5 Protest Songs About La Lucha Puertorriqueña

When most Puerto Rican mothers’ answers to standard questions like “¿Cómo estás?” is “Ah, tú sabes, en la lucha”, one begins to wonder: “¿de qué lucha estarán hablando?”

Some Puerto Rican musicians can think of a few.

Puerto Rico’s landscape has been in unstable footing for as long as anyone could remember: from the 2007 economic recession still dragging its feet on the island to the notorious “brain drain” of professionals and families leaving the island for better educational and job opportunities. On top of these stressors on the island, a congressionally appointed Fiscal Control Board overseeing the island’s expenditures determined that a $300 million budget cut for the University of Puerto Rico system is a worthwhile austerity measure to help the island reduce its $70 billion dollar debt.

Students Marching at UPR-Cayey (Ricardo Alcaraz / Diálogo)

So, there are many luchas to be fought, indeed. As a result, many Puerto Rican musicians have used their music as a form of activism to express their contempt for the current government, to call Puerto Ricans to action, and to speak up about social issues that don’t just affect the people of Puerto Rico, but rather, the social issues that can be found worldwide. Here is a scope of Puerto Rican musicians and the luchas they’re addressing:

5. “Multi_Viral” by Calle 13

“Multi_Viral” is a song born from the collaboration of René Pérez (the lead singer of Puerto Rican duo Calle 13) and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The songwriting process was a collaborative effort between Pérez, Assange, Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Arab-Israeli singer-songwriter Kamilya Jubran combined with chunks of lyrics sourced from online fans. “Multi_Viral”, one of Calle 13’s most politically charged songs to date, addresses global movements, police brutality, and the power of information when confronting corruption in languages like Spanish, English, and Arabic. “Multi_Viral” reinforces the notion that collective power of the people remains the best weapon against censorship and chaos stemming from the government.

4. “Mr. Con Macana” by Roy Brown

Roy Brown, an iconic Puerto Rican musician renowned for his folk music, dropped a transcendental album in 1970, Yo Protesto, which should be all but forgotten in contemporary Puerto Rican history. Brown, a UPR student during the University of Puerto Rico protests of the ’70s, was a self-described radical leftist of the Independence Party who, fraught with helplessness, decided to record music denouncing the current status of the island. With a comic attitude, Brown illustrates his experience of participating in the protests which, through his descriptions, capture the sweltering heat, the conversations of imperialism and communism, and even his personal experience with police brutality in “Mr. Con Macana” as he sang “A correr, a correr, / to’o el mundo a correr: / ahí viene el míster con macana.”

3. “La revolución Consciente” by Omar García

With an unconventional twist to modern Latino rap, Puerto Rican rapper Omar García subverts the traditional themes of women, money, and perreo in hopes of reshaping contemporary boricua hip-hop. García’s vision for his music reaffirms that “there is no theme that cannot be breached” and seeks to, in his idea of a post-rap world, denounce sexism, homophobia, and ignorance. His perspective oozes the rejection of repressive colonial politics and Puerto Rico’s edition of the war against drugs. His single, “La revolución consciente”, echoes Calle 13’s singing and rap style while still notably underground, dissing mainstream Puerto Rican rappers and politicians and boosting his pursuit of truth through his rap.

2. “The Body Electric” by Hurray for the Riff Raff

Alynda Lee Segarra is an uncontestedly fascinating new force in American music. Segarra, a Bronx-raised, New Orleans-based Puerto Rican and the face behind the folk band Hurray for the Riff Raff is an activist with a mission. Likened to Woody Guthrie stylistically, she wrote the misogynistic murder ballad “The Body Electric”, which was dubbed NPR’s Political Folk Song of the year in 2014. “The Body Electric” was written in response to Segarra’s disgust to the link between the normalization of racism and sexism in America and the violence and abuse against people of color and women, which has led to countless murders. Sexism and violence against women is common in most countries, which is precisely what Segarra is combating with this folk anthem by rhetorically asking listeners what they are going to do when another woman gets shot and tossed in a river while “the whole world sings like there’s nothing going wrong.”

1. “Despierta Boricua” by Andrés Jiménez, El Jíbaro

Folk singer-troubadour Andrés Jiménez imprinted a mantra in the Puerto Rican consciousness that goes, “¡Coño, despierta boricua!” This phrase, which also acts as an interjection, is generally exclaimed as a reaction toward Puerto Rican apathy (and, at times, as a wake-up call). This revolutionary anthem, laced with a sentimentality to reclaim Puerto Rico, urges Puerto Ricans to reclaim their place and fight for the sovereignty of their patria. Whether you agree or disagree with Puerto Rico’s current political climate, this song is a testament to the revolutionary spirit that Puerto Ricans have carried with them for decades.

If you’re curious about how these Puerto Ricans express their revolutionary sentiments, here’s a Spotify playlist: