12 Songs That Tell the New Story of Central America
After a global pandemic, two hurricanes, and the ongoing economic, environmental, immigration, and political crisis, Central America, a region with a population of about 45 million people, is not the same it once was. Thankfully, artists from all 7 countries who make up this territory have been hard at work putting their thoughts into song and sharing them with the world. With the intention of highlighting some of the best talent from the region, as well as its beauty and diversity of sounds and cultures, I’ve gathered this list of 12 songs that tell the story of the new Central America. Let’s dive in:
- Mujer — Don Ryvko
In June of 2021, Honduras was named the deadliest place to be a woman in Latin America in a VICE News video titled “Latin America’s Deadliest Place to be a Woman”. Every 36 hours a woman is murdered in Honduras. Despite Don Ryvko’s young age (he is only 20 years old), he understands the importance of this issue and through this song wants his listeners to understand it too. In his lyrics he discloses that someone sent him a direct message saying “Don! Women are suffering and men are not paying attention to us”. Right after, he reveals that his intention with the song is to ask women of Honduras for forgiveness. All of this is masterfully laid out, despite Ryvko being relatively new to the music scene, over a beat and a delivery reminiscent of American rapper Logic or even Puerto Rican christian rapper Alex Zurdo. The song closes with an audio of Nancy Martinez crying and begging the murderers of her sister, Keyla Martinez, a nursing student who was allegedly murdered by policemen in a prison in Honduras, for an explanation as to why she was killed. With this song, Don Ryvko proves that he is a different kind of rapper, one that is willing to tackle difficult subjects with care, and one that wants to be a voice for those who don’t have one. If this song does not make you cry by the end, I do not know what will.
2. Gallo Pinto — Daniela Andrade
Easily one of the most relevant songs in this list and a good example of an artist creatively using their platforms to share their story. Daniela Andrade is a Honduran-Canadian singer, who has almost 2 million YouTube subscribers, and is making waves in North America and Europe through the bedroom pop / dream pop genre. Gallo Pinto, tells the story of a young girl, that is nicknamed “Little Bean”, is of two worlds, and sold plantain chips when she was little. Gallo pinto, for those of you who don’t know, is rice mixed with beans, a delicacy in a lot of Central American and Caribbean countries, but also a dish that is known for being a staple of the working and low income class. Andrade smartly uses this dish as a metaphor for poverty, struggle, the working class, being from two countries, but most importantly, the inner battle immigrant kids have of wanting to accomplish their own dreams while at the same time having to fulfill the dreams their parents have for them. She explains in her lyrics “This is for my mommy, this is for my dad…gave up everything to give me what I have. This is for the dreamers, working through their past — you are not defined by what you don’t have”. With this dreamy performance, Andrade not only speaks to the Central American experience, but also to the overall immigrant experience. And to make things even better, the music video is deserving of its own separate award.
3. Me Levanto Otra Vez — Various Artists
Me Levanto Otra Vez is a project born after two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, devastated several Central American countries in October and November of 2020 — all of this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jamalat Larach, the project’s creative director, came up with the idea to unite several artists from the affected countries to raise money for the thousands of victims that were impacted by these disasters. The result was a massive collaboration between more than 20 artists of the region that included Honduran-based singer Polache, up-and-coming rising star from Guatemala, Camila Orantes, and two GRAMMY-award winning producers: Trooko and Sebastián de Peyrecave. This song is not only catchy and vibrant in its sound, but displays some of the best talent in the region while also encouraging the listener to never give up and get up every time they fall. A message that Central Americans needed to hear right at that moment. Larach not only did a great job of curating an eclectic group of artists for this high quality production, but she also proved through music that Central America, a now divided region that was once united, can come together to celebrate resilience, perseverance, and hope even when going through devastating loss.
4. Soñando Despierto — Sech
Sech, arguably the most popular artist in Central America right now, released his album “Sueños” (Dreams) in 2019. The opening track “Soñando Despierto” (Daydreaming) is a groovy ballad that explains the struggles and difficulties of being poor while trying to make it in the music industry. At one point in the song, he sings about being so poor that he had to sleep in two chairs. I am sure a lot of artists around the world can relate to the themes in this song, however, it made it incredibly relevant for Central American artists given that only a very small number of them make it to the mainstream of Latin music. Sech knows that he is a unicorn and wants to communicate to others like him, through this song, that if you work hard and dream big, the impossible can become possible. He opens the song with a powerful dialogue: “Brother, listen to me. What’s happening to you in music doesn’t happen every day. When someone like you makes it, we all make it. What if I can’t do it? You will achieve it, God is with you. If you do not have a contract go and look for one. You won’t return to the block”. Go Sech!
5) Reina del Caos — Rebeca Lane
Nobody speaks truth to power on a song better than Guatemalan rapper and hip-hop star Rebeca Lane. Reina del Caos (Queen of Chaos) is an energetic protest song that holds no punches in addressing the governmental failures in Central America, misogyny, corruption, and even how all of these things create a burning desire to migrate. Rebeca writes, “I live in conflict and I don’t know where to go. If it doesn’t make me laugh, I’d rather not continue. If my heart doesn’t vibrate, I’d rather run away”. This song is unapologetic in its impact and full of powerful and rapid-fire lyrics that would make fans listening feel empowered and ready to hit the streets to let their voices be heard. Rebeca lets you know that she’s had enough and that she will not conform with the current state of the country by singing “I’m not going to make art just to please you. I am not going to censor myself so as not to bother you. I come to tell my story…”. This honesty to tackle such difficult subject matters have made Rebeca Lane amass more than 100,000 Spotify monthly listeners and millions of streams on YouTube and Spotify.
