Music News

Musicians in tune with Colombian political campaign

MIAMI (Billboard) - Presidential campaigns are known for attaching themselves to popular songs and prominent artists. But in Colombia, the opposite has occurred, as emerging artists and even established hitmakers seek out candidates and donate music to help get them elected.

Music permeates the campaigns of front-runner Juan Manuel Santos of the National Unity Social Party (Partido de la U) and former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus of the Green Party, with both candidates featuring free downloadable songs, ringtones and video links on their official websites and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The use of music in Mockus’ campaign, whose main themes are anti-corruption and social responsibility, goes hand in hand with the candidate’s social-networking appeal. Mockus’ Facebook page has more than 550,000 likes, while his party’s page has close to 800,000 likes, remarkable tallies in a country of 40 million.

Still, the outpouring of music “completely bowled us over, because there was so much coming at us and from every genre imaginable,” campaign manager Astrid Alvarez says.

Since campaigning started in March, Alvarez says Mockus has received more than 1,000 original songs, many accompanied by original videos. Mockus’ official campaign site features 22 of those songs, including “Antanas Llego” (Antanas Arrived), written by Mil Santos, a Colombian living in Germany who performs the tropical-flavored indie-pop track with German singer Nica Tea.


Santos wrote the track “out of frustration from being far from my country and unable to do anything,” he says, speaking by phone from Germany. He penned the track on a Friday, and the following day shot the video with Tea and the help of friends. They put it up on YouTube and, before the day was over, had more than 17,000 views.

Two days later, Mockus’ campaign called and asked for permission to use the song as its official theme. As with all tracks Mockus uses, the campaign obtained a gratis license to use the song in multiple ways, including in a TV ad that has helped put Mil Santos’ music on the map.

Santos’ music offering is more modest but still substantial. His website has a campaign song available as a free full-track download in eight versions, as well as a ringtone in 11 styles, ranging from Andean to electronic.

The site also features ringtones derived from original songs by salsa violinist Alfredo de la Fe and vallenato star Jorge Celedon, one of Colombia’s most popular artists. (Vallenato is an accordion-based music from the country’s Atlantic coast.) Celedon’s track, “Santos Presidente,” is a tribute to the candidate that has received airplay and has multiple videos on YouTube. It’s also available on the Santos site as a free full-track download and ringtone.

As the two candidates prepare for a runoff election on June 20, Celedon has penned a new campaign song for Santos, and Mockus’ campaign is in the process of selecting a new, more uptempo track from its roster of entries. More than 120 artists have offered to play for free at Mockus events around the country on the day of the runoff.

It’s difficult to gauge what impact the music has on voters, but the outpouring of original compositions points toward the galvanizing effect of these campaigns on the public.

“Our big message is about community participation,” Alvarez says. “This is an example of publicity created by people motivated by a cause.”