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Latin Music and Politics

A Selection of Songs Dealing with Politics in Latin America

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Photo Courtesy Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Photo Courtesy Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Throughout history, music has been used as an effective channel to confront political systems everywhere around the world. Latin music is not an exception to that rule. Very often, in fact, Latin music has been used to describe and challenge the abuse of power. This is particularly true for a region where inequality has significantly shaped the social landscape. The following is a selection of Latin music songs dealing with political oppression, imperialism, immigration and drug trafficking.

Political Oppression

Latin America's political history has been marked by many struggles. For instance, the dictatorships of the 20th century left many sad memories in the region. Latin music, however, has been always used as an instrument to oppose this kind of oppression. The dictatorship that dominated Brazil for most of the 1960s and 1970s, inspired various singers to use music as a way to fight the regime.

Chico Buarque de Hollanda, one of the most famous Brazilian singers in history, was among those who used music to fight political oppression. "Apesar De Voce" (In Spite of You) is one of the best songs he wrote during that time. In this song, the subject 'You' is a direct reference to the regime.

Imperialism

In the history of Latin America, the word imperialism has come to define the political influence of the US in the region. This influence, which started at the beginning of the 20th century, was particularly strong during the Cold War period when several dictatorships were somehow supported by the US in order to tackle Communism in the region.

One of the songs that relates to this topic is "Tiburon" by Ruben Blades. In this track, the Panamanian artists talks about a shark that is ready to attack in the waters of the Caribbean. The lyrics of this song become a call for the whole region to fight this intrusive tiburon (shark).

Immigration

Social conditions in Latin America have forced many people in the region to look north for a better future. This flow of people towards the US has been anything but smooth. Very often, the newly arrived are illegal immigrants who are trapped between their illegal status and their desire to realize the American Dream.

Several Mexican music artists have gathered enormous crowds in the US with their music, which very often reflects on the frustrations illegal immigrants experience in the US. One of the most popular hits regarding this issue is "La Jaula De Oro" by Los Trigres del Norte. In this song, the popular Norteno band tells the story of an illegal alien in the US who feels trapped in a golden cage where he lives a better life but without the possibility to visit Mexico.

Other Latin music singles dealing with the topic of immigration, in a more global perspective, include Manu Chao's hit song "Cladestino" and "Sur o No Sur" by Kevin Johansen. Musically speaking, both songs are great. While the former deals with the lack of identity of immigrants living in rich nations, the latter depicts the eternal ambivalence that exists between leaving one condition and moving into another.

Drug Trafficking

Although illegal drug trade is not entirely a political issue, I decided to add it here just because of the political repercussions it has had in local politics all over the region. Many countries in Latin America have been affected by drug trafficking. In particular, Colombia and Mexico have suffered from tragic episodes provoked by drug wars. Besides these episodes, drug lords have created a lifestyle that has influenced different communities in the region.

"Chica De Cartel," one of the songs produced by the Colombian Salsa band Guayacan, tells the story of a girl who gets involved with drug dealers. It describes the behavior of a young girl who uses her charms to get the favors of the bad guys. In other words, this track deals with the moral corruption provoked by drug dealers in different cities across the Americas.

More recently, some Mexican music artists have created a new style of Corrido whose lyrics are inspired by the lives of famous drug dealers. This controversial style, which is known as Narcocorrido, has become quite popular, and some of today's top Mexican music artists have been actively involved in the production of these kind of music.

Tracks like "Cartel De Tijuana" by Lupillo Rivera or "Muerte Anunciada" by Los Tigres del Norte are just two of the songs dealing with drug trafficking in the region. Several artists have become victims of their own creations, and some of them have even been killed by drug dealers who did not like a particular song. Many singers and bands on this field defend the Narcocorrido saying this kind of music is just an artistic expression that depicts the real world.

As we have seen, there are many ways Latin music has come to describe politics. Political oppression, imperialism, immigration and drug trafficking are only a few of the issues that can help us to better understand the connection that exists between the music we love and the systems we wish to change.

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