Your Heart Out 15 - What A Life!

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While there may be debates to be had about the way classics are used against us, to keep us in our place and so on, there is no doubt about the impact The Beatles had around the world. Take pretty much any part of the globe, and you will see how from very early on The Beatles inspired young kids to get up and do their own thing. This was not some grand global marketing campaign. It was instead a grass roots response that broke down cultural, political, religious and racial barriers. It defied logic. In south America, you could the same thing happened in Uruguay. A number of young groups inspired by The Beatles and their contemporaries started to make music of their own. Echoing the British ‘beat’ invasion of the States, some of the Uruguayan groups would find seek success in neighbouring Argentina. It is largely because of this ‘success’ that we are able to enjoy clips of groups like Los Shakers and Los Mockers performing on Argentine TV shows in their pop prime. While these groups were spreading the word, back home in Uruguay there was a move towards creating a new form of music that had more of a specific cultural identity. Groups would start to sing in Spanish, and they would use more local influences, such as candombe which is a percussive musical form that has its roots among the African community in Montevideo. Other influences at work would be Brasilian bossa nova/tropicalia, jazz, funk and psychedelia. The result of all this was a flurry of activity that produced a series of fantastic, inventive, uniquely Uruguayan records that have gradually been salvaged in recent times by intrepid pop explorers. The military coup that took place in Uruguay in 1973 put a stop to most of the rock related activity. The coup itself was an opportunistic response to the supposed threat from the Marxist urban guerrillas The Tupamaros who had been active in the country. The military regime was also part of a wider picture in south America, with at various times similar repressive administrations in Chile, Brazil and Argentina. While a number of musicians left Uruguay when the military coup took place, others stayed and found new ways to express themselves. As we have seen elsewhere on our travels, when authoritarian regimes of whatever creed have been in power and censorship has been in place, inventiveness has still flourished. If rock music has been outlawed then performers have drawn on more traditional folk and ballad forms. And so as the ‘70s progressed in Uruguay there were some very special singer/songwriters who were incorporating some pretty unusual elements into their compositions to produce some wonderful records. That is an absurdly generalised overview of the music scene in Uruguay during a specific period of time. It hopefully provides some useful background to this mixtape, What A Life! – The Story of the Light Blues.

LOS MOCKERS – WHAT A LIFE! Say what you like about the provenance of British rhythm ‘n’ blues, but there is no denying the fact that the Rolling Stones inspired a whole host of kids around the world to sneer and snarl. And in Uruguay it was Los Mockers that heard the call. The name may have come from a Beatles movie, but the group was very much in the Stones’ camp. They were offered a deal by EMI in Argentina, but didn’t really seem to get the breaks. Nevertheless their early recordings contain some fantastic examples of the universal garage sound. What A Life in particular is a brilliant example of growling teen angst.

The group itself was Roberto (Beto)Freigeda on drums, known as "The Spiritual One", Esteban Hirschfield on organ and backing vocals, known as "The Philosopher", Jorge Fernandez on lead guitar and backing vocals, known as "The Nice One" , Julio Montero on bass and vocals, known as "The Quiet One", and Jorge (Polo) Pereira on rhythm guitar and vocals, known as "The Wild One". Polo’s outrageous Jaggerisms are particularly captivating, and as was so often the way with the global garage response the pupils could actually outdo the masters. Los Mockers could write brilliant songs of their own, and any collection of theirs you can find is highly recommended. By all accounts the group struggled with the drift towards softer psychedelia and commercial pressures, and members went to work with other great groups like Los Walkers (Argentina) and Los Delfines (Uruguay).


In simplistic terms Los Shakers were The Beatles to Los Mockers’ Stones. While the early work of Los Shakers is endearingly charming in a pure Hard Day’s Night way, the group became progressively more inventive and individualistic. Despite the Spanish titles, the group continued to sing in English while incorporating different elements into the mix. Its gestation may have been a difficult one but Los Shakers’ third and final LP, La Conferencia Secreta del Toto’s Bar, from which this track is taken is a real classic. Ace/Big Beat released a compilation of Los Shakers’ recordings in 2000, but this seems to have disappeared. The actual LPs should be easy enough to find though, and any beat/psychedelia fans will find much to love. The group, however, was so much more than simply Montevideo’s mop tops. Is it blasphemy to argue that by 1968 what Los Shakers were doing was more interesting than The Beatles?






