Petrona Martinez and the healing beats of bullerengue

For Hispanic/Latin@ Heritage Month, Esperanza United is celebrating inspiring Latina artists who carve a pathway for our beautiful heritage to continue to flourish. So far, we’ve highlighted Black Latina writer, poet, musician and speaker, Melania Luisa Marte, and Zine leader and pioneer, Daisy Salinas. This week we’re highlighting a Latina leader who demonstrates how music can heal – Petrona Martinez.

History is too often taught in uncreative or boring ways. How cool would it be to pass a song down to your ancestors instead of flipping through a textbook? That’s what Petrona Martinez is doing. She’s a Latina that uses music to tell her story and the story of other rural people in Colombia. 

Petrona revolutionized a call and response style of music called bullerengue. Bullerengue originates from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and consists of a lead singer, or cantadora, drums and choir. The players form a circle, respond to the cantadora’s call, and improvise. The drum beats combine with the cantadora’s spoken voice, making it sound as if a conversation is happening. Emotions can spill out through the strumming, talking, and singing. 

Petrona sang about the everyday realities of rural Colombian life during a politically unstable time. As people were forcibly displaced from their land, and afro-descendents were not recognized as part of society, Pertrona helped bring visibility to these injustices through music. 

It all started one day when she heard bullerengue playing on the radio. Right then and there, she decided to try to get her songs recorded. Although most of Petrona’s early songs were ones she heard from her family,  her first hit “El niño roncon”  was a song she made up about her children running away from a pig. It took a while for Petrona to gain recognition, but she would eventually go on to win the first Latin Grammy. 

Bullerengue inspires us to play off our strengths as a community. It shows us how we can create something unique and beautiful  simply by lifting our voices. It proves that we’re powerful when we root into our identity, lift up the strengths of our community, and share the realities we experience. Like Petrona’s music demonstrates, it takes just one voice to spark change but it requires a whole community to create movement and rhythm. 

This Hispanic Heritage month we encourage you to listen to songs you enjoy and get inspired by the real-life rhythms of bullerengue. Let familia, comunidad, and music guide you in your healing journey and in your contributions to our mission of ending violence in Latin@ communities. Join us and our partners Kumbé Healing & Wellness next thursday October 13 for a workshop celebrating Latin@ heritage, centered on sound and movement-based healing.