Luís Sepúlveda con i Modena City Ramblers 1999

Three things I learned from Luís Sepúlveda

Luís Sepúlveda (to his friends “Lucho”, an endearing name for someone called Luís, that also means “I fight” in Spanish) crossed the path of Modena City Ramblers (the band I co-founded) as part of a group of writers, all of them Hispano-Americans: Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Daniél Chavarría, Leonardo Padura, Rolo Díez. This group, that called itself La Banda (The Gang) taught us three things.

The first: it isn’t over until it’s over. In those years (late 1990s), Italy was being normalized: the Clean Hands era had come to an end without the renewal we had been hoping for, and society seemed to have sank into a swamp of immobility. These authors had suffered defeats much more sever than our own (Lucho himself, an opposer to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, had been tortured in the regime’s prisons; Rolo had been shot in the back, and lived with a bullet lodged near his spine). But they appeared to be immune to the discouragement and negativity that affected us Italian: they just picked themselves up, dusted off, and went right back into the fray, even more enthusiastic than before.

The second: be a team. Beyond the different styles and sensitivities, the components of  La Banda leaned on one another, supported each other. The group was a real resource for all its components. Their altruism and team spirit was inspiring. The group to which we naturally belonged, the sort-of-famous, sort-of-alternative Italian rock bands of the time, showed no such spirit. On the contrary, it was often ripples by petty rivalries.

The third: there is much joy in shared work for a meaningful cause. These authors were cheerfull, optimistic, positive people, despite often troubled personal histories: persecution, exile, prison, torture. In 1999, with my band, I traveled to Gijón, in Spain, where Lucho had settled down, to celebrate his 50th birthday. His trajectory would have warmed any heart: from Pinochet’s jails to the safety of Spain, the love of his beloved (she, too, a former prisoner of the Chilean regime), literary and commercial success. Most components of La Banda were there, to celebrate him and the path they all shared. I watched them sit over dinner, exchange funny and terrible memories, call each other “compañero de toda la vida”, bringing a hand to their heart. They expressed strong, sincere feelings, with a wink and a nod to the stereotype of the sentimental South American. And I thought: these are good lives. I, too would like a life like theirs.

These three lessons have stayed with me. They have been a common legacy of the Modena City Ramblers experience, for as long as I stayed in the band. Later, I brought them with me into my current life as a “mutant” social entrepreneur. Fight for a worthy cause, with a group of people you love and admire, and even a small chance of winning: if it not the recipe for happiness, it’s close. Close enough.

Ave atque vale, Lucho. You fought well. I hope that, at the end, people will be able to say the same of us all.

R.I.P. Luís Sepúlveda, 1949-2020

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