Goyo Is Raising A Flag for Afro Colombian Culture

This story is part of Billboard‘s Mujeres Latinas en la Música package.

Gloria “Goyo” Martínez doesn’t just make music: She represents a radiant light for a global community she has long been championing. Both she and her music aim to uplift Afro-Latino/as, who for decades have been under- and misrepresented both in her native Colombia and the world.

The Colombian singer-songwriter, who boasts queenly bearing and an eclectic and elegant fashion style, forged her reputation by lending her impassioned vocals to socially conscious hip-hop fusion collective ChocQuibTown. As a solo artist, her success continues to place her at the forefront of a soulful Latin hip-hop movement that elevates Afro-Latina women.

“I come from a country where a lot of people have been working to give visibility to our culture, to move forward on some issues that are difficult in our community and as a country,” says Goyo. “So I feel very happy to be able to tell my story and have young girls tell theirs.”

But Goyo’s drive goes beyond her own experience, and she constantly raises her voice on behalf of others.

“Inclusivity, in one way or another, is very important. Working for equity and equality not only for the rights of Afro-Latinos and women, but also for human rights,” says Goyo, who will receive the Agent of Change award at the first ever Billboard Latin Women In Music gala, airing May 7 on Telemundo.

“I think ChocQuibTown has an important part within that history, and it’s something that fills me with a lot of pride, not only for being successful as an artist and singer, but as a person.”

Last year, Goyo released her first