Music is transformative.
Powerful, it aids in the healing process. Uplifting us when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, offering solace in our darkest moments, and serving as a vehicle through which we express rage, as in the case of femicides and other forms of violence against women, in songs we find strength.
We also find empowerment.
In global protest movements, music’s role is without question, a crucial one. When we invoke rallying cries, boldly chant and shout slogans, we are doing so to create awareness and harness our fierce ability to change the narratives society imposes on us and our bodies. Though chants and slogans may not be considered music, their symbolic references are directly tied to social justice issues.
From México to Borikén, from Chile to Spain, and any other part of the Spanish-speaking world [including around the globe], these canciones (songs) are being clamored in a collective voice, demanding an end to the harming of women. Meet just a few of the fierce femmes fighting alongside each of us, using their work and their bodies to remind the world that we will not be silenced!
My Body, My Canvas
In October 2019, massive civil unrest in el país de los poetas (the “country of poets”) led to the deaths of 18 persons. From the capital of Santiago, and across the nation, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against an ‘increase in subway fares.’ For nearly a week, protestors defied curfews and the police — clearly, this was about more than a ‘fare hike.’ It was about increased cost of living, low wages, and inequality.
A few weeks later, the focus would again turn to this South American country — but it would be on another soil, a protest of a different kind.
Choosing solidarity, Chilean Singer-Songwriter, Actress, and Painter Mon Laferte appeared at the November 2019 Latin Grammys with the words “En Chile Torturan, Violan Y Matan” painted on her chest. Exposing her breasts on the red carpet drew the world’s attention that in her country they “Torture, Rape, and Kill.” Later, following up on her Instagram, the artist shared ‘mi cuerpo libre para una patria libre’ (‘my free body for a free country’).
The freedom to which the artist referred is also deeply personal. Reflecting on the earlier stages of her career, she talks about experiencing sexual harassment and having her work ‘taken less seriously’ because she’s a woman. In an interview with Uno TV, she candidly shared her exhaustion with the expectation of being flirtatious when bringing her music to a producer. “I’ve had to work much harder, to make greater efforts to be totally independent and not need any producer who [before working with me] is going to want to sleep with me or expect something in exchange.”
The Bomba Tradition of Borikén
On the archipelago of Borikén (the Indigenous and original name for Puerto Rico), the musical genre of bomba is the very personification of what it means to resist via song and dance. Dating back over 400 years, this tradition originates with the enslaved persons kidnapped by the Spaniards and brought to the Caribbean. As Bridgewater College Professor and Music Educator, Vimari Colón-León describes in this NAFME article, via the bomba tradition, our ancestors “released feelings of sadness, anger, and resistance.”
One of Borikén’s renowned artists and greatest proponents of Puerto Rican bomba (active on the scene since 2000), is Chamir Bonano. In an interview with Etnica magazine, she makes clear that “voice and folk music are weapons to denounce harmful practices,” especially abuse against women. With Bonano’s single, A La Buena Sí (roughly translated as ‘With Good Intentions, Yes’) she uses her voice to speak out against Puerto Rico’s femicides.
Elaborating on the issue, she shares her thoughts with Etnica magazine.
Often, as a symptom of the patriarchy, we find this harmful notion that a society’s order is dictated by male figures. No one should feel they have possession over the life of their partner — no matter how much love is professed.
A look at the lyrics tells us just what she’s referring to.
Oye cariño a mi, tú no me puedes hablar
Así de esa manera, con aires de autoridad
A la buena sí, tú me puedes llevar
Pero a la mala ni un burro, te va a cargar
Listen, sweetheart, you can’t talk to me
That kinda way, with an authoritative tone
With good intentions, yes, you can roll with me
But with bad vibes, not even a donkey will take you
Bonano certainly knows from where she speaks because this Singer and Bomba Dancer is also an Educator and Psychologist.
Say Their Names
As happens too frequently, we hear the news of missing persons, and unless there’s significant media coverage, those people fall into oblivion or as we say en español, el olvido (forgotten).
In March 2020, the world would experience an overdue awakening, one that would ensure the names of our precious sisters remain seared in our collective consciousness. Originating from the tragic loss of Sandra, a university friend who was murdered over 10 years prior, Mexican Musician, Singer/Songwriter, Vivir Quintana, created her song Canción Sin Miedo (Song Without Fear) as a homage to the women of her country — those gone missing, those whose lives have been taken.
The song’s history is worth noting as it’s tied to Quintana’s project working on writing corridos (a Mexican music genre that narrates real stories). As she shared in this Notas Sin Pauta (Notes Without Pause) YouTube interview, “it’s 10 songs that talk about 10 women who were incarcerated for having defended themselves against their aggressors.”
When in early March 2020, Quintana (whose birth name is Viviana Monserrat Quintana Rodríguez) was approached by Chilean artist, Mon Laferte to write a song for Laferte’s closing tour at México City’s famed Zócalo, Cancion Sin Miedo was born.
A few verses:
A cada minuto, de cada semana
Nos roban amigas, nos matan hermanas
Destrozan sus cuerpos, los desaparecen
No olvide sus nombres, por favor, señor presidente
Cantamos sin miedo, pedimos justicia
Gritamos por cada desaparecida
Que resuene fuerte “¡nos queremos vivas!”
Que caiga con fuerza el feminicida
Soy Claudia, soy Esther y soy Teresa
Soy Ingrid, soy Fabiola y soy Valeria
Soy la niña que subiste por la fuerza
Soy la madre que ahora llora por sus muertas
Y soy esta que te hará pagar las cuentas
Every minute of every week
They steal our [female] friends, they kill our sisters
They destroy their bodies, making them disappear
Please, Mr. President, don’t forget their names
We sing without fear, asking for justice
We scream for each missing femme
Loudly we clamor, “We want us alive”
That femicides forcefully end
I am Claudia, I am Esther, and I am Teresa
I am Ingrid, I am Fabiola, and I am Valeria
I am the little girl you valiantly raised
I am the mother who now cries for her dead
And I am the one who will make you pay for it all
Addressing the mindset in her hometown of Coahuila (in the north) and of her country in general, Quintana says:
In conservative places like Coahuila, the conversation is uncomfortable [for some]. We’re expected to put up with it, not tell anyone and not pay attention to it. Something very present in the culture they teach us here in México, it’s a culture of forgetting and silence. I think we’re slowly changing that and it’s good to have music also serve for change.
In the Notas Sin Pauta interview when asked in how many languages the song has been translated into, Quintana, who has composed over 150 songs, notes: “in Portuguese, Italian, Chinese.” Of course, as she notes, each country/region adapts parts of the lyrics to reflect its femmes. Here in the Spanish-speaking world, there are versions in Colombia, Borikén, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia (also Tarija), Paraguay, Spain, Dominican Republic, and Chile. This one represents Colombia — Indigenous voices.
Owning Our Lives
Enraged with the daily reports of femicides in her home country, Spanish Singer Bebe composed the defiant lyrics to her song Malo (Bad). And though the tune was released in 2004, the Songwriter and Actress notes it was conceived in 2002.
In a June 2021 interview with Los 40, Bebe (née María Nieves Rebolledo Vila) describes her state of mind when she created the song. “Furious. On the news sometimes we’d hear about three femme-based violence cases — in the same day!” According to Spain’s Ministry of Equality in 2004, 72 women were murdered as a result of gender violence.
Malo’s partial verses:
Una vez más, no, por favor
Que estoy cansada y no puedo con el corazón
Una vez más, no, mi amor, por favor
No grites, que los niños duermen
Voy a volverme como el fuego
Voy a quemar tu puño de acero
Y del mora’o de mi mejilla
Saldrá el valor
Pa’ cobrarme las herida’
Malo, malo, malo ere’
No se daña a quien se quiere, no
Tonto, tonto, tonto ere’
No te pienses mejor que las mujere’
Please, not one more time
I’m tired and my heart can’t take it
My love, please not one more time
Don’t yell, the children sleep
I’m going to turn into fire
I’m going to burn your steel fist
And from the bruise on my cheek
I’ll find the courage
to make you pay all of my wounds
Bad, bad, you’re bad
One doesn’t hurt who one loves
Stupid, stupid, you’re stupid
Don’t think you’re better than women
Though the singer indicates the verses are not autobiographical, she shares that she feels “her rage [against the violence] and [the song] reflects it.” Something else that was crucial for the artist was to “not lose the lyrics, especially in a song like this one.” Bebe’s objective was for people to understand the message, that it would “cause a reaction.”
And her message is one of action. In the Los 40 interview, the artist adds “these are women who rise from the ashes to say ‘I’m here, you’ve hurt me during a certain time, but I’m not going to allow it. Now, I’m going to be the owner of my life!’ We must be.”
Catch the official Malo video.
An Anthem & Our Collective Mission
We have many tools at our disposal when confronting and combating the patriarchal systems that deem our lives, and our bodies unworthy of respect. As these fierce artists remind us, music is one of the most powerful tools.
Returning to Vivir Quintana’s Canción Sin Miedo, we find it has become more than a tribute. Song Without Fear is an anthem for women and everyone (regardless of gender affiliation — or lack thereof) seeking an end to the violence against women. Until we live in a world where every little girl grows up without fear of being harmed because she’s a girl, we will continue to resist because we are precious and our voices are powerful beyond our imaginations!