother, down brother, down yeah!
Like a shooting star.
I had a dream oh yeah, in 1973
I dreamt a spaceship, come down to deliver me
Well it was big and white
And it had come a long long way
A black star liner?
You know, I could not say
But it took me up brother, up brother
up brother, up brother, yeah
You know, it took me far!
Then it brought me down brother, down brother
Down brother, down brother, down yeah!
Like a shooting star.

Above all he was an expressive and intense singer who commanded your attention.. when he sang something you listened and believed it.. the fact that this largely foreign "punk" with an English schooling was able to break out within a very conservative uptight society just coming out of a military dictatorship in 1982 still dominated by prog rock and that had gone to war with England -precipitating a short term ban on rock in english on the radio- tells you something about the man!…He was on a par with the greats of rock and roll yet he is largely unknown outside Argentina. Its heartbreaking that Luca was unable to conquer his personal demons heroin and later to a greater effect gin. On the previously mentioned "La Rubia Tarada" after being sickened by the shallowness of the society, the poseur clubs, the wannabe punks, etc he ends with what I think makes a fitting epitaph for this man of the world who somehow ended up in Argentina and whose remains lie there in the Cemetery Chacarita:

Me voy, rumbo a la puerta
y después al boliche de la esquina
a tomar una ginebra con gente despierta.
Esta si que es Argentiiiinaaaaaaaaaa!

I'm outta here, on the way to the door
and then to the bar on the corner
to drink myself some gin with people who are alive.
This really is (i.e. could only be) Argentiiiinaaaaaaaaaaa! (emphasis on sarcasm)

But he lives on, for example, at Bossa on Saturday night's (Bossa is located at 2463 18th Street and Nayas usually begin their sets about 11).

Some Luca Prodan links-

If you are looking to buy some Sumo you can't beat the "Obras Cumbres" ("Great Works") 2 disc compilation available on Amazon:

Luca Prodan film:

Origins of Sumo (great story in Spanish)- [origines de Sumo]:

Sumo web page (pagina web):

Another Sumo web page (pagina web):

And another Sumo web page (pagina web):

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