Hugo and Osvaldo Fattoruso were vocalists, singers and songwriters with Los Shakers. During that time they were credited with being pioneers in mixing elements of bossa and other south American elements in their songs. After the group dissolved they would record an LP as a duo in 1969, simply called La Bossa Nova de Hugo e Osvaldo. In many ways it was a continuation of some of the things they had been doing with Los Shakers. But it’s deceptively simple and straight forward. Sure, it’s a lovely bossa nova set, with the obligatory Beatles and Bacharach covers. But there are darker touches too. One song, for example, features the words of Argentinian writer Marta Lynch. Most of the compositions are Hugo’s alone though. And there are stranger, sinister touches, like on Poema de Las Cinco Rosas. There are also moments of sublime beauty, like the reworking of the Los Shakers’ hit Nunca Nunca (Never Never) which has a great Walter Wanderley/Deodato organ setting.

OVNI 87 – SIENTO Ovni 87 was a psychedelic candombe outfit from the late 60s. The line-up was Rubin Melogno on vocals, Leonardo Goldberg on bass, Omar Picin on percusion, Atilio Fonseca on keyboards, Freddy Anzorena on guitar and Hermes Calabrini on drums. They apparently released two singles for the Uruguayan RCA imprint: Algo Fugaz /Sueno un Camino in 1968 and Siento /No Tengo Valor in 1971. Both singles are total classics, and the garage style organ sound, fuzz guitars and funky percussion on Siento makes for an absolute masterpiece.

EL KINTO – ESA TRISTEZA El Kinto is a group that has acquired a significance that transcends its small recorded legacy. While the beat groups were away spreading the word, El Kinto was at the forefront of a new musical movement that created a genuine Uruguayan musical identity that celebrated pop but said something explicitly about who they were and where they were from. Ironically this identity was formed through blending all sorts of influences, reflecting Julian Cope’s phrase about authentic rock ‘n’ roll being the greatest oxymoron. El Kinto took the ‘rock’ influence of The Beatles and others and added in unique elements of its own. Perhaps most strikingly they placed great emphasis on the prominent use of African and south American rhythms and percussion. This mixed with the Spanish lyrics was a bold declaration that the group was not pandering to the English-speaking audiences. But equally striking are the strength of the original compositions, and the beautifully sparse way the guitars are used. It’s hard to resist drawing parallels between El Kinto and what was happening at the same time in Brazil with the tropicalia movement. And the Brazilian influence on El Kinto is quite clear. But to dwell on that kind of diminishes what El Kinto was doing. There was no real precedent for the music they were creating in Uruguay. They certainly didn’t have the resources to draw on that Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and so on did. Mind you, they might not have had so much to kick against either. Uruguay in the late ‘60s did not have to endure the repressive style of government and state censorship the tropicalia movement was forced to endure. Like, say, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, El Kinto is also significant for the strength it had in depth. Key personnel like Eduardo Mateo, Ruben Rada and Walter Cambon would play crucial parts as the Uruguayan music scene evolved. The early recordings of El Kinto provide fantastic clues about what would happen next.

LIMONADA – CAMBIAR LA ROSA Limonada was started by Walter Cambon (guitar and vocals) and Jose Luis Sosa (drums) after El Kinto dissolved. It was very much a continuation of that group’s activity, mixing sunshine pop and psychedelia with the Uruguayan candombe tradition. Again it’s hard to resist drawing comparisons with what the tropicalia crowd was doing in Brazil. Limonada (and you can place the emphasis on the Nada part of the name, meaning nothing!) recorded just the one LP in 1970. It’s a fantastic record, and was actually an instant success in Uruguay. For whatever reason Limonada did not cash-in on the popularity of the LP, and waited a good year or so before playing any live shows, breaking up shortly afterwards. The Limonada LP is arguably the first concept LP in the history of Uruguayan rock, and the record has all sorts of surreal spoken links and asides which might just suggest the group was more than familiar with the Small Faces. The sound, however, will appeal enormously to fan of Os Mutantes’ debut.

