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Mexico’s Yo Soy 132 Sings Its Own Songs

Posted on Jun 29, 2012
::im0genes:: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A protester at a Yo Soy 132 march in May.

By Josh Kun

(Page 2)

Along with its online manifestos and massive offline street marches, the political expression of Yo Soy 132 has increasingly taken musical forms—explored, tested, articulated, mobilized and dreamed in songs, jam sessions and artist collectives that are as at home with picket signs as they are with streaming audio widgets. In large part, this is due to the creation of yet another hashtag action network, #MusicosYoSoy132, which invited participation from anyone interested in being “united by the rhythm of a just and free Mexico.” Musicians across Mexico quickly pledged allegiance, producing a barrage of solidarity posts on Twitter as well as a series of videos featuring well-known Mexican artists declaring their support.

The first video, which went live on YouTube at the beginning of this month, led off with a statement by popular singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade. “We are at a critical juncture in the history of Mexico,” she says, “and it has given birth to an unprecedented civic movement.” Lafourcade then took to Twitter to crowd-source lyrics for what would become “Un Derecho de Nacimiento,” a song dedicated to the dream of a “better Mexico” and anchored to a chorus that insists “I was not born without a cause.” She performed it at a #MusicosYoSoy132-sponsored concert held in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s biggest and most symbolic site of public gathering (be it for a march against Peña Nieto or a Justin Bieber concert). Also on the bill were favorites like Julieta Venegas, Vicente Gayo and Torreblanca, who with help from journalist and singer Pati Peñaloza made connections between Yo Soy 132 and the Chilean student movement by performing a version of Violeta Parra’s “Me gustan los estudiantes,” the 1960s classic that was revived in recent demonstrations in Chile.

Also appearing in the first #MusicosYoSoy132 video was electronic musician Camilo Lara, aka Mexican Institute of Sound, who days before had been to the Zócalo himself to film a video for his latest single, “Mexico.” In the video, Lara wears a Yo Soy 132 T-shirt and choreographs his own march alongside an actual one—a June 3 demonstration for the victims of an infamous, and still unprosecuted, 2009 day-care fire in Hermosillo that left 49 children dead. Singing alongside fellow protesters, he portrays the Mexican government as a drug cartel that rules with violence and impunity under the three colors of the Mexican flag: “green for the pot, white for the coke and red for the blood.” The song ends by rewriting the Mexican national anthem as a narcocorrido in which the patriotic “sonic roar of the cannon” is now the menacing soundtrack of a government “growing pot with its own hands.”

For a movement so critical of neoliberalism and corporate media, it’s heartening to see just how much Yo Soy 132 music has been made strictly for marching and organizing, not markets. In one demonstration against the PRI’s economic control of media giant Televisa, protesters created a wall of music that surrounded the company’s headquarters, and in another demonstration they held a fandango for justice and truth. There was also the staging of a mock Televisa funeral by a group of Yo Soy 132 artists who hired a mariachi to sing the wrenching cemetery staple “Las Golondrinas” (The Swallows) just outside the company’s gates. In the song, the swallows fly away and may never return, sad symbols of lost loves, lost friends and lost homelands.

There have also been two grass-roots attempts at creating unofficial movement anthems. The Colectivo Emergente de Artistas Independientes (Emerging Collective of Independent Artists) recorded the sprightly “#Cumbia 132,” which tries to make you dance to lyrics about democratic elections, government repression and refusing to be anybody’s sheep, and students from La Escuela Nacional de la Música (National School of Music) came up with “Himno 132 (Llegó el día).” Released on their blog and soundcloud page alongside other student-made movement songs, march photos and YouTube videos, the song’s mix of jarocho, jazz and reggae calls for hope and action in a climate of ignorance and fear: “The day has arrived/ Let’s raise our voices/ We are students in rebellion/ We are 132.”

Yet with Sunday’s election looming, all of this musical mobilization faces the same question that’s staring down the Yo Soy 132 movement itself. No matter who wins on July 1, will the music and the movement continue to be heard once the fever of the campaign cools down? Like the swallows of “Las Golondrinas,” will they just fly away, or will they return and keep on singing?

Josh Kun is a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, where he directs the Popular Music Project of the Norman Lear Center.

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