6) Re-Inventarnos — Rodolfo Bueso
Last year, while lockdown was driving all of us crazy, Rodolfo Bueso was hard at work writing music. Right in the middle of quarantine he released “Re-Inventarnos” (Re-Inventing Ourselves) a song about reinventing ourselves to become better human beings and finding inner peace through troubling times. In the verses he takes us through his day to day routine, even singing about how he can’t fall asleep at night until insomnia finally “becomes jealous” and lets him go — I mean, who can’t relate? Rodolfo masterfully placed an encouraging message into a laid-back, captivating, acoustic ballad layered with a ton of guitars, minimalistic percussion, and mature vocals. Although probably most of us do not want to be reminded of the COVID-19 pandemic, or what quarantine was like, Rodolfo managed to create a song that will spark only the best memories of that time.
7) Quédate — Debi Nova, Pedro Capo
Costa Rican singer Debi Nova has been representing Central America in Hollywood for a very long time. Her credits include background vocals for Britney Spears and collaborations with Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and even The Black Eyed Peas. However, her best work is her Latin GRAMMY-nominated song titled “Quédate’’ (Stay). In addition to wonderfully implementing the musical influences of the Caribbean, Nova also managed to capture into this song the “Pura Vida ‘’ lifestyle, which Costa Rica is known for around the world. Central America should not only be known for the migrant caravans, the corruption, and the violence. It should also be known for its natural resources, first-class beaches, and romantic getaways. When you listen to Quédate you will want to stay at a beach in Costa Rica forever, with your partner, and enjoy the sound of the waves, the breeze, and maybe even a margarita or two?
8) Aun A La Distancia — Fabiola Roudha
R&B has been crawling its way to Latin America for a while now. Aun A La Distancia (Even at a Distance), Fabiola Roudha’s new single, is working off of this idea. Aun A La Distancia shows a different side of Central America — one that is aware of North American culture and that can take its influences, build on them, and create something different and unique. Fabiola rose to fame after winning “El Gran Desafio de Estrellas”, the ultimate talent competition in Latin America where the best vocalists from different singing competitions faced off against each other. Aun A La Distancia not only solidifies Fabiola as arguably one of the greatest and most versatile singers in Central America, but it proves that there are solid musical projects in the region that can compete sonically and lyrically in the “American” space.
9) La Parranda (Sei Sei Bei) REMIX — Kazzabe feat. El Chevo, Polache, and Pilo Tejeda
Of course this list would not be complete without the inclusion of some punta. Punta, a dance that is mostly performed in a group and represents happiness, festivity, and survival, has been one of Central America’s most unique exports for decades, but more specifically of Belize and Honduras. La Parranda (Sei Sei Bei) embraces this idea and takes it to the next level by bringing some of the most popular artists representing this genre into one song and making it a massive celebration. Mario “Genio” Coto, producer of La Parranda (The Celebration), showcases the rich and unique cultural diversity in the region, while at the same time, demonstrating how punta has remained relevant through the years by featuring artists like El Chevo and Polache, two newcomers that have experimented with this genre, and putting them together with Pilo Tejada and Kazzabe, the old school punta masters.
10) Cumbia — GAWVI
GAWVI, a producer and rapper with Dominican and Salvadorian parents, was born in New York and raised in Miami. However, he has not forgotten his Central American roots, and in fact, has taken them and created something very unique. GAWVI’s 2017 single, Cumbia, is what I would categorize as “electronic cumbia”. An energetic song that has turned cumbia over its head by mixing it with rap and electronic beats. Cumbia, the music genre, is very famous in El Salvador — groups like Orquesta San Vicente, and Hermanos Flores have made it a trademark of the country. GAWVI, however, presented us here with a redefinition of what cumbia can be and not what it has been. This song represents Central American experimentation, evolution, and can serve as a blueprint that lays out how traditional rhythms and genres can be reimagined for the new generation.
11) TEGUCCI — Don Ryvko
One would think that Don Ryvko, a son of American missionaries, who was born in Honduras but moved back to the United States when he was 10, would be an unlikely choice to speak about the country’s political failures. However, if you listen to TEGUCCI you will be surprised at how Ryvko, despite not currently living in Honduras, is fully aware of the current state of the country, and is willing to be an ally by lending his voice. With TEGUCCI, Don Ryvko smartly reclaims his identity, proudly singing about the place where he grew up, in an explosion of lyrics full of pop culture references from both the United States and Honduras. All of this, while at the same time calling out the current presidential administration on its intention to sell parts of the country to foreign entities. Watch out for Don Ryvko!
12) Latina — Kenny Man
Earlier this year LOUD, a Spotify podcast hosted by Ivy Queen, smartly traced back the origins of reggaeton. In LOUD, Ivy explains that reggaeton, as we know it today, was created, in part, when the children of canal workers in Panama experimented by translating Jamaican dancehall to Spanish and creating what we know today as Panamanian reggae en español. This of course challenges the idea that reggaeton was solely created in Puerto Rico and puts Central America in the center of a conversation about one of today’s most popular genres of music. Kenny Man’s “Latina” is a perfect representation of this idea. In this upbeat track, full of dancehall, reggaeton, and hip-hop influences, Kenny Man explains why he likes Latin women and details what he finds beautiful about girls in the different Central American countries. Kenny Man understands and wants the world to know that although the Central American region is beautiful as a territory, its true beauty lies in its people.
About the author: José Alvarado is currently a graduate student, he is Honduran, and has experience in the music industry for more than 10 years, playing the piano from a very young age. José holds a BA in Accounting and Finance from the Central American University of Technology (UNITEC), an AS in Business Administration from the State University of New York, and is pursuing a MA in Arts Administration from the City University of New York. He has worked in marketing and programming for different performing arts venues and art organizations in New York and has carried out different studies on the Latin American music industry.