Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

Feature photo by Jose Calvo

Since February 4, Venezuela has been convulsed by the protests of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans either for and against President Nicolas Maduro’s government leaving at least 13 people dead and many more injured.

While Venezuelans take to the streets, Latin musicians have taken to social media to share viewpoints and information, because as often happens in the history of Latin America, art and activism are just two sides of the same vision.

Here are a few of those voices, along with a song from each artist that spoke to changing the world.

Ruben Blades

On February 18, Panamanian “salsa poet” legend Ruben Blades (also a lawyer and former Minister of Tourism as well as unsuccessful 1994 presidential candidate of his own country) wrote a letter to President Maduro decrying the name-calling on both sides and noting that it was not appropriate for the government to impose its desires and ignore the validity of critical arguments.

A few days later, after seeing a video in which Maduro then addressed him directly, Blades added another chapter to the interchange, with a response that pleads for the end of insults and diatribes, so that “Venezuelans initiate a conversation”.

In Prohibido Olvidar, one of Blades’ classic political tunes, he forbids us to forget all the other things dictators have forbidden us to do.

Jorge Drexler

Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler won wide acclaim after winning in 2005 the first Academy Award ever given to a song written in Spanish, “Al Otro Lado del Río” from The Motorcycle Diaries.

In what is reported as his Tumblr account, Drexler published a letter from his Venezuelan cousin (who is the daughter of political exilees from the Uruguayan dictatorship) in which she describes the extremely serious situation in Venezuela and why she will continue to take to the streets to protest.

El Monte y el Río is one of Drexler’s loveliest songs; a delicate tune based on a poem by Chilean Pablo Neruda about joining the struggle of others who suffer.

La Vida Bohème

La Vida Bohème, an alternative independent band from Caracas, Venezuela was in formed in the mid aughts. The quartet originally always played their concerts dressed in white clothing, splattered head to toe in brightly-colored paint. For recent concerts (such as at the LAMC in July, 2013),  they worn black liquiliquis,  the elegant suits of their homeland used in times of both celebration or mourning.

During our LAMC interview, Henry D’Arthenay, the band´s guitarist and main vocalist, referred to the recent elections in which Maduro had won as a time of mourning for the country, hence the black liquiliquis.

In recent days, as described in an interview with Billboard, D’Arthenay has been tweeting from Caracas about the protests. The article also reports that the band’s lyrics such as “My knees are trembling but I can’t stop. I want my children to have what they wanted to take away from me”  have become a rallying call in cyberspace.

Here’s the song with those lyrics, Aún, from the band’s last album (Será, Nacional Records, 2013).

Other musicians such as Juanes from Colombia, Alejandro Sanz from Spain and even Ricky Martin have taken to social media to demonstrate support to the protesters in Venezuela.

Silvio Rodriguez

However, it should be noted that not every single Latin American musician is demonstrating support for the protests. Cuban trova veteran Silvio Rodriguez, on February 24 published a post by another author in his blog. The writer chides Ruben Blades for failing to be true to the revolutionary principles expressed in his own most memorable political songs.

Here’s one of his many anthems to the Revolución

Yet in the face of what seems to be an inevitable path to greater chaos and violence, there is still reason for hope–in this tweetable, tumblrable world, the power of music cannot easily be silenced.

Catalina explores nuestra cultura via the music on Beat Latino every week. Visit Facebook,  subscribe via Itunes or download the podcast on the archives.

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