The Beats of Social Justice: Our story of resistance chronicled through music- English version

The soundtrack of my life is tinged with music that means something spiritually, lyrically or rhythmically. The Spanish melodies and stanzas of these beats often resound with the pain, awareness, and resistance to injustice and oppression. From Merengue to Salsa, Banda to Cumbia, Vallenato to Reggaeton, and Conjunto to Latino pop—these songs are rife with the consciousness, history, and resolve of Latina/o communities. 

Francia Henriquez, video producer explains it this way: “For us Latinos, music forms an important part of culture, especially in poor countries. I think that Latinos are music critics, maybe the newer generations not so much, but Latinos are 'rebeldes' by nature and we protest what we don't agree with, these protests are accompanied with music, with songs.”

Fabiola Ramirez-Serrano, surgeon, says, “There were many songs that I listened and danced to when I was younger that have new meaning now.”

Rosemary Martinez, a legal assistant at an immigration law firm agrees, “music has a great impact on our identity... music occupies an important part in my life, through it I define my feelings and even express them.”

Henriquez points to “Casas de Carton,” originally written as Techos de Carton in the 1950's by Ali Primera, Venezuelan writer and composer. The song critiques structures of poverty in Latin America and was banned in many Central and South American countries because of it's critical content.

“Qué triste, se oye la lluvia, en los techos de cartó, qué triste vive mi gente, en las casas de cartón.”

“In Brazil,” explains, University of Utah student, Gustavo Fontoura da Silva, “musicians like Chico Buarque, Maria Bethania, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were exiled and imprisoned for speaking against the government.” Government censorship has caused a lot of songwriters to hide double meaning in their lyrics.

These are the words of Chico Buarque, “Amanhã há de ser outro dia, Eu pergunto a você onde vai se esconder, Da enorme euforia? Como vai proibir, Quando o galo insistir em cantar? Água nova brotando E a gente se amando sem parar.”

In other places, songs like Salsa's classic, “Rebelion” by Joe Arroyo openly illustrate the pain of slavery and the man of color’s oppression through the abuse of their loved ones. "Un matrimonio africano, esclavos de un español, el les daba muy mal trato y a su negra le pego. Y fue alli, se revelo el negro guapo, tomo venganza por su amor y aun se escucha en la verja, no le pegue a mi negra"

The Vallenato genre emerged as a form of free-style folklore that recounted stories and experiences, therefore painting pictures with words in songs such as, “Yo soy el Indio” written by Romualdo Brito and interpreted by Diomedes Diaz, which speaks about the modern lives of the indigenous people of Colombia and South America. "Yo soy el indio guajiro, de mi ingrata patria Colombiana, que tienen todo del indio, mas sin embargo no le dan nada."


Afro-Latino and Spanish rhythms intertwined they created new genres, like Merengue. Songs like “Ponte el Sombrero” by Miami Band, which reminds women to make men wear condoms, emerged.

Through Salsa, “El Varon” by Willie Colon addresses homosexuality from a Latino male perspective. 

In Norteña Mexicana we are reminded more than once of the pain of leaving our home countries to search and never find the American dream, in interpretations such as, Los Tigres del Norte's, “Tres Veces Mojado.”

According to Carlos Muñoz, also known as DJ Caliche, a disc jockey and master of ceremonies who commutes between Colombia and the United States, the list goes on*.

DJ Caliche says that he consciously plays a lot of this music at his events. “La Famosa Rebelion,” he says, “it has a great beat and it reminds us of the history of labor abuse and slavery in our countries. Now in the 21st century we still see these issues. I always count on this song, because it is an iconic Salsa song and it really fires up a ‘rumba.’”

These older beats and lyrics created a foundation for songs in our time like “El Mojado Acaudalado” composed by Los Tigres del Norte and released in 2009. It talks about the experience of the undocumented immigrant: “Adios, Adios California, Tejas, Chicago Illinois, Me llevare su recuerdo, Porque a mi tierra me voy, Pues aunque tengo dinero, No soy feliz donde estoy.” 

“Pal Norte” by Calle 13, an acoustic, award-winning band who is still censored in many places, critiques public policy in our native countries, reminding us that Latinos do care what goes on back home: “Un nomada sin rumbo la energia negativa yo la derrumbo”… “Aprendi que mi pueblo todavia reza, porque las autoridades y la realeza… Todavia se mueven por debajo e la mesa…”

In 2010 the Latin Grammy Awards recognized ChocQuibTown’s “Oro” as the best new artist nomination. The song reminds us of the South America colonization and the pillage that occurred at the expense of Afro-Latino and Native Americans: “A mi tierra llego un fulano llevandose todo mi oro vestido de blanco entero y con acento extrangero prometio a cambio de oro dejarme mucho dinero el tipo de quien les hablo nunca mas aparecio cogio mi metal precioso y todo se lo llevo ladron te fuiste con mi oro y me dejaste sin mi oro.” The same group also has songs like “Pescao Envenenao,” which covers issues of environmentalism in our native countries. 

These examples remind us of the tenacity with which many Latinos carry their burdens. The new generations have a responsibility to continue to create and celebrate memories of our resistance through music that embraces our legacy. Music can continue to tell our stories of triumph over pain for future generations.

Listen to the words and click, clack of Toto La Momposina, Susana Baca, Maria Rita and Calle 13 as they come together to interpret, “Latinoamerica,” a song in Spanish and Portuguese voices that intertwines feelings of nostalgia, beauty, love and value as we reminisce the beats that live in our heart no matter where we are: “Un pueblo escondido en la cima, mi piel es de cuero por eso aguanta cualquier clima, Las caras mas bonitas que he conocido, Soy la fotografia de un desaparecido, La sangre dentro de tus venas, Soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena,…” 

*Please see graphic for more song information. 


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