Music has a long history of being instrumentalized as a way to initiate change and unite people under the umbrella of a shared struggle or idea. Latin American protest music of the 1960-70s can be a shining example of this way of employing music culture in a fight for social justice. It is important to note that courageous artists performed these songs during the political regimes of military dictatorships. This paper will analyze ten songs that belong to protest music culture written by prominent Latin American Artists.
The first song, “La Muerte con Anteojos,” belongs to Violetta Perra, a Chilean folk singer and political activist. She was one of the founders of the La Nueva Canción movement. La Nueva Canción is a musical movement that emerged in the 1960s to counter fight social, political, and economic inequalities and protect oppressed classes. Violetta Perra has become famous for her brave pieces with strong political messages. In her song “La Muerte con Anteojos,” she sings about her perspective on death, mainly how death is so near that she has to live life to its fullest. Perra sees death through glasses meaning that she can see it clearly. Perra also personifies death, meaning that she knows it well and consults with it as if it was a part of her higher self. The theme of death was a significant part of her works, which perhaps was why she was able to create her other poignant and brave songs with political messages.
The next singer is Mercedes Sosa, who also was one of the prominent performers of La Nueva Canción. Her song “Como La Cigarra” narrates the feeling of being like a cicada: a small, powerless, and vulnerable insect that resurrects and returns every time it is killed. She is metaphorically referring to the dissidents of the military regime in Argentina. Mercedes Sosa’s other song, “Solo Le Pido a Dios,” also symbolizes a fight against oppressive regimes. This transcendental song consists of a prayer to God in which she highlights the injustices and tyranny her comrades were submerged in. At the same time, she emphasizes the importance of having faith and strength to stand against such evils and that the good will eventually win.
Silvio Rodriguez is a Cuban composer and singer and was one of the leading voices of La Nueva Trova, which was the Cuban version of La Nueva Cancion. Like many of the genre’s performers, he was not favored by his government. Rodriguez was constantly threatened with being censored; therefore, his compositions did not explicitly condemn the government, but he used metaphors and allusions to deliver his politically conscious messages. He mainly dedicated his songs to the people of Cuba who had fallen victim to the dictatorship. His song “La Vida” illustrates how every little thing has life in it, particularly emphasizing the lives of innocent, pure, and vulnerable people, probably referring to innocent people from marginalized communities. The song also symbolizes the people who have made mistakes and wrong decisions and are still trying to figure out the right way to live.
The fifth song in this list, “Ojala,” also belongs to this Cuban singer and songwriter. The song was a personal love story and had enormous success among his listeners. As Rodriguez is known for using metaphors, he can hide political messages between the lines of even a love song. The lines “to your old government of the dead and flowers” refer to the military dictatorship and his desire to see its collapse. There is also a sense of hope for a bright future and an atmosphere of an optimistic attitude, which is contagious to its listeners. The last song by this author, “Imaginate,” is another love song that refers to the dullness and sadness of life without love. Rodriguez sings about the possibility in another universe, poetically speaking, of a great, passionate, yet innocent love. The song initially presents to its listeners bright and sweet moments shared with a woman of his dreams, only to reveal later that this love story was only a product of his imagination.
The next song, “Yo no te pido,” also belongs to one of the founders of Nueva Trova – Cuban songwriter and artist Pablo Milanes. This song has found its place in the hearts of his listeners due to its sincerity, honesty, and bravery in admitting his insecurities and asking for forgiveness. The composition is also about the human need and desire for love and light, for a loved one to be truly present with him and share his life experiences.
Alberto Cortez, the author of the following song in the list – “Los Ejecutivos,” is an Argentinian poet and artist. The poet in this composition reveals the hardships of being able to shine in one’s true colors in a world where everything belongs to the “executives” or the ones who are “above.” It is also hard to stand out and be unique and different because ordinary people are pushed to develop “pure robot consciousness” due to the actions of those above. Moreover, the song portrays social inequality: “The world was always of those who are above,” meaning that all the power and money belong to the leaders. Therefore, the song, owing to its politically and socially conscious messages, has earned its place in this list and the Latin American protest music culture.
The penultimate song is “Cerca de la Revolution” by Charly Garcia, a piece of energetic and inspiring music that strengthens his audience to keep fighting and believing. It was written during the time of the dictatorship’s collapse in Argentina, which was a cause for celebration, but social injustices were still at play. Therefore, he sings about his confusion with the status quo while still believing that they (the people of Argentina) will achieve what they want “If I insist, I know very well I will get you.” The song is filled with a glorious spirit of approaching revolution, freedom, and confidence of eventually getting what they want.
Finally, the last song is “La Puerta Negra” by a famous and successful Mexican group Los Tigres Del Norte. “La Puerta Negra” (The Black Door) is the band’s most popular and bestselling song. The black door symbolizes the obstacle from the outside world that restricts one’s expression of love and true feelings. Specifically, the song portrays a couple that cannot be together due to one of their parent’s refusal to accept their essence and love them unconditionally.
To conclude, the creators of Latin American protest music analyzed in this paper have significantly impacted the minds and spirits of their listeners. These fellow citizens share their struggles with social, political, and economic injustices. Latin American protest music, which has grown into a movement, did a phenomenal job of uniting all the people disadvantaged by the political regimes of that period. Moreover, it helped to process all the oppression and state violence at the collective level by reminding the listeners that they are not alone in their struggles. Lastly, these songs succeeded in keeping people’s spirits high by giving hope for the future and highlighting the role of love.
Morris, Nancy. “Canto porque es necesario cantar: The New Song movement in Chile 1973-1983.” Latin American Research Review (1986): 123.