Protest music is a big subject in Latin America. And I can proudly say two of the biggest icons of protest music come from Chile, Violeta Parra, if she would have been born in the North Hemisphere would be call now the grandmother of latin rock, punk, and maybe any kind of strong music that’s played there. And Victor Jara, who was not only a great artist, musician, guitar player, and poet, but also who sadly died tortured by militars who first broke and cut his fingers, you know, to laugh at his musical power. Terribly sad way of dying. But I don’t mean to go there now. I mean to go to the spot where music meets a cause, finds people, and becomes a cry of war.
Actually this makes me feel a bit nostalgic of those times where music was other kind of food for me. From the origins of protest music to this time the stock of protest songs to collect is huge of course, and I could be writing for hours about this, I’m sorry, but still I have to do other things today besides this. But let me tell you some basics. Besides Violeta Parra (really the empress of all Latin music), and Victor Jara the hero. Some others that are awesome and I didn’t include on my list, are Silvio Rodriguez, from Cuba, he alone must have around five thousand millions of songs composed by himself, of those maybe four thousand five hundred millions are just him with his guitar, amazing guitar player, and more than half of his songs are protest songs, among them “Santiago de Chile”, and “Cancion Urgente Para Nicaragua” just to start. With him, on the most hype folky side of the protest music, are also Mercedes Sosa from Argentina, Pablo Milanes from Cuba, Piero from Argentina, Chico Buarque from Brazil, and many more there. On the corner of progressive Andean bands, with charangos, zamponas y kenas, are Inti-Illimani from Chile, Los Kjarkas from Bolivia, Illapu from Chile. On the punk side are the most amazing Pinochet Boys, not only with an awesome name, but a good story to tell, but only two trashy tracks recorded on 1986, real punk stuff. La Polla Records from Spain, classic of hard punk. Like Ataque 77, and Todos tus Muertos, from Argentina. On rock, there’s a whole big lot of bands, as a matter of fact I’d say there are few bands that don’t count a protest songs or three on their repertory. Let me just say some more names to finish this, Catupecu Machu, Fito Paez, Facundo Cabral, Los Piojos, Sumo, Cafe Tacuba, Control Machete, Los Tetas, Aterciopelados, RadioKijada, Los Twists, Vicentico, Os Paralamas, Sepultura, etc. etc. etc.
Of course I couldn’t include all my favorites, so I chose ten songs that I think are a proper sample of the story of protest music from Latin America going from Violeta Parra, to Calle 13 that’s leading and supporting the students in Chile right now.
Here we go. Viva la revolucion!!!
1. Bersuit Vergarabat – “Sr. Cobranza”
This one is cover of the song by the band Las Manos de Filippo. Bersuit is from Argentina, totally recommended to check them out. Some of the lyrics: ” … they are all traficants / and what if this is the system / don’t tell me, it’s paid with the poor’s money/ that’s only good to pay a few / they trade, they sell / and the president is just a figurine / before was Alfonsin / now it’s other jerk / they are all drug dealers / and the real bad ones. / and if they catch you with a gram / later they kick you / the police come / and sure you go to jail / and then all raise up /the balance, the prices, /and also the vengeance, / and now what?”
2. Los Prisioneros – “El Baile De Los Que Sobran”
This is one of the top classics of Chilean rock, Los Prisioneros was a rock, pop punk band that started during the years of Pinochet, when you could see all go black in your life for singing the right song near the wrong people. Los Prisioneros were three kids, tired of the shit, loving music, and they were clever or lucky to be in the right places to meet the right people, and grew. Eventually became impossible to censor them, and they, you know, they. the bad guys, had to let them play, other way, then there was going to be a fight. This is the song: “Hey I know some stories / about the future / Hey the time I learnt them / was a safer time. / Under the shoes / mud and cement / the future is not / the promised on the twelve games./ Secrets were taught to other / not to you / to other they gave the truth / that thing called education/ They asked effort / they asked dedication / and for what? / to end up dancing, and kicking stones. / Join the dance of the unwanted / nobody is going to miss us / nobody really wanted to help us.”