OPUS ALFA – TANGUEZ This is where you find the influence of the heavier, progressive sound making its impact. Opus Alfa, released just the one LP, but that was far from a conventional rock LP for 1972. Around half of the tracks are pretty special, and Tanguez is particularly appealing with its cyclical organ-led rhythmic motif that to these untutored could easily be reminiscent of tango dramatics. Jesus Figueroa’s vocals are suitably emotive and histrionic.

GENESIS – NOSOTROS HOY Genesis was another group that ostensibly should be a hard rockin’ outfit very much of its time, but again on the group’s only LP (a 1972 release) the songs and production take all sorts of strange detours. From the little I have read about the group, The Who and Hendrix are the usual reference points, but the wonderfully complex, jazzy lightness of Nosotros Hoy, which is featured here, suggests more of a fondness for the West Coast sounds of Love and The Doors.

PSIGLO - CATALINA Ruben Melogno from the psychedelic outfit Ovni 87 resurfaced as the singer with Psiglo, who went on to be the most popular group in Uruguay. Early on, in July 1972, they told Uruguay’s Hit magazine: “We are well aware of the current state of the world and country we live in and we want our lyrics to reflect social issues. But we are not a protest group, to make that clear. We are not trying to destroy the system but to provide things. Our songs are intended as a warning to young people, not give arms in hand but to give hope and that without being either pontificating, but showing the way, while criticizing and providing solutions. Hopefully [...] particularly like and which serves to communicate. The band is important, that we might live music as well, but the main thing is to communicate. We do not like to lock ourselves in a circle so delicious, we mean things and want be understood.” That may be a poor translation, but you get the idea. Psiglo were also invited to participate in the Festival de la Solidaridad Chile-Vietnam in the Estadio Centenario, on February 24, 1973, along with Zitarrosa Alfredo, Victor Heredia, Vera Sienra , El Sindykato, Quilapayún, Dean Reed and Camerata. Shortly afterwards their first LP came out, and was a major success in south America. Fans of hard, progressive rock rate it as one of the best LPs ever. Amidst the heavier blues sounds there are sublime and inventive moments, like the gorgeous Catalina, with its beautiful string arrangements. The group’s popularity meant it survived the military coup, but a second LP was suppressed for several years and there are tales of thousands of copies being burned. Understandably the group lost its momentum and scattered.

EL SINDYKATO – AFRICA El Sindykato was one of the groups that fused new pop sounds with more traditional African/Uruguayan and Latin rhythms and percussion as part of the candombe beat scene. It also seems to have been one of the more socially aware and politically active groups, openly supporting the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) in which all the left-wing parties in Uruguay were involved. Fairly early on singer Miguel Livichich left the group to form his own outfit, Miguel y El Comité. Regrettably I haven’t yet heard Miguel’s work with his own band, but it is tempting to imagine Ian Svenonius’ dream combo. The track included here is from El Sindykato’s second LP, simply called El Sindykato and released in 1972. It’s a fantastic LP and the group seems to have benefitted from having several permutations of songwriting teams within its ranks, including the Poggi brothers.

TOTEM - AFRICA Ruben Rada is quite probably the most well-known figure in Uruguay’s musical history. An exceptional percussionist and great personality, he had been a key member of El Kinto. Taking the whole fusion thing of mixing up candombe and other afro-latin rhythms with rock and funk one step further, he started the group Totem. I guess you could call the success of the group totemic. Few if any, even on the Fania label, have been as successful in creating such a potent mix as Rada and colleagues achieved on the first Totem LP, released in 1971, from which this track comes. A second LP, Descarga, the year later, is more rock oriented, but it’s all relative!


Opa – or what the Fattoruso brothers did next! After Los Shakers dissolved Hugo and Osvaldo started a new outfit called Opa, with an old friend Ringo Thielman, in which they would explore their passion for jazz and what would become known as fusion. By this time Hugo was playing keyboards, and trying out the new synthesizers, while Osvaldo was reinventing himself as a great drummer and percussionist. Moving to the US they worked extensively, and became the backing group for Airto Moreira, played on his Fingers LP, and provided the rhythm section for Flora Purim when she toured. The connection with Airto helped them get a deal with Milestone in the US, and among the guests on their two LPs (Goldenwings and Magic Time) would be Airto, Flora, Ruben Rada and Brazilian flute maestro Hermeto Pascoal. If you have a soft spot for fusion, latin jazz, and so on, these LPs will appeal. Hugo would later move to Brazil, where he would work extensively with Milton Nascimento.

