December 12, 2010
Eduardo Mateo came to prominence in Montevideo's rock scene in the late sixties. As a boy, he would skip school to play candombe drums in the street with his brother and father. He eventually dropped out altogether and became a beekeeper. His mother gave him a guitar when he was 14; he learned quickly and shortly went on to tour throughout southern Latin America in a variety of samba, bossa nova, and tropicalia outfits. In the mid-60s, he played in a variety of so-called protesta beat bands—basically anglo pop cover bands—as Uruguay's government began to unravel. Beat bands were disparaged in the press for coopting imperial culture, but many of the Montevideo beat bands were more or less progressive in thinking and strove for higher artistic aims. Employing threatrics and a particular drollness, groups in Montevideo might be dragged on stage in coffins or seen simulating a cello giving birth to a violin.
In 1971, Mateo was asked down to Buenos Aires to record a solo album. What originally was supposed to be a week-long stay turned into two months of sporadic recording. Each morning, the studio would send someone down to Mateo's hotel to try and catch him before he slipped away; but Mateo no longer played music unless he absolutely wanted to. He sought authenticity in each performance, assiduously studied other musical forms (like Arabic, Indian, and Haitian) and was never satisfied with recordings. After months of cat-and-mouse sessions at the studio, Mateo returned to Montevideo one day without saying a word. Mateo's only solo album is a collection of these recorded tracks in Buenos Aires, hashed together by the De La Planta record label. His collaboration with Brazilian percussionist Jorge Trasante, Mateo y Trasante (1976) has since gained a cult status. He continued to record into the late 80s. Influential, but never again successful, Mateo would drift further into poverty, eventually homeless and pan-handling. Hiding illness from everyone, Mateo was suddenly rushed to the hospital in 1989, diagnosed with an advanced case of abdominal cancer. He died two weeks later at age 49.
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