Protest, of one kind or another, underpins the rhythms of Latin America. Some musicologists claim the shimmying dance of cumbia can be traced to the shackles fastened on slaves’ ankles. The word “tango” was almost certainly used to describe the meeting place of Africans after slavery was banned in Argentina in 1853. But from the mid-1950s, Latin American singers, songwriters and musicians began to produce and perform works that were explicitly anti-establishment. From country to country, the reasons for the phenomenon were as diverse as the repertoire. In Chile, the Parra family and Victor Jara spearheaded the “Nueva Canción Chilena” movement, using folk song to defend the rights of the urban and rural poor and to challenge the military regime.
In Argentina, Atahualpa Yupanqui and Mercedes Sosa rejected the predominance of tango (which was a city-bound genre) and imported “pop” music because both failed to represent the majority of people. In Brazil, Tropicalismo artists such as Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes fused Brazilian and foreign musical fashions to nurture and an anti-nationalistic sound. In Cuba, Silvio Rodríguez’ and Pablo Milanes’ “Nueva Trova” songs was broadly behind the Castro-led regime, protesting against the US and against repressive governments in Latin America. In recent years, indigenous rock, punk, hip-hop and so-called cumbia villera (slum cumbia) have provided a platform for voicing the outrage and the tribulations of the marginalised, the mestizo and the victims of social injustice. A playlist for Songlines by Chris Moss.