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Toxic Salsa: When Latin Romance Music Glorifies Sexist Violence

Male dominance and violence is often encouraged in popular Latin American music, and particularly in genres like salsa or bachata. The more memorable the songs, the bigger the harm they will have done to generations of women.

Image of singer Romeo Santos singing on stage.

Dominican American singer Romeo Santos performs on the NBC Today show held at Rockefeller Plaza in July 2022.

Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA
Julián de Zubiría Samper

BOGOTÁ — In Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America, misogyny is often deeply rooted in culture — and that means in popular music too.

In the romantic world of Salsa music, lyrics can reveal sexist attitudes and provide clues as to what some men are thinking when they lash out.

Colombia's state prosecution service registered almost 48,000 cases of domestic violence in 2022, or 128 every day. These cases include 614 women murdered by partners or former partners — sometimes for having dared to reject them — as well as horrific acid attacks. They are the fruit of a culture that believes women do not control their own lives, but instead belong to men.

In a recent open letter to President Gustavo Petro, a group of artists called for socio-cultural change, focusing particularly on children and young people.

When we listen to music we love, we often barely listen to the lyrics and what they may teach. All our lives, we've listened and danced to so many songs without considering how they degrade women. As I have written before, critical reading of texts and discourses isn't our forte in Colombia. But we can and should start listening critically to many songs that should never have been written, sung or danced to.

They have been performed time and again by some of the hemisphere's best-known bands, and are regularly broadcast, heard and enjoyed today. Let me cite but a few:

#1: "If I Catch You" by Ismael Rivera

Puerto Rican Ismael Rivera's song Si te cojo is a classic of male oppression. In Si te cojo, the woman must have Ismael's clothes ready when he wakes up, and dinner made when he comes home. He warns he'll leave her "with a black eye" if she fails, or if he catches her flirting with anyone or if "the potatoes aren't done" when he's back from work.

In another song, No te voy a dejar ir ("I won't Let You Go"), the woman is told she can't leave the house, not even to go to mass or to visit relatives.

#2: "Women Are" by Ismael Miranda, and "Indecent Proposal" by Romeo Santos

In Las mujeres son, Ismael Miranda, also Puerto Rican, says women "came into the world" to wash underwear and cook. They can't keep any money they make, he adds.

Another song, No me dejes solo ("Don't Leave Me") by Rolando La Serie, asks "What'll happen if you leave? Who will wash the clothes, and the plates? Who'll make the bed and care for the children?"

In "The Jealous Boyfriend" (El novio celoso), the Argentine Carlos Argentino, singing with the Cuban band Sonora Matancera, tells his girl he's "the only one" who can see her, and wonders where he could take her on a Sunday "where nobody else will see her."

In Suegra ("Mother-In-Law"), the Dominican Bachata singer Romeo Santos "exotically" toys with killing "our problem ... your damned mother," by poisoning her coffee. Once the mother is unconscious, he sings, he plans to load her into his car and throw her over a cliff. The Dominican Republic has banned the song because of its violent lyrics.

In Propuesta indecente, he wonders whether a girl might enjoy forceful sex, or even rape: "What would say if I seduced you in my car tonight, showed you no respect and then blamed the alcohol?"

#3: "Bad Woman," by the Sonora Matancera 

Who hasn't danced to Sonora Matancera's Mala mujer? Also performed by Puerto Rico's Sonora Ponceña, it's a great song for its rhythm and melody — but not so much for its words, which describe killing an unfaithful woman: "The bad woman is heartless. Kill her, kill her, kill her, kill her."

#4: Roberto Cantoral's "Prisoner Number Nine"

Mexico's Roberto Cantoral is well known for writing songs, including El preso número 9. Colombians will have heard Alci Acosta performing the song, in which a convicted killer confesses to a priest that he does not regret killing his wife and her lover: "Certainly Sir, I killed them, and if I were born again I'd kill them again. Father, I do not repent nor fear eternity."

Image of Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ismael Miranda singing on stage.

Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ismael Miranda performing on stage.

Ismael Miranda/Instagram

#5 and more...

The Sonora Matancera's Yo la mato ("I'll kill her") has its lead singer Daniel Santos, who married 12 times, singing "If I catch her one day outside town, I'll kill her ... or she'll apologize."

Words have consequences.

The Ramón Orlando band's 1993 song "Sell Me Your Girlfriend" (Te compro tu novia) has a man offering to buy his friend's girlfriend "whatever the price," and hoping that "her mother will make me another one just like her." The girlfriend is said to be "pretty, passionate ... with money" — which she saves rather than spending — and is always at home and able to "do everything" there.

Cuban singers Miguel and Óscar (with their band La Fantasía) sang that women needed a "little slap" to "gather their thoughts."

Many of these songs sound quaint now, which has helped them to elude censure directed at more brazen Reggaeton music. But the aggression is still there.

Today, it is up to artists, as well as parents and teachers, to step in and counter negative ideas with the right words on the need to respect the human dignity of women.

Words have consequences, and are entwined with those big changes many seek in Colombia.

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Dagestan "Pogroms"? The Israeli Airplane Assault, And Other Anti-Semitic Mobs In Russian Republics

Evoking the anti-Semitic mobs of the 19th century around Russia and Eastern Europe, several hundred young men descended on an airplane on the tarmac of an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan. It is part of a series of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attacks in the Muslim-majority region since the war in Gaza began.

Dagestan "Pogroms"? The Israeli Airplane Assault, And Other Anti-Semitic Mobs In Russian Republics

A local man waves a Palestinian flag with a message reading ''Dagestan Stands By You'' at the Makhachkala Airport.

Ramazan Rashidov/TASS/ZUMA
Cameron Manley

What happened at an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan is being described by some in the Russian press as a modern-day "pogrom," after an anti-Israeli mob stormed an airport in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Sunday night.

A crowd broke into the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, eventually getting past security and onto the airfield to prevent the arrival of what had been described as “refugees from Israel.” Information that they were supposedly going to be settled in Dagestan had been disseminated via local Telegram channels. Russian officials reported Monday that at least 60 people have been arrested.

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The attacks have been described by several Russian news outlets as a "pogrom" (‘погром’), a Russian word to describe violent, organized attacks against a particular ethnic group. The term first gained international recognition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — eventually adopted into other languages — when pogroms were used to describe a series of violent anti-Jewish riots and attacks that occurred across the Russian Empire and later in other parts of Eastern Europe.

Thus the brazen mob attack Sunday night in Dagestan, in the Caucus region of southern Russia, has a frightening historical precedent, though with now modern characteristics. One key difference is the source of the anti-Semitism appears to be coming in this Muslim-majority region in reaction to the conflict in the Middle East. Also, the mob formed thanks to social media, with information circulating that “refugees from Israel” would arrive on a regular Red Wings flight from Tel Aviv, protesters began gathering at Makhachkala airport around 7 p.m. local time.

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