Contemporary Latin American women musicians are addressing pressing social issues through music.
‘¡Ay, qué manera de caer hacia arriba y de ser sempiterna, esta mujer!’ (‘Oh, the way this woman has of falling upwards and being eternal!’)
These are the opening lines to Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘Una Elegia para Cantar’ (An Elegy for Singing) in which he praises the virtues of Chilean singer, songwriter and artist, Violeta Parra. Parra’s exploration and popularisation of Chilean folk music was at the heart of the Latin American Nueva Canción movement of the 1960s and 70s. This radical period was defined musically by the fusion of folk-inspired instrumentation and lyrics advocating social and political change. Parallel movements such as Tropicália in Brazil and Nueva Trova in Cuba, which also arose at this time, created a platform for social and political dialogue. The contribution made by female artists played a central role in the development of these musical protest movements.
Through their deeply political lyricism and incorporation of African or Indigenous musical traditions, artists such as Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia in Brazil, and Mercedes Sosa in Argentina, contributed to the fight against injustice and oppression.
The legacy of these inspirational women continues to this day. Within the vast world of contemporary Latin American music, amongst the ever-growing range of styles and genres, there are powerful Latina voices channelling the spirit of the protest generation. In this musical selection, artistic genres range from Latino trap to cumbia through to Afro-Cuban jazz. Despite their musical diversity, they come together in building a new narrative for Latin American women.
Female solidarity, inequality, internationalism, racism and police brutality; a whole raft of issues are covered by these contemporary artists. In some cases, overt political messages are relinquished in favour of descriptions of the daily struggles. In other songs, the act of protest lies in the female artist’s defiance of traditional gender constraints that had previously limited their access to certain genres of music.
Hip-hop has a strong presence in this list. Flying in the face of the misogynistic and patriarchal undertones so often present in mainstream hip- hop, these artists are returning to the genre’s tradition as a platform for cultural resistance. Their rhymes draw attention to issues such as gender violence, lack of access to education and the struggle to make their voices heard within their own community.
When we put this music in the context of the urgent problems facing Latin America today – rising inequality, gender violence, poor education, environmental degradation and human rights abuses – the importance of protest music cannot be understated. Equally, neither can the important role Latin American women are playing in finding the solutions.
¡Arriba las Mujeres! Playlist
Listen to Ursula’s 16-track ¡Arriba las Mujeres! playlist on Spotify here and below, or on YouTube here and below. Ursula has written about six of the songs featured on the playlist below.
‘Poesía Venenosa’ by Rebeca Lane
Guatemalan feminist rapper Rebeca Lane’s socially conscious lyrics deal with the day-to-day realities of being a female hip-hop artist. In Lane’s view “hip-hop is a political movement”