EDUARDO MATEO - YULELE Eduardo Mateo is the great romantic figure of Uruguayan popular music. He remains an enigma that can provoke intense passion and lively debate. I have become gradually more and more obsessed with his 1972 debut LP, Mateo Solo Bien Se Lame, in the same way that previously I have become infatuated with records of a similar vintage by Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento. The sound on Mateo’s debut may be rough and ragged, just voice, acoustic guitar and percussion, but repeated listens reveal more and more of the songs’ sweetness and substance. The Brazilian references are perhaps not entirely coincidental. Before starting El Kinto I understand Eduardo travelled around brazil for some time, and I’ve seen references to him as a great bossa guitarist, second only to Joao Gilberto. And David Byrne’s world psychedelia series could have easily started with Mateo rather than Tom Zé.



TRASANTE – CANCION PARA RENACER Mateo’s eccentric reputation can partly be attributed to the illogical progressions he made during his career. For his second solo record he teamed up with percussionist Jorge Trasante for a record that still has people wondering. It is again a record that will reward the listener with its hidden depths. Depending on your point of view, part of the appeal or the controversy is Mateo’s interest in other forms of music, such as Arabic and other eastern sounds. He certainly has something of the infinite sadness of Arabic music in his songs and the way they are sung. But there is so much more there too, which the polyrhythmic magic of Jorge Trasante is a large part of. Mateo y Trasante is an extraordinary record. There are moments when you’d swear Caetano Veloso had got together with Count Ossie’s drummers. Come to think of it, that idea would no doubt have appealed enormously to Caetano. After playing on this record Jorge Trasante would go into exile, living and working in Paris for many years, eventually joining the Gypsy Kings. Mateo’s next release in 1984 would be the Cuerpo y Alma LP, which he recorded with the Fattoruso brothers. Milton Nascimento would later cover the title track. And, oh how I wish I had a copy!

DIANE DENOIR – MEJOR ME VOY Just occasionally you come across a piece of music that stops you in your tracks. So it was with Diane Denoir and the song featured here, Mejor Me Voy, which I found on YouTube after seeing her name mentioned a few times in the context of Uruguayan pop music.

The singing and performance was starkly and exquisitely beautiful with Diane’s voice wonderfully deep in a Bridget St John or Tuca kinda way. Investigating further there was a sense or a suspicion that Diane sounded so magical she must be made up. A MySpace biog, for example, mentioned how: “ In 1966, when she was only 19 years old she made her debut as a singer in Montevideo at the Primer Concierto Beat (First Beat Concert), a singular artistic experience that blended nonsense theatre, Alfred Jarry, Boris Vian and Slawomir Mrozek texts with bossa nova, french chanson, pop and avant garde. From then on, the press dubbed her as Lady Beat. Her whispered vocals were reminiscent of the style of singers like Astrud Gilberto and Francoise Hardy with a touch of Nara Leao, but with a unique and strong personality ...” You see what I mean?

Nara Leao was known as the muse of bossa nova, and a number of mentions I saw of Diane referred to her as the eternal muse of Eduardo Mateo. She worked with him closely, and their relationship seems to have been a special one. Diane recorded an LP in Argentina in 1972, from which Mejor Me Voy comes, which heavily featured Mateo’s songs. It is the success of this record that seems to have kickstarted Eduardo’s own solo career, though Diane did not get the chance to follow it up for over 30 years. A collection of performances Diane and Mateo did together live and on TV in the early ‘70s has been issued to considerable success. The existence of early singles by Diane raises questions about how much more may be buried in the way of Uruguayan bossa and folk recordings.

DINO – SOLO CREO EN TI Dino’s Solo Creo En Ti is a gorgeous track from the singer’s mid-‘70s Vientos Del Sur LP. There was something naggingly familiar about the track which I couldn’t put my finger on, until I thought of John Wesley Harding and Blood On The Tracks. In other words, that period of Bob Dylan’s work would be a good reference point for what Dino was doing on this record. There is a big difference, however. I suspect Dion’s stark acoustic approach was more to do with finding a way round the military regime’s repression of rock activity. Bob was just looking for a new sound.

