Singing the Virus with Vernacular Whatsapp Latin Aesthetics
Within the Latin American digital landscape, WhatsApp groups are essential spaces for sharing so-called “viral” contents. During the Coronavirus pandemic, those groups have been used as channels for different types of spreadable media: health tips, official information but also ‘fake news’ and rumours are widely circulated via WhatsApp among families, colleagues, friends and diasporas 🌎 From a cultural point of view, Corona-related music is perhaps an original aspect of the Latin American ‘infodemic’. Cumbia, reggaetón and other regional music genres have been repeatedly used to sing the virus before and during the lockdown. As the virus inspires a wide range of spreadable media, sharing diverse musical expressions (as clips, links, videos or snippets) has been part of a vernacular experience in recent months.
“Corona Sound Machine” is a digital collection of Latin music about the virus. In order to turn spreadable media (often considered as ephemeral junk) into a contemporary cultural archive, 15 Corona-related songs have been collected via Latin American Whatsapp groups. How to sing a global virus with Latino aesthetics? 🤔 Beyond Miami-centric cultural stereotypes, the pandemic blends with diverse traditional and modern genres inspiring multiple creative directions. This collection provides analytical comments about such vernacular phenomena. From vocal folk performances to synthetic post-Internet mashups, the featured contents below spread complex emotions (e.g. paradoxically trying to laugh during the tragedy or exorcizing fears about what may happen during the lockdown). They also express “viral” ideologies about collective preventive action, gendered normativities, celebrity cultures and social injustice.
Are you talking about this?
Yes! “La Tigresa del Oriente” is a well-established viral artist from Perú: she’s been dubbed “La Reina de Youtube”. And she just updated her 2007 viral hit “Nuevo amanecer” in order to sing the current crisis: “Dear brothers (...) Coronavirus is all over the world (...) and this sickness is already in Perú”. She sings the globalized world and its porous borders before getting to the very frontiers of our bodies as surfaces for the virus: “If you wash yourself with soap, the virus won’t get inside you”. With her iconic Amazonic diva features, she’s also viralizing her transcendental sloganeering: “The pandemic will be over and a new dawn will come”. Neighboring countries are namechecked (🇲🇽, 🇦🇷, 🇧🇴, 🇧🇷) both as “anxiety-driven” target audiences and new potential virus locations.
But this is not only about viral celebrities...
This Mariachi-inspired song comes from Ecuador: Lucas Jiménez wrote it during the quarantine with his father on top of Vicente Fernández's mexican Ranchera classic “La Ley del Monte”. Typical macho “charro” values (i.e. “courage”, “strength”) are conveyed to “fight” the virus: “We will win together”. “Female nurses”, “policemen” and “military” forces are mentioned as helpful institutional “entities” working against the spread of the virus. “God’s help” is also required in the lyrics. #Coronavirus becomes a viral hashtag while local people are waiting for food supplies or social leisure activities in the background.
This old 2016 prevention video went viral again at the very beginning of the Covid crisis.
Three Mexican nurses sing “Die bacteria die!” while socially spreading their codified dance moves!
Who knows if those moves also inspired this 2020 “bleach” formula from their colleagues in Spain!
Not all videos are preventive… This traditional Vallenato from Colombia focuses on the Lockdown experience as a means for avoiding the virus. The domestic “idleness” is both seen as an object for “social criticism” and also as an anti-viral responsibility: “If I’m already infected, I don’t want to infect you”, sings this “Hombre” who claims to prefer “his house rather than the hospital”.
Here’s another Vallenato about the end of the world... Diomedes Díaz's 1992 apocalyptic verses are brought along to sing what happens on the 14th day of the quarantine: “The world is about to end” and “hunger will kill us”. In this vernacular mix, the social implications of the pandemic in Latin America are illustrated by vintage Disney cartoonish famine.
