This article was commissioned for the March 2004 edition of Diva, a London-based Magazine for lesbian and bi women.
In love with Life
Celeste Carballo is one of Argentina's best-known musicians. Amongst other things, 'Cece' played and sang Janis Joplin on stage. She is, quite simply, a star. She is also an out lesbian, and passionately believes that education is the best, the only, way to overcome prejudice against gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
Celeste Carballo is one of a very small handful of women taken seriously as Argentinean rock stars. She was the first woman artist in the country to produce an album that went gold. One of her songs is now on the national curriculum in Argentina.
She has a voice like silver, like water, like steel. Musically, she is a chameleon: First she sang rock 'n' roll. Then she re-emerged as a punk, releasing the fabulous album Celeste y la Generación. She was fierce. She yelled and roared and screamed. There hadn't been anything like it. A few years later Cece released a divine pop record, Chocolate Inglés. And these days, she writes tangos. So what, this is Argentina, you might think. But in its own homeland, the tango is largely seen as passé, something for the old and for the tourists. But then, Cece's tangos aren't exactly old-fashioned: a woman singing about the femme fatale who broke her heart, in that sexy silver voice of hers.
Cece came out to the nation in 1989. On TV.
"God, what a scandal that was!" she says, looking back, and laughs.
Her speaking voice is a bit huskier, has less of an edge than when she sings. In jeans and a red T-shirt she doesn't look her 47 years a bit. She talks with her whole body, leaning forward to underline a point she's made, thumping the table energetically. She laughs a lot, great shouts of laughter. 'I'm in love with life,' runs a line in one of her songs, and you can see that she is. We're sitting in her living room, in the middle of which stands a large drum kit. On the sofa next to the sleeping cat lies an acoustic guitar. We drink tea with honey and Cece urges me to have another slice of cake. Yum.
"Such a scandal! Everybody was throwing up their hands - but at the same time, they'd all known that I was gay." She rolls her eyes.
Cece came out, unlike other Argentinean celebrities: for example her ex-partner, the singer Sandra Mihanovich. Everybody knows that Sandra is a dyke. But, people say, she doesn't make a song and dance about it the way Cece does. Cece doesn't exactly make a song and dance about her sexuality either. But she does mention it occasionally. Even that seems too much for some. On her website, she offers encouragement to other lesbians and gays to come out. This is sorely needed in a country where the majority of people - especially outside urban Buenos Aires - still think that being queer means there's something wrong with you. Cece uses the platform that fame has given her. " But I'm not a politician," she says. "I am a sort of ambassador, I guess -- especially since last year, when I sang at San Francisco Pride, and the biggest Argentinean newspaper, El Clarín, interviewed me. But that won't really change anything... What we need is education. Information! There is so much ignorance here."
She is surprisingly understanding and forgiving. I wouldn't be, if I'd had some of the words hurled at me that she has. I'd be furious.
"Of course I was angry!" she says. "But I also understand where people are coming from. If you want to change something, you have to understand it first. We all have a lot to teach, and a lot to learn. Every one of us."
Before I leave, she insists I have to see the garden. It is glorious, all grass and trees and space and lounging cats. Cece plucks some ripe lemons and insists I take them home. And some flowering honeysuckle. When she hears that I'll be going to the arid north-west of Argentina tomorrow, she urges some special skin cream on me as well.
I come away with a puzzled, delighted smile on my face. I imagine she often has that effect on people.
(c) 2004 Imogen Rhia Herrad
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