3. Sol y LLuvia – “Adios General, Adios Carnaval”
Soy y Lluvia (Sun and Rain) from Chile, they formed in 1976 by the Labra brothers, they were also one of those bands that started when being in a band could be really dangerous for your health, but they were already also students leaders in university, so they were targeted anyway. (Just to lower the drama). This song is an adaptation from a song by Jorge Roos from Uruguay. The title “Good bye General, Good Bye Carnival” of course became a classic song of protest. You can check the video of the song played live on youtube, and you’ll see how people cheers to the frase “adios general, adios carnaval”. The lyrics ” it’s going to end, it’s going to end / this habit of killing /It’s going to end, It’s going to end / the militar dictatorship. / I can’t believe this thing I see /Around Santiago’s streets / I can’t believe this thing I see / Around Montevideo’s streets / Good bye carnival, good bye general / good bye carnival, good bye general”
4. Quilapayun – “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido”
This is one of the most popular song of protest of them all. It’s a song to march, and yell at, with a catchy melody, and strong percussions, and of course strong lyrics. Composed by Sergio Ortega with music by Quilapayun, who is one of the main bands of the movement of “nueva cancion chilena”, new latin folk. They started during the 60s, and they are still playing all around the world. The song “Arise, fight/ the people are going to win./ The life to come / will be better./ To conquer / our happiness. / and a clamor / of a thousand fighting voices will rise, / speaking / a song of freedom. / With determination the fatherland will win. / And now the people, / who are rising in struggle / with a giant voice / crying out: Forward! / The people united will never be defeated / The people united will never be defeated…”
5. Charly Garcia – “Los Dinosaurios”
Charly Garcia, from Argentina, is my top of the top hero of rock, as he says himself, my father, the guy who leaded us all to the music that was going to change our lives. This song is from his album from 1983 Clics Modernos, a time when Argentina was under a dictatorship too. “Los Dinosaurios” is about people that disappeared, those that were dissapperaing then, those that were going to disappear sooner or later, like the militars who were going to disappear, and they did. Not totally, but mostly. In Argentina, at least. Charly says about this song ” A song that many people likes a lot, specially dead people”. The song: “The friends from the neighborhood can disappear / the singers on the radio can disappear / those that are on the newspapers can disappear / the person you love can disappear / Those in the air / can disappear in the air / those in the street / can disappear in the street / The friends from the neighborhood can disappear / but the dinosaurs will disappear. / I’m not peaceful my love / it’s Saturday night / a friend is in bed / oh, my love, the world disappears. / If the heavy, my love, / carry all that big luggage in a hand. / Oh my love, I want to be light / it’s better to be not tight to anything / imagine the dinosaurs in bed” Beautiful!
Los Tres is a four piece band from Chile, one of the top bands of Latin rock during the 90s. They are all really skillful musicians, and they have done a good use of this, mixing rock with folk, jazz, electronic, and whatever they think of. This song “La Primera Vez” (The First Time) is dedicated to Pinochet, and the lyrics: “Nauseating by treasons / you vomit on their faces / And you didn’t think / that maybe they’ll be back for you. / Those streets got clouded / they got lost in the Shadow / of the remorse that now is defeating you. / I’ve never wish bad to anybody / this is my first time ever / Those streets got clouded / they got lost in the shadow / of the remorse that now is making you fall / and I want you to fall / fall on your knees / get spit in your face / and know to die / I’ve never wish bad to anyone / this is my first time ever ”
7. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – “Mal Bicho”
Los Fabulosos are the coolest biggest band of ska, they are from Argentina, and they also rock bad bad. “Mal Bicho” (Bad Bug) The song: ” the song that is brave / is song forever./ As my grandmother said / “here the one that doesn’t run, flies” / And in the planet they are so many / how can they be so many? / In school thy teach us to memorize / dates of battles / but they don’t teach us much about love / To dicriminate, that is not good at all / In front of God’s eyes we are all the same / You’re the one that creates the wars / says false sentences / the one that loves violence / with no conscience. / Bad bug / because you go hurting / those that look different / imposing postures / with just one hard hand / You have for the coat / and other are dying cold / you’re the one killing around / the one torturing around. / To wars / to violence / to injustice / to greed …/ I say NO! / Peace in the world!”