Check this out:
Have you heard about “Rap Medicina”? This Dominican Doctor (who also goes by the “R4” moniker as a rapper) is a true master of scientific knowledge and viral aesthetics. He thoroughly reminds our sensorium that there is an archaeology of other recent lethal viruses (SaRS, MERS-CoV): Don’t we live in a world whose structural features include a series of contemporary pandemic waves? Listen to him rap about the key facts and figures of the current CoVID19 crisis: its evolution, its symptoms and diagnosis and its lucid conclusion: “No cure, no vaccin”. Spreadability is precisely located with rhymes about “saliva drops”. A concrete preventive protocol goes viral with “R4’s” biopolitical flow and his didactic Powerpointesque aesthetics.
A very different approach 👇🏾
“Musica llanera” from Colombia is often used to sing the pandemic! This original song by Álvaro Perilla tries to make sense out of the current crisis in a very religious perspective: “The Bible had announced it” and “we have to trust Almighty God”. That’s the global framework for other common viral tropes which come along in his highly idiomatic and colloquial lyrics: “a 40°C fever”, the so-called “Bat soup”, etc. This is basically a “prayer” blending in equal parts of popular superstition and available knowledge.
This song was composed by the self-proclaimed “King of Viral Cumbias”! “Mr. Cumbia”’s 2020 Corona-related song is remixed here with a 2017 video by a collective of Mexican student nurses who perform preventive gestures outdoors in front of their local Hospital. Whether they want it or not, they become viral choreographers in the fight against Coronavirus since online dance moves go viral nowadays: this is perhaps a mutation of MuereBacteriaMuere and Macarena.
This playful "QuarenSamba" is sung in Portuguese from the point of view of an old Brazilian man who eventually went viral and got remixed: “It’s killing the elderly and it’s killing the young! The so-called “Coronavirus” is killing the joy of the people!”. #miseenabyme #killercough #grandfinale
Bolivian power trio “Saxoman & Los Casanovas” gives the Coronavirus a very peculiar treatment: microscopic views of the virus itself quickly evolve into apocalyptic visions of the sky as an epic battleground! A rain of spiky virus particles, a squad of flying bats & a photoshopped legion of Jesus militians bring in palpable tension between hyperreligious rhetorics and heavy metal aesthetics. The virus has to be fought in a way that only Power Rangers and videogame superheroes can perform on screen 🔥 As the trio jams wearing facemasks in front of a “biohazard” logo, the bandleader sings: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you Coronavirus to get out of my planet and never come back!”
Is this the Colombian “Guasca” genre? In any case, we get to see a Paisa man spreading a bunch of gender clichés about the quarantine and “feminine” beauty. In the midst of this global pandemic, are misogynistic "fears" and machismo going viral too?
Can we play some Salsa?
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico’s 1985’s classic “No hay cama pa’ tanta gente” meets the pandemic with this viral Flintstone remix. The saying “There are not enough beds for so many people” can therefore be related to available Hospital beds. The lyrics tells us that the virus is happening outside: “You can get infected if you go to the street”.
This Cuban bouncy song namechecks the World Health Organization. It spreads the #QuédateEnCasa hashtag asking people to #StayAtHome. Does it turn the “coughing in your elbow” health measures into viral gimmicks or dance moves?
Yet another Mexican cumbia about the pandemic. This time the Coronavirus is presented as a “relative of Chikungunya” that spreads in “the city”: “If you’re not careful, it will kill you”. Accordingly enough (?) the musicians pretend to drink Corona beers.
But who is sending you all these videos?
“La Tía” is portrayed in this song as the main source for the “infodemic”: this imaginary (but very relatable) Latina “aunt” character keeps spreading “home made medicines” and “miracle cures” among her WhatsApp contacts. The irony is getting sick from her generous advices (e.g. "drink hot water and lemon juice"). During the Lockdown, virality happens across platforms: TikTok videos are circulated widely whenever they provide humorous stereotypes for “senior” audiences.
1. The global pandemic of Coronavirus inspires a Latin American cluster of spreadable songs.
2. Most of these songs go viral on WhatsApp while pretending to replicate anti-viral protective measures.
3. True embodied media virality happens when a catchy virus-related song gets stuck into your head.
Glenda Torrado Rodríguez
(Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México) - @GlendaTorrado
(Université de Tours - Prim) - @G_GomezMejia