Before this LP Dino, or Gaston Ciarlo, had been a major player in Uruguayan rock circles. Notably he performed as part of Montevideo Blues who released one LP (in 1972, of course). A track from that record really should have been included as part of this collection. It, however, is relatively easy to find on CD and there should be a degree of trust here without things being made too easy. Does that make sense? The name Montevideo Blues may not capture the imagination, but Dino and the group put together a remarkable record. In the reissue CD booklet there is a contemporaneous quote from a journalist about Dino and Montevideo Blues: “He continues to be one of the musicians of the greatest value. The aim for Dino is to create an independent Uruguayan sound. He brings a new musical concept to us, with explicit Latin American roots: malambo, milonga, and candombe are dealt with in a manner that provides a great solution to the problem facing these young people from the generation of rock music.”

What is really striking about the Montevideo Blues record is the way the sweet melodies clash with some of the most brutal lyrics in the history of popular music. Dino wrote poetically but bluntly about what he saw around him. The opening song, Milonga of the Long Hair sets the tone perfectly: “Milonga of long hair, of dark eyes/Like the night, the night/History of blows, years of great pain/For my people, for my people/Consolation of those who constantly live dragged on by the routine/That serious thing/A memory of those who fled from our land/Of the misery/Of the violence/I offer my daisies to you that are gone/That are withered/That are already dry/I give all, a renunciation of simple things/That I take as complete/Work for the machine that rots/That does not work/That does not produce/Blanket of the poor cold man who lies and does not complain/No longer complains …” In 1976 Dino released the Vientos Del Sur set, I suspect using the folk format as a way of beating the military’s censorship. It is a much more intimate record, contrasting sharply with the confrontational approach Dino favoured as part of Montevideo Blues. But in its way it’s as startling. Dino would release another LP, released in 1979, Hoy Canto. I’ve not heard it.

EDUARDO DARNAUCHANS – HE OLVIDADO LA NOCHE Listening to Cancion del Muchacho, the exquisitely beautiful LP Eduardo Darnauchans recorded in 1972 (oh yes!) when he was just 18 it is easy to imagine a teenage troubadour, the precocious poet, in the tradition of the young Tim Buckley or Nick Drake. But that sort of reference point is too easy, and should be resisted. In a wider context there was in south America in the early ‘70s a resurgence of interest in folk music, and a lot of this new music drew heavily on poetry and literary traditions. Indeed, this particular Eduardo Darnauchans record opens with an adaptation of a Jorge Luis Borges poem, Milonga de Manuel Flores. From what it is possible to glean about Darnauchans he had a reputation for flirting with the heart of darkness. Certainly there is an inherent sadness in many of his compositions, which is irresistible. It may be the result of wayward translation, but I have seen mention of him being alone with his microphone and his gloom. I rather like that. He Olvidado La Noche is taken from his third LP, released in 1979, and the subtle string arrangement on this is gorgeous. For some bizarre reason it makes me think of some of Phil Ochs’ work, and the melancholy he could capture. After this LP was released I believe Eduardo was banned by the military regime from performing for a number of years.


The performance of the Uruguayan team and in particular the majesty of our cover star Diego Forlan caught many people’s imaginations during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. During the tournament Uruguayan popular music legend Jaime Roos himself made the news when Reuters reported he could write a vuvuzela-inspired song if the national team went on to win. Well, they did wonderfully well, and Forlan lived up to Jaime’s comments as quoted: "These are magical days. Our team is playing football man, real ‘de la plata’ (classical Uruguayan) football. They don't just run after the ball,’ he said emphatically, singling out marksman Diego Forlan. ‘Forlan is a criminal, he's a killer. If you give him two seconds you're dead,’ the singer said ...” Jaime Roos himself is among the small number of people who have managed to write a patriotic football song that captures the nation’s imagination. Many years earlier, in 1977, following a period of exile scraping a living abroad, in Paris among other places, Jaime released his debut LP, Candombe del 31. This and its successor from a couple of years later, Para Espantar El Sueno (which featured fellow exile, the percussionist Jorge Trasante), are wonderful examples of pop music mixed up with traditional rhythms and beats such as candombe, murga, milongon, and even samba. There are times too when it’s tempting to think of John Martyn too with the use of electric guitar effects and percussion, but the sound is far more exuberant and defiant than the likes of Solid Air.

