Tag Archives: música de protesta

BANTU charged and relevant as ever on What Is Your Breaking Point?

It must take a rare kind of resolve to continue to lay down the marker with daring political views as Afrobeat masters BANTU have done over the years, particularly on their latest record What Is Your Breaking Point?

What Is Your Breaking Point? album cover.

This article was written by Gabriel Myers Hansen and originally published on the Music In Africa webpage under a Creative Commons License.

The 13-piece collective’s new album, a brazen 10-track manifesto following 2020’s Everybody Get Agenda and2017’s Agberos International, not only strips back dire social circumstances that have bedevilled [insert African country] but also works as the soundtrack to an impending revolution.

What Is Your Breaking Point? is rooted in traditions originally plotted by Fela Kuti, and sees BANTU devotedly playing to the strengths and identity of Afrobeat. Mainly via the charisma of frontman Adé Bantu’s voice, the project bursts with the quintessential Fela-esque fury yet hopeful vision of Nigeria, driven by frantic percussion work, charged horn sections and biting allegories conveyed in English, West African pidgin, and Yoruba.

Shorn of filler verbiage or breathers, the collection invites listeners to engage with Africa’s dynamic political landscape while underscoring the transformative muscle of music, diving headfirst into the key issues: corruption, blind imitation of Western culture, the troubling perpetuation of gender norms and the danger of remaining silent.

Largely, when Afrobeat takes on the ‘S’, it paints a vain and glamorous picture preoccupied with love, sex and other nightlife rituals. Take the consonant away, and it’s serious business. What Is Your Breaking Point?, whose only guest is African-American rapper Akua Naru, does precisely this.

The feverishly paced ‘Wayo and Division’ kicks things off, tackling an integrity deficit among Africa’s leadership, which is often characterised by a strategy of deceit and division. ‘Japa’ is a cautionary tale against the mass exodus of Africans to the West, highlighting the perils of illegal migration and the illusory promise of greener pastures. “You just dey run from frying pan to fire,” a line goes. 

‘Ten Times Backwards’ rues the crippling of many an African dream by regressive structures, while ‘Worm and Grass’ returns to the topics of duplicity and manipulation among the ruling class. ‘Borrow Borrow’ examines the aftereffects of Western imperialism, while sobering revelations on ‘Africa for Sale’ summon more troubled sighs.

How much longer must this continue? When do we collectively decide that enough is enough? This is the focus of ‘Breaking Point’, and the question that shines throughout the project.

Focus track ‘Your Silence’, a sublime and reflective highlife (or Afrobeats) offering, resonates with the sentiments of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, invoking a connection to Niemöller’s famous quote on the Nazi atrocities. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me,” Niemöller mourns.

The song prompts introspection and encourages listeners to consider the consequences of silence in the face of injustice. “The silence no go protect you,” is how BANTU puts it.

The project closes out with ‘We No Go Gree’, which retains the urgent ardour it commences 45 minutes earlier. “The political elites have only been concerned with short-term benefits,” Adé declares in his parting message, although if you are an African, this goes without saying. “We must take back our freedom, our voices and our future.”

These days, commentary surrounding governance on the continent can feel like a broken record, seeing how poorly a number of African countries have been run for decades. And so, while this new project, a fearless Afrobeat album of political resilience, represents an urgent and valuable perspective on the problem with Africa’s administration, I wonder how many more BANTU albums must arrive in the coming years to catalyse true transformation. As Sam Cooke once sang, “A change is gon’ come”, but when?

The answer remains vague, but until then, the struggle continues. Aluta continua!

This new, trending Cuban song calls for artists to speak out against the island’s regime

Screenshot of the ‘Cuba Primero’ music video, with its singers Linier Mesa and Dianelys Alfonso (‘La Diosa’)

This article was written by an anonymous Cuban author under the pseudonym of Luis Rodriguez and translated by Laura Dunne. The article is republished here in accordance with the media partnership between Global Voices and Shouts.

