It’s Black History Month, and one thing that I often see get lost every February is the history of Afro-Latin@s. Certainly Latino organizations and activism have a long, long ways to go here. But the always awesome Alt.Latino is an exception, and their Black History Month show – featuring Feministing Five alum Bianca Laureano of the LatiNegr@s Project – inspired me to put together a list of Afro-Latina women in music.
It’s nearly impossible to overstate the enormous contributions of the African diaspora to Latin music, and Afro-Latinas in particular have had and continue to have a huge influence on the Latin@ musical landscape. Below you’ll find a little sampling of a vast landscape of Afro-Latinas in music – from legendary mujeres to newer acts currently perfecting their gorgeous craft. Of course, these are just a few folks picked out of the rich and diverse musical traditions of Afro-Latinas, traditions with long histories that couldn’t possibly be covered in a single blog post.
First, let’s start with a few legends…
This Afro-Cubana – known as the Queen of Latin Soul – made music that was sexy and rebellious, plowing right through the taboos of 1960s Latin America (even if they weren’t really ready for that jelly). I love her unapologetic sexuality, the raw energy of her incredible voice. It’s hard to pick just one song, but her version of Fever holds a special place in my heart.
Alt.Latino actually did a whole show about Lupe a few weeks back – definitely check it out.
The Queen of Salsa, Celia almost needs no introduction – she’s on a postage stamp, and she even got her very own awesome Google doodle – but suffice it to say that she was one of the most influential musicians of her time and continues to be influential over a decade after her death. Also known for her boss fashions and colorful wigs, there is very little not to love about Celia. Warning, this video gets a little NSFW at the end!
Did y’all know that Mariah’s dad is Afro-Venezuelan? Mariah is everything in the whole damn world, from those killer pipes to the sheer mastery she displays in throwing shade. As with any legend, it’s hard to pick just one song, but this one A) is awesome B) has a video in which Mariah is cross-dressing which is obviously amazing C) displays her epic shade throwing mastery (in this particular instance thrown in Eminem’s general direction).
Now, while las reinas have their crowns for a reason, it’s also super important to shout out Afro-Latinas making their way right now, and lord there are so many newer and great Afro-Latina music makers these days:
Xenia’s album Magic Trix was one of my favorites of 2013, so much that right after I got out from being arrested in a civil disobedience I ran my tired ass across town to see Xenia play a short set. Damn, it was worth it. As I ran into the venue, she was playing Cherry Tree, this beautiful song about the work of forgetting someone she’s not quite ready to forget, but has to. The emotion in her voice, her lyrics, those layered beats – clearly so much talent here, and I can’t wait to see how she develops.
Goyo Martínez of ChocQuibTown
This Colombian hip hop group is great, and Goyo Martínez is badass in it. I love that they’re not afraid to get political, calling out the ways political corruption and racism play out for them. This song about the resilience of their communities is what’s up.
I caught onto Lido Pimienta through this sweet song about spending a beautiful night with a lover you won’t see again, wishing it won’t end – set to Caribbean rythms that feel like home and with a video featuring colorful art and queer Latino love. A week ago she put out a few awesome new tracks from a recent recording session, which you can download here.
This New York City Dominicana is the shit and she knows it. This song hasn’t really left the rotation for me over the last few years – it just never fails to make me feel awesome.
La Yegros’ approach to cumbia and her distinctive use and mastery of her voice have kept me coming back to last years’ Viene De Mi.
Rapper Gabylonia, my paisana from Venezuela, is fire. This track about youth protest to the racialized abuse of power by the police (which Venezolanos Apache y Canserbero have tackled as well) is excellent.
Verónica is going to attempt to keep warm today by dancing to these jams.