The Power of Lyrics in Latin America

Latin America is a region known for its vigorous energy and unique rhythms. Music plays a big role in the day-to-day culture as well as during celebratory and ceremonial occasions. But importantly, music has also played a big role as a form of social commentary and as a wave of upliftment that has helped societies face some of the hardest periods of history. The arts and particularly music (Canción Protesta) have been a massive tool for people to respond to injustice and oppressive governments in Latin America.

Dating back to the 1950s-60s, Canción Protesta was born as a part of a world social movement that actively stood against war, bad governance and inequality. Meanwhile in Latin America, a large revolutionary movement was gaining momentum with the death of iconic Che Guevara and the first Latin American Congress of Solidarity (OLAS). It was a time when armed revolutionary groups (guerrillas) started to rise all over the region. It was also the time of an explosion of artistic expression that was highly political.

Talented and socially conscious musicians took over the scene including names such as Violeta Parra, Víctor Jara, Alfredo Zitarrosa, Anibal Sampayo, Numa Moraes, Los Olimareños, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Alí Primera, Mercedes Sosa, César Isella, Gabino Palomares and Silvio Rodríguez. Many of these artists worked together in a collaboration that was made possible by a strong effort to bring about systemic change; events such as the first International Encounter of Canción Protesta in Cuba in 1967 were a huge promoter of this.  

However this public and artistic form of protest was not received well by the governments in power. Many artists sacrificed their lives to challenge their governments with their provocative artistic expressions. Victor Jara was one such artist who dedicated his life to representing the voices of the exploited and the oppressed majority. He was persecuted by the regime of Pinochet, spent a large part of his life in prison, and was tortured and eventually executed.

The legacy of these hero-artists continues to have a massive influence in the region. Canción Protesta continues to awaken the consciousness of millions of people and is still used as a form of protest to combat tyranny and fascism.

Modern Canción Protesta has been shaped by popular culture, influenced by strong, socially charged music waves of Punk, Ska, Hip Hop and Reggae. Some modern forms of Cancion Protesta can be found in groups such as Los Prisioneros, Charly Garcia, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Molotov, Anita Tijoux, Calle 13, Desorden Publico banda and many more.

Here is a list of some of our picks of the best Canción Protesta songs