Try as we might to be optimistic in describing Cuba’s current social landscape, it really is bleak. The inhabitants of the island are emotionally and psychologically drained. With unprecedented inflation, the dollarization of the economy, supply and medicine shortages, endless blackouts, increased insecurity and social inequalities, or worse still, the regime’s systematic repression of those who speak out, analysts agree that this is the greatest crisis Cuban society has faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR).

However, thanks to the activism of artists in Cuba and their diaspora within the U.S. in recent years, beacons of light now instill a greater sense of hope in this bleak landscape. These artists speak out on behalf of the millions of Cubans denied their basic right to free speech by the country’s regime.

Several talented artists have released various mobilizing songs throughout the years. Let’s not forget Nuestro Tiempo (Ya Viene Llegando) (Our Time Will Come) in 1991 by Willy Chirino, a track to which millions of Cubans danced during Cuba’s difficult period in the 1990s. Chirino’s lyrics soon became an anthem for the balseros (rafters), who risked their lives trying to reach Florida’s shores. Nowadays, many Cubans become emotional just hearing it. Next up in 2021 came Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life), a song by artists and members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), for example Luis Manuel Otero, who remains in prison today. This became a symbol of the anti-government social unrest on July 11, 2021, and sent shockwaves throughout the country. Today in Cuba, shouting out, “Patria y vida” is enough to land you in jail.

Read also: Freemuse x Shouts Artists’ Voice: Cuban Visual Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara

Just when it seemed as though Cuban artists’ voices had been silenced, two singers in exile in the U.S., Linier Mesa, and Dianelys Alfonso, known as “La Diosa” (“The Goddess”), released their song Cuba Primero (Cuba First), in Miami on April 16, 2023. Each scene of its music video, which truly hit home in Cuba, deals with the symbolic connotations of the country’s historic exodus events, like Operation Peter Pan in 1959 and the 1994 Cuban Rafter Crisis, thus highlighting their underlying emotional toll.

Just like Patria y Vida in 2021, which encouraged Cubans to protest, another Cuban song has now taken on the socio-political activism mantle. However, as protests in 2021 had led to over 1,000 political prisoners, Cuba Primero instead calls upon artists in Cuba and their diaspora to speak out on behalf of the many Cubans suffering in silence. This is a time of great polarization among Cuban artists. While some have chosen to be in compliance with the regime, others criticize this island’s current system. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for any Cuban artist to take a neutral stance.

As such, Cuba Primero is not only a protest song. It also urges us as humans, artists, and intellectuals to step outside our comfort zone, thus ending our passivity and speaking out about the daily ordeal that Cuban lives have become on this vast prison-like island. From this perspective, silence is also a form of complicity.

Activism and its mobilizing power could be a spark within this powder keg that Cuban society has become, especially among young people who regularly access audio-visual content on social media and YouTube. This is a major concern for regime ideologues and their spokespersons, like Michel Torres Corona, who hosts the Con Filo television program. For some Cuban activists, like playwright Yunior García, Con Filo is the “most despicable” program, owing to its continued attacks on activists and critics. In one of his most recent shows, Torres Corona slammed the Cuba Primero music video, by questioning its use of certain symbology, such as a shark to represent Fidel Castro.

Read also: Latin Protest Anthem Nominated For A Grammy While Cuba Cracks Down On Dissidents

While Cuba Primero may able to mobilize civil society, today’s circumstances are different from those of the 2021 protests. However, one thing the activists and the Cuban government do have in common is the battle of symbols raging between the regime’s narrative and the diaspora’s cultural output.

These tracks, from the classic Ya Viene Llegando to the more recent Patria y Vida and Cuba Primero, indicate the cultural ties between the island and its compatriots abroad becoming increasingly connected by a shared vision: the total and unconditional liberation of Cuban people from totalitarianism.

During these bleak periods, Cubans, therefore, don’t just suffer in silence; they also sing and dance to lyrics calling upon them to pursue their much sought-after freedom.

If you would like to listen to more Cuban protest songs, check out this Global Voices playlist on Spotify:

Catholics, Communists, & Carnivals: 70s Central America Through the Eyes of My Mother

Listen to this article here.

