In January 2020, the world was starting to receive worrying news that a potentially deadly virus had emerged in China and was beginning to spread. We did not yet know the severity of the approaching pandemic, but immediately campaigns sprang up all over Latin America on how to avoid getting sick—wash your hands, keep social distance, cover your mouth when coughing, etc. Little was yet said about wearing masks, and the imposition of lockdowns was unthinkable.
It was at this very beginning that the Mexican singer Mr Cumbia released “La Cumbia del Coronavirus” last January. Throughout the 2020 months of February and March, various artists from all over Latin America followed suit.
By then, the pandemic was still in the beginning and nobody had any idea that the world would practically stop in the following months. By mid-March of last year, Argentina and Costa Rica decided to close schools, Bolivia and Colombia reinforced their borders, Chile and Mexico banned fans at soccer matches and other countries also adopted similar measures—although no Latin American country, aside from Brazil, had reported more than 100 infections at that time. Argentina reported its first death —and the first for the region— on March 8.
Back then, dozens of artists managed to find in music a way to have fun, even joke about the pandemic, but also to teach basic hygiene measures and, in the end, to vent about the whole situation that was soon going to get worse.
Now, with over 2.6 million dead, the pandemic that hit the world has completed a year. In the midst of grief, sadness and near economic collapse, we look back to a time when we did not yet think that the crisis would be global and long-lasting.
Whether in English, Spanish or Portuguese, several cumbias, funks and corridos bear witness to Latin America’s creativity, endurance, and strength in face of the worst pandemic in generations.
Millions of people have listened, enjoyed, and shared on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.
All these songs were recorded while the consequences of the pandemic were unknown, when the pandemic was proving a threat but had not yet caused the huge devastation we see today. Perhaps it was still possible to laugh before the tragedy that was rapidly approaching.
Today, creativity and the ability to laugh in the face of adversity seem to have given way to an immense sense of loss and grief, but maybe these songs can perhaps still give strength and inspire hope.
Mexico’s Mister Cumbia composed, produced and recorded “La Cumbia Del Coronavirus,” urging people to be careful, not touch their faces and always wash their hands. It was Latin America’s first coronavirus hit and it has amassed over 7 million views and growing.
Iván Montemayor, or Mister Cumbia, sings about COVID-19’s origin, how it spread and how anyone can stay safe. With a catchy chorus, Mister Cumbia, whose Facebook page announces him as “The King of the Viral Cumbias” sings:
“Coronavirus, Coronavirus / Wash your hands, do it often / Coronavirus, Coronavirus / Take care in crowded places / Coronavirus, Coronavirus / Don’t touch your face, avoid it, friends / Coronavirus, Coronavirus / Use a disinfectant, that’s very effective.”
The song’s success was so great that even surprised Montemayor.
“I had had successes in Central Mexico and South America but reaching Spotify’s top five worldwide charts was a surprise,” he told Latino Rebels.
And why a song about coronavirus?
“Because of the urgency to send a prevention message after seeing what was happening in China in mid-January,” he said.
Other artists soon followed Mister Cumbia and coronavirus-themed songs soon started spreading throughout the region, such as Mexican group Medalla de Honor from Culiacán, who started recording Mister Cumbia’s music.
There was a live version performed by the traditional Guatemalan group Internacionales Conejos, which has reached almost a million views. The origins of that group were formed in 1884.
Another example was El Capi’s “La cumbia del coronavirus” music clip, a band from Oaxaca, Mexico. In an almost empty avenue, a man dances and sings with his bandmates in the background playing their instruments. In another take, they all drink Mexican beer Corona on an empty bridge while singing about how Coronavirus is dangerous.
From Argentina, with more than a million views on YouTube, Mak King’s “Coronavirus La Cumbia” sends coronavirus to hell.
But not just cumbia singers and bands were telling coronavirus to go to hell. Bolivian Christian rock group Saxoman y los Casanovas go for a music video where they ask the Holy Spirit to destroy the virus while the lead singer flies over what appears to be an army of Jesus look-alikes on white horses. As creativity has no limits, he flies over a city and starts destroying the virus with fire coming out of his hands.
From Zacatecas in Mexico, Marcos Flores and the band La Jerez got almost 3 million views on YouTube with the corrido “El Coronavirus”.
Also from Mexico, Los Potrillos de Turicato sang another corrido about the devastation caused by the virus around the world.
And also from Mexico, this corrido from Los Tres Tigres Tristes (more than 4.9 million views) has scenes of crowded supermarkets with people rushing to buy everything.
Dominican Dembow singer Yofrangel tells us to cover our mouths so as not to get other people sick and describes some of the most common symptoms of the disease in his “Corona Virus” hit—with over 12 million views. His inspiration?
“My baby,” he tells Latino Rebels, also saying that he was “stunned” by the success of his music.
In a humorous tone, despite lyrics that denounce the fear that many feel, Kaseeno’s “Coronavirus” is a huge hit on Spotify and the most popular song he has made to date. From Santo Domingo, Kaseeno is currently based in Miami.
From Nicaragua, comes Luis Henrique Mejía Godoy, the “troubadour of the revolution” with “Quédate en casa.”
Dob’t forget Cuban-American Yendrys Cespedes and his one-man-band from Chicago play a Cuban salsa.
Brazil was not left out either, with artists of many different styles composing and singing songs against coronavirus.
Funkeiro DJ Guuga has released a song —with more than 5 million views on YouTube— in which he gives tips on how to protect yourself from coronavirus.
Mixing funk and brega, a musical style known for its romanticism and for a dramatic exaggeration of topics such as love and infidelity, duo Shevcheno and Elloco have reached over 3.4 million views. The song also features a remix of a viral by rapper Cardi B.
Finally, DJ Gabriel Alves sings in one of the most popular musical styles from northeast of Brazil, Forró.
It has definitely been a year, both surreal, tragic, and yes, even musical.