Las Emperadoras

The Emperadoras de la Champeta, based in Cartagena, Colombia, are the first musical group in the genre of champeta music that consists entirely of women. Using their music, they promote the participation of “champetúo” artists in a genre dominated by men. Despite the fact that women have always been present in the musical culture of champeta, participating as dancers, performers, composers, samplers, and arrangers, their presence has been largely invisible and little recognised.

Las Emperadoras promote a message of gender equity and critically explore expressions of sexism and racism on the champeta music scene.
The group is made up of 11 Colombian women of Afro and indigenous descent who come from the working-class sectors of the city.
The collaborations between Las Emperadoras de la Champeta and the CARLA project consist of two pieces for this exhibition: a) a video “Pará en la raya” and b) an interview with group leader, Mily Iriarte, about the relationship between champeta, anti-racism and gender struggles.

"Pará en la raya" is a popular expression taken from the neighbourhoods of Cartagena that means "standing your ground". It is typically used in a defiant way against an adversary. The song seeks to raise awareness of the need for supportive self-care among women in the music scene and in everyday life.

The lyrics of the song denounce the injustices of women’s double burden (of employment and domestic work) and workplace harassment, as well as the domestic violence suffered by many women of the city's working classes.
The women who participate in champeta face prejudices that represent them as women who lead a licentious life, are not "good mothers" and are "easy women".

The members of the group defy these stereotypes, which are doubly rooted in their class and their ethnic-racial origins. Most of them are Afro-Colombian women and descendants of Indigenous people who live in the working-class neighbourhoods of the city. They dedicate themselves to formal and informal jobs, studying and raising their children, while also developing their artistic careers.


According to Mily Iriarte, mobilisation around champeta is a strategy to affirm the rights of working-class sectors and a way to fight against structural racism.

From an approach that she defines as "champetúo-feminism" she reflects on the way in which racism and sexism form a system that marks the experience of racialized women of working-class origins.

The questioning of musical and artistic ability and the demand for very sexualized aesthetic performances are two of the mechanisms through which sexism and racism are manifested in the lives of women artists on the champeta scene.