Pepe Guerra, Legendary Uruguayan Folk Singer, Dies at 80

The Uruguayan music world is mourning the loss of José “Pepe” Guerra, the renowned singer-songwriter who co-founded the iconic folk duo Los Olimareños. Guerra passed away on Thursday at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer.

According to a statement from his family and record label AM, “For a long time he had been fighting a hard and tenacious battle against cancer, which he bravely confronted and overcame. Sadly, his body could not tolerate the strain and he passed away peacefully, at home surrounded by his loved ones.” In keeping with Guerra’s wishes, there will be no public wake or funeral ceremony held.

Born in Treinta y Tres on the banks of the Olimar River, Guerra formed Los Olimareños with Braulio López in 1960. For three decades, the duo recorded nearly 50 albums, blending folklore with native rhythms as well as protest murga music. Their hits like “Los Orientales,” “Orejano,” “Nuestro Camino,” and “Cielo del ’69” resonated across generations. But their signature song was undoubtedly “A Don José,” a Rubén Lena poem set to music that was declared Uruguay’s popular and cultural anthem by law in 2003.

“Our songs have carried down from grandparents to children and from children to grandchildren,” Guerra said in 2019 as Los Olimareños reunited for a final tour. Their music embodied Uruguay’s traditional culture so much that the oppressive military dictatorship banned them from 1973-1985 for lyrics protesting the repression. Los Olimareños went into exile in Spain and Mexico before returning triumphantly to Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario in 1984, welcomed by hundreds of thousands.

After splitting in 1990, Guerra and López pursued solo careers until reuniting in 2009. An incredibly popular figure, Guerra even missed out on a $1.6 million lottery jackpot in 2006 when his wife misplaced a winning ticket gifted by a fan.

With Pepe Guerra’s passing, Uruguay has lost one of its most authentic artistic voices celebrating the nation’s rich folk heritage and championing for a just society. His music will forever be cherished.