8. Molotov – “Frijolero”
Molotov are from Mexico, they rock hard, and awesome since 1995. This song is from their album Dance and dense denso from 2003. “Frijolero” is about the Mexican American frontier problems, and it means “beaner” the coloquial bad way to call Mexicans, as “gringo” is the same but to call Americans. In general is about the bad vibe between these two countries. The song moves from English to Spanish, the band includes a “gringo” on their line up so, they use english very commonly. But here are all in English, it goes “…Don’t call me gringo, you fuckin’ beaner / stay on your side of that goddamn river / don’t call me gringo, you beaner. / Don’t call me beaner, Mr. Sucker / I’ll kick you for racist and fucker / Don’t call me “frijolero”, fucking “gringo”. / Now I wish I had a dime, for every single time / I’ve gotten stared down / For being in the wrong side of town. / And a rich man I’d be / if I had that kind of chips / lately I wanna smack the mouthsof these racists…”
9. Calle 13 – “Latinoamerica”
Calle 13, from Puerto Rico, is shaking up things in Latin America. Every chance they have to say something, they use it, usually against the abuses of the goverments of course. So, when I first understood this about them, I thought well, yeah, that’s good promotion, to be against everything in such a pop way is more ugly than ok. But last week, because of the protests in Chile, my little sister just educated me about them. She’s a metal girl, so she feels confuse about liking these guys that are doing a more classy reggaeton, but no matter how more classier, reggaeton anyway, or as some people calls it now, urban music. Well, my sis explained me that they are for real, so she showed me some videos of interviews, and finally I had to agree, they know what they are saying, they are not just selling the pose, they are living it for real. And this song became one of the hymns of the students protesting back in Chile. The song “I am / I’m what is left / I’m all that’s left of what’s been stolen / A hidden town on the top of the hill / my skin is leather, that’s why it resists the weather / I’m a smoke factory / rural labor for you to consume / A cold front in the middle of summer / love in the time of cholera, my brother / The sun that rises, the day that dies / with the best dusk / I’m the development in living flesh / a political speech without saliva / The prettiest faces I have met / The photography of a disapperared / I’m the blood in your vains / a piece of land worth the trouble / I’m a basket of beans / I’m Maradona against England scoring two for you / I’m what’s sustaining my flag / the spine of the planet is my mountain chain / I’m what my father taught me / the one that doesn’t love his country doesn’t love his mother / I’m America Latina / a land without legs but that walks / You can’t buy the wind / you can’t buy the sun / you can’t buy the rain / you can’t buy the heat / you can’t buy the clouds / you can’t buy the colors / you can’t buy my joy / you can’t by my pain / I have the lakes / I have the rivers /… ”
10. Violeta Parra – “Que Dira el Santo Padre”
To finish, this is the very root of protest music in Latin America, Violeta Parra, and “Que Dira El Santo Padre” (What would the saint father say). A pretty strong sentense in such catholic countries, it’s an ironic title of course, but some people, the very catholic people they don’t take it like that, and there are so many of them in Latin America. And you know, it all started because of the catholic church with the catholic kings of Spain. The song: “Look how they are talking us about freedom / when they are depriving us from reality / Look how they preach about tranquility / when they torment us with authority / What would the saint father say / from Rome / that they are cutting the throat / of his doves. / Look how they tell us about paradise / when bullets are raining like hailstones. / Look the enthusiasm with the sentence / knowing they were killing the innocence. / What would the saint father would say / from Rome / that they are cutting the throat of his doves / … / With more injustices, mr. attorney / more strength has my soul to sing / you just hang yourself / the sixth comandment has no seal / What would the saint pope would say / from Rome / that they are cutting the throat /of his doves /”
I’m missing a huge list of songs that should be mention on any talk about protest music in Latin America, the way to explain it probably is that people is commited to the fight in those lands, I guess it’s also that thing that girls had for the comandantes during the 70s, and also that indeed there are so many injustices happening, and singing is a good way to motivate people to change for better.