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A close up black and white photo of Victor Jara sitting outside holding a guitar.

May – Week 4 – Protest Music in South America

Once again I chose to focus on a specific continent when looking for protest music this week. And once again I got quite the history lesson. This week was all about protest music in South America, and if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d say that this week was equal parts inspiring and depressing. Inspiring, because the music I listened to was beautiful. Depressing, because once again I learned a lot of history that was not particularly fun to read about. I suppose I should be used to this by now.

I started off the week with Calle-13 in Puerto Rico. And yes, I know that Puerto Rico is not in South America. But I happened upon their song “La Bala” and its visually stunning/horrifying video, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. La bala means the bullet, and let’s just say this video is even more relevant now given the events of the past week in the United States. Calle-13 has won dozens of awards, but they are also seen as controversial due to their pro-Independence stance for Puerto Rico. That hasn’t stopped them from using their music as social commentary, however. I listened to several of their songs this week, and they are all passionate and pointed.

I then moved south and listened to “Tetero de Petroleo” by Desorden Publico, a fierce critique of Venezuela’s reliance on oil. Then came “It’s Prohibited to Prohibit” by Caetano Veloso, which was a reaction against Brazil’s military dictatorship. I read about the Accomarca Massacre of 1985 in Peru and read the lyrics to “Accomarca Soldadito” by The Hummingbirds, a group made up of widows from that event. I listened to “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” by Victor Jara and “El Baile de Los Que Sobran” by Los Prisioneros. And I finished the week with Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and their cover of “Desapariciones“, which is about the victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship. I then listened to the original “Desapariciones” by Rueben Blades for good measure. It was equally hauntingly beautiful.

I have listened to a lot of beautiful music this past month. Music that is passionate, pointed, and withering in its takedown of its targets. I’ve listened to a lot of lyrics that have made my jaw drop, and even more that gave me goosebumps. And I’ve learned a lot of history. Way more history than I ever thought I would when I first chose protest music as this month’s topic.

But what stands out the most about this past month are the common threads that ran through everything I was reading and listening to. The music itself couldn’t have been more different in style and sound. But every artist was speaking up against the same injustices. Violence. Corruption. Inequality. Authoritarianism. In some ways, I felt like I was reading the same history over and over again. The details may be different from country to country, but at the end of the day, everyone, all over the world, just wants to live in peace and stability. It’s truly depressing that we haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

Another common thread this past month was just how many artists and musicians have been persecuted for speaking up through their music. I discovered artists who were arrested, jailed, censored, suppressed, humiliated, exiled, and in some cases tortured and killed. All because they dared to criticize those in power through their art. Music is powerful, and those in power know it. As we continue to face an increasingly uncertain future, I can only hope that musicians continue to be brave enough to sing out in protest. We need them now more than ever.

There is no revolution without music.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!