Songs of Revolution: A New Generation

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Songs for social change have taken center stage in Latin America as some of its most influential artists, Residente and Bad Bunny, are using their craft to denounce the socio-economic and political issues in the region.


By Julissa Castro-Ruiz / Matthew staff || Edited by Giulia Leo

From Bob Marley to John Lennon to Michael Jackson, songs that inspire social change have long existed in the music industry. In recent years, Latin American artists have used this genre to denounce neocolonialism in the region. Most notably, Residente and Bad Bunny.

Residente, a well-respected Puerto Rican artist, released “This is not America.” 2022 in response to Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” (2018). Bad Bunny, the most streamed artist in 2021, released a 20-minute music video and documentary of the social crisis in Puerto Rico. These two artists have made headlines for denouncing the corruption, colonialism, genocide, and displacement that occurs in the region at the hand of local and foreign investors, and the involvement of the United States government in the region. Residente and Bad Bunny spread these messages through their music, a form that transcends language barriers.

Resident’s “America”

Residente collaborated with a Yale University team of scientists to compose his most recent album. With the help of a Yale research team, he was able to study his own brain pattern, which was then translated into music notes. The objective was to track and map the brain patterns of the musician at the time he composed the album. In his song, “This is not America,” he transforms social injustices into art. Beyond making music that speaks to the soul, he said he wanted to evoke change through his lyrics and be able to express himself with honesty and without fear. 

“American” is a term used to describe those born and raised in the United States, excluding those that were born on the American continent. Residente is aware of the language evolution that is currently happening and wants to support language inclusivity by correcting a term that has been used to describe a country instead of a continent. Throughout his music video and lyrics, Residente revises Latin American history, highlighting some of the social injustice events that have occurred in the region. Some of the many notable references in the video are The Liampia botas Revolution in Bolivia;, the 43 of Ayotzinapa in Mexico; Bolsonaro’s Amazonian deforestation, and Victor Jara and Tupac Amaru executions in Chile, some of the many notable references in the video.  

The first frame of the video is an excerpt of Alfredo Jaar’s “A logo for America,” where “This Is Not America” is written over the United States map. In 1987, the native Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar was invited by the Public Art Fund to participate in the Message to the Public exhibition, in which artists like Keith Haring were previously displayed. Alfredo felt that the American term was employed incorrectly, so through a 45-second animation that was displayed in Times Square, under the eyes of the thousands of tourists and locals that frequent the area, he addressed the issue. 

The importance of this art as the opening sequence for Residente’s music video is to set his message loud and clear, and the mention of Childish Gambino is not to mock the artist but to expand on his art. Residente is known for being a master of words, his use of dialect and historical and political reference demonstrates the time and dedication he puts into his craft. “This is not America” is proof of Residente’s character and talents. His video was awarded the Grand Prix award at the Cannes film festival.  

Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón”  denounces the gentrification and displacement that many U.S citizens are causing in Puerto Rico

Bad Bunny’s music video “El Apagón,” an expression that translates into “the blackout,” was released days before Hurricane Fiona hit the island, leaving thousands without electricity. 

The video starts with the song “El Apagón” and transitions into an 18-minute documentary by local investigative journalist Bianca Graulu. The documentary vividly shows the reality thousands of Puerto Ricans are facing. Many of them are forced to evacuate their homes with only thirty days’ notice; the private resorts and gated communities have restricted access to public beaches. Bad Bunny is known for being a vocal supporter of minority groups, and, in his song, he tells the colonizer to go back to their land. In the music- video /documentary, we see footage from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a law called Act 22 that allows a foreign investor to be exempt from certain taxes. This caused an influx of predominantly U.S investors moving to the island. With this comes the displacement of low-income Puerto Ricans and the privatization of the island’s natural resources. 

Journalist Graulu also provides detailed infographics that help guide the viewer. 

Both Residente and Bad Bunny have made statements through their music. They aim to create a clear message for Latinoamérica . They are inciting cultural change through their music. Their audiences, which cover a wide range of ages, ethnicities, and genders, are now aware of these topics and have become more vocal about them. Music is an important aspect of a revolution. From drums to choirs, repeatedly, music has given a microphone to fighters. 

Learn more about the Jane Dickson: Messages to the Public exhibition here.

Read about the importance of Alfredo Jaar’s “A Logo for America” here.