In Puerto Rico, Protest Music Becomes Essential Part of a New Movement Against Corruption

Lead Photo: Rappers Residente (L) and Bad Bunny (R) join demonstrators protesting against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico July 17, 2019 Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Rappers Residente (L) and Bad Bunny (R) join demonstrators protesting against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico July 17, 2019 Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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In Puerto Rico, folk genres like bomba, sung and danced by enslaved Africans as a form of rebellion against slave-owners, and plena, a traditional musical styling impoverished jibaros sung to bring attention to their social ills, indicate that music has always been a part of the island’s centuries-long resistance movements. Today, as the Puerto Rican people uprise against a corrupt local government, specifically calling for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the biggest names in Puerto Rican music are similarly using modern genres as a form of political expression, unity and refuge.

Protests exploded on the archipelago on Saturday after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of a private telegram chat between the governor and members of his cabinet. In the leaked messages, dubbed #TelegramGate, the leaders made profanity-laced homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic comments, some outright violent, about female politicians, celebrities and protestors as well as shocking quips about the victims of Hurricane María. In Puerto Rico – where the people were recently also hit with a money-laundering scandal by its education and health leaders, and are fighting against an unelected fiscal control board and remain in recovery from the devastating 2017 hurricane that compounded the island’s economic and humanitarian crises – the chat was a catalyst for insurgence.

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan in the crusade’s fifth and largest protest. Among them, artists like Bad Bunny, Residente, Ricky Martin, La India, PJ Sin Suela and more used their celebrity and talent to urge their país to stay resolute in their fight and to create unity on an island in distress. Through music, these artists are helping shape and propel a people-led movement against the governor, political corruption and injustice.


Residente, Bad Bunny and iLe - “Afilando Los Cuchillos”

On July 17, rapero Residente, of the famed band Calle 13, released “Afilando Los Cuchillos” (“Sharpening The Knives”), a blistering track featuring Latin trap king Bad Bunny and singer iLe. Together, the Boricua artists musically eviscerated Gov. Rosselló, calling him a dictator, an assassin, a thief and a homophobe and, encouraged the pueblo to unite and raise their fists for Borikén. With more than 3 million views on YouTube, the lyrical outcry, rapped over a hip-hop beat, has become the most prominent protest song in the fight against Rosselló and his administration.


PJ Sin Suela - “PUTA”

Before “Afilando Los Cuchillos” dropped, Puerto Rican rapper PJ Sin Suela delivered “PUTA,” a scathing three-minute attack against political corruption. The song’s title alludes to Gov. Rosselló’s remarks against Puerto Rico-born former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who he called a “whore.” But PJ Sin Suela, a doctor-turned-urban artist, not only lambasts the contents of the chat, but also highlights the theft of funds for education and health care and calls on Puerto Rico, a US territory divided by status, to unite, from independentistas to those who seek statehood, for a just future.


iLe’s Rendition of “La Borinqueña”

During Wednesday’s massive protest in Old San Juan, Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar, better known by her artist name iLe, stood atop a white truck among thousands of people demonstrating in front of the Capitolio and sang the original lyrics to “La Borinqueña.” The first version of the national anthem is rooted in revolution, with lyrics by Lola Rodríguez de Tío urging her people to wake up and fight for liberation from Spain. At the demonstration, iLe’s emotional rendition had thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are today colonial subjects of the United States, raising their flags and fists in the air and singing, “Vámonos, borinqueños, vámonos ya, que nos espera ansiosa, ansiosa la libertad.”

Watch here.


La India’s Rendition of "Lamento Borincano"

Salsera La India also attended Wednesday’s protest. The iconic Puerto Rican singer stood on a balcony above demonstrators who organized near La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, where she powerfully sang “Lamento Borincano.” The song, one of the most famous Boricua boleros, was composed by Rafael Hernández Marín in the 1920s to protest the economic struggle of poor farmers in the midst of the Great Depression, a poignant message as the Puerto Rican people grapple with a $123 billion debt crisis that has led to cuts in public services, a loss of jobs and schools, and deepened poverty.


Farruko and Anuel’s Performance of “Delincuente” at Premios Juventud

Over in Miami, mainstream Puerto Rican artists have also been making noise. At Thursday night’s Premios Juventud, raperos Anuel and Farruko ended their performance of “Delincuente,” a hit about the perception of them as lawbreakers because of their talk and style of dress, calling the corrupt politicians of Puerto Rico, even naming Rosselló, as the real criminals.

“Maybe Anuel and I are not the best to lead by example because we’ve made many mistakes, but we accept them and raise up, and thank God for giving us a second chance and thank you all for your continued support,” Farruko said. “I hope the governor of Puerto Rico does the same for youth, because he hasn’t done it. He’s abused the people and has made fun of all of us. Have a little bit of dignity, if you have any left, and resign. We need leaders, not people who will steal from us.” “We need less criminals dressed as politicians.”

Anuel added: “We need less criminals dressed as politicians.”