JORGE LAZAROFF – EL AFILADOR Anyone who has worked out how the wider Your Heart Out activity works will know it’s largely based on a love of fumbling around in the dark, occasionally finding treasures that open up new vistas. So chancing upon the first two LPs by Jorge Lazaroff from the end of the ‘70s/start of the ‘80s was one of those moments. The LPs are fantastic examples of folk rock from Uruguay with the by now expected odd rhythmic twists. That would be enough in itself. And anyway information about Lazaroff wasn’t exactly instantly accessible. Well, not until I began to realise that before his solo work he had been a part of Los Que Iban Cantando (which I believe translates as ‘those that were singing’) with Jorge Bonaldi, Luis Trochón, Jorge Di Pólito and Carlos da Silveira. This was a collective of singer/songwriters who performed and recorded together in the mid-to-late ‘70s I believe as a way of overcoming censorship issues. Their recorded legacy is well worth tracking down. Then by chance I found out that Lazaroff a little earlier had been a member of another singer/songwriter collective, Patria Libre, with Amarillo Miguel , Jorge Bonaldi, and Raul Castro. Jaime Roos and Jorge Trasante had also been involved providing musical support. From what I have read, and badly translated, Patria Libre was caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the times in Montevideo, influenced by the Cuban Revolution, the story of Che Guevara in Bolivia, the socialist experiment of Salvador Allende in Chile, the death throes of what happened in France in May ‘68. All these elements, in Montevideo as elsewhere, made people believe it was possible to achieve a collective happiness from structural changes. This all added to the strong political tensions that led to the military coup in 1973. From what I’ve gathered Patria Libre was active between mid 1972 and late 1975 amid growing repression of workers and students in Uruguay. The group was generally identified with the Uruguayan left, and was involved in playing street-based events, the colleges, the occupied factories, and at acts of mass demonstration When their stance meant Patria Libre was no longer welcome in Uruguay, the group went abroad, living and playing in Paris and Madrid for example. I believe their activity in Spain resulted in some of the group being expelled, which led to the group dissolving. In recent years recordings of Patria Libre have been salvaged and released on CD. I have not yet found a copy, but the ‘forbidden’ songs included give a good indication of what the group seems to have been about, such as a tribute to La Pasionara, the legendary Spanish communist leader Dolores Ibarruri, and an adaptation of Letter From Che To His Children. Perhaps in the context of this collection, Jorge Lazaroff’s solo work and his wonderful attempts at elevating the art of popular song is enough. But the diversion into his past illustrates the hidden histories that are still out there and which have not yet been heard by enough people.

What A Life! – The Story of the Light Blues … So, in the same way that Uruguay lit up the 2010 World Cup, exploring the popular music of the country has seized my imagination. The hope is that the What A Life! Collection and this accompanying booklet will pique your curiosity and leave you wanting to hear and learn more. The excellent Lion Productions of Illinois has in recent years been quietly releasing a series of of classic Uruguayan LPs salvaged from the vaults of Sandor Records. A number of the titles referred to here are available through Lion, including the extraordinary Eduardo Mateo and Jorge Trasante collaboration. Lion Productions itself is a label that specializes in lost psychedelic recordings, but that is a wonderfully broad church. Another of our favourite labels, VampiSoul, has similarly tapped into the magic of Uruguay’s pop history. Titles by Opa and Totem, for example, have been salvaged by VampiSoul. Also available on the label is the Dogliotti Candombe collection, drawing on the recordings made by jazz organist Mike Dogliotti in the early ‘70s. Fans of exotica/lounge sounds will find plenty to delight in this set. VampiSoul has also issued a collection by the wonderfully named Sexteto Electronico Moderno, who live up to their billing, ‘Sounds From The Elegant World’, with what I have seen aptly named as afro lounge workouts. Fans of European library sounds will nod approvingly and enigmatically.

My apologies to those who know a lot more about these things ‌

About us: Your Heart Out is the home for a variety of activities. As part of that activity, Anywhere Else But Here Today is a project that is all about exploring the past, and discovering and celebrating the hidden treasures of pop music from around the world. See and hear more at: Your Heart Out itself is an irregular pop publication.

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