Following up on the previous blog on “Music & Domestic Violence“, we look back at how Salsa music reflected our society’s “machista” culture, contributing to this unfortunate behavior.
I’m using this term to describe Salsa with “machista” lyrics. Unfortunately, there are many of them, although I can only remember a few up the top of my mind. However, writer and scholar Frances Aparicio wrote a book that touches on part of this topic in “Listening to Salsa“.
You don’t have to be a scholar to see “machista” themes in Salsa. Going back to Ismael Miranda’s “Las Mujeres Son” with Orchestra Harlow (1972), to the more aggressive “Si Te Cojo” from Ismael Rivera’s album “De Todas Maneras Rosas” (1977), “machista” lyrics have been part of Salsa for a while. Even Ruben Blades confessed (in his 50th-anniversary concert in Puerto Rico) that some of his lyrics today wouldn’t be “politically correct”. When describing a particular part in “Manuela” he briefly portrayed a woman disgusted by his lyric…”yo sere tu domador bella mujer?”…and then mimicked giving a backhand slap to his face…”pishhh“.
Ruben acknowledged that times have changed, and we need to correct some attitudes that were plain wrong. “Si Te Cojo” is a clear example. To my great surprise, the song was written by Bobby Capó. Capó is well known for his very romantic and poetic songs towards women. If he were alive today, I bet he would be ashamed of haven written such a song, perhaps even banning it from it ever been played again. It doesn’t get much more violent than “un piñazo en un ojo te voy a dar“, and…”pao, pao, pao…te voy a dar“.
Ismael Miranda doesn’t go to that extent in ‘Las Mujeres Son“, although he basically says that women are men’s domestic slaves. That’s before going on to praise them! That’s the irony of domestic violence.
Things continued this way in Salsa until the late 80s and 90s when Salsa Romantica brought ballads into Salsa. But then, someone decided that if “love” was a good theme for Salsa songs, why not take it to the next level with “Salsa Exotica“, where it skipped the romanticism and went straight for using the women just for sex…with “desnudate mujer“…and “las sabanas manchadas“…and “en aquel viejo motel“…etc., etc..
This is, more or less, where reggaeton took over with the “exotic” lyrics and has continued portraying women as mere sex objects until this day.
But after Salsa Exotica, and the arrival of Reggaeton, Salsa cleaned its act. Romanticism has continued, but both authors and performers have been careful to select songs that truly value women. And, of course, women have been making their own case as well in Salsa. The latest example is Victor Manuelle & India’s song “Victimas Las Dos“.
Today, it’s hard to find Salsa that is derogatory towards women and we should feel proud of that change.
What’s Our Part in All This?
Each one of us can make an impact and contribute to a change in Latin music lyrics in a positive way. I’ll into that in the next blog on this topic.