Every year in La Ceiba there is a carnival dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Isidore the Farmer, who is known for his piety to the poor. My mom tells me the stories of what growing up in La Ceiba, Honduras in the 70s was like. The political strife of a deeply stratified Central America created a tension in which everyone thought Honduras, like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, would face revolution. Yet, every year, the carnivals continued.

It’s such a big source of pride for the locals that the most famous Honduran musician of all time, Guillermo Anderson, born and raised in La Ceiba, wrote a song about it that encapsulates the joy that the hurly-burly of floats, school bands, Afro-Indigenous dance troupes, equestrian displays, and musical acts bring. It’s one of the rare moments, where, for a short period of time, despite the ever-worsening conditions of a city once-nicknamed “Honduras’s girlfriend” because of its economic prosperity and beauty, the general population can enjoy themselves. While there’s a big push to clean the city for the event, trash litters the streets at every corner. It’s been like this for years. When a hurricane hits, a torrent of filth ravages people’s homes. They say the stench can persist for months after the last drop of the hurricane dries. You get used to it.

A similar story of deep poverty could be found in Nicaragua, especially after the earthquake of 1972 that left two-thirds of the capital, Managua, displaced; facing food shortages and diseases, humanitarian aid never made it into the hands of the common people affected by the earthquake, most likely because the Somoza regime had stockpiled it. By 1975, the Sandinistas had begun organizing under this pretext. At the forefront of their movement was the concept of liberation theology, or the idea that the Church, in the Global South, was morally obligated to assist the poor—an ideological supposition which came about because of, and in opposition to, the government’s poor response to the disaster.

In 1976, the La Ceiba Carnival had finally expanded from beyond its initial simple scope as a float parade to a fully-fledged Carnival. This was, according to my mother, supposed to be the best one yet! It was where she was first introduced to cotton candy and sugar daddies, treats which were previously unfamiliar to Honduras, and my mother’s palette, entirely. Nearly fifty years later, whenever she gets a chance to try either of them, she sports the sanguine smile of our broken homeland. For a brief moment, she is a young child again. Initially being held in the Barrio Mejía, and despite nationwide political unrest following the ousting of the then-Honduran president, the inaugural carnival would be one to remember.

The year after, a different Mejía, the bard of the Sandinista Revolution, Carlos Mejia Godoy, would compose a song that would eventually win that year’s OTI, an international music festival not unlike Eurovision but for Iberia and Ibero-America, with “Quincho Barrilete,” a song that captured the anti-Somoza fervor brewing in Nicaragua and put it to song, calling for nothing short of a revolution backed by Jesus and being fought for the pueblo. With lyrics cushioned in metaphor and steeped in regionalisms such as “Colochón,” or “The One with the Curly Hair,” a nickname for Jesus Christ, the track was unmistakably Nica. Despite the song’s overt and radical political messaging, it should be noted that Somoza’s regime, at this point, had not yet been overthrown! The opposition to Somoza, and the Somoza family, who had served as puppet leaders after the United States handpicked the family following the short-lived revolution of Augusto Sandino (The namesake of the Sandinistas) in the 20s, in which he overthrew the previous American-picked despot’s administration, had become so widespread that the revolution was literarily being televised! My mom watched this year’s OTI intently. The next year, said revolution began. The next year, the carnival still took place, just as it had the year prior. Every year, the carnivals continued.

Saint Isidore the Farmer, patron saint of La Ceiba, would no doubt be flattered by these carnivals. I just worry what he would think after the carnival ends, and he sees the misery of my people as they normally are. I want him to be proud of us. I know he would be proud of what the Nicaraguan Revolution dogmatically set out to accomplish. But I also don’t think that these two events that my mom lived through and tells me about with a vivid recollection are so dissimilar. A carnival is not unlike a revolution, after all. You have explosions, you have drums, you have marching. Sometimes, you even have guns.

Cover photo by Ramon Cerritos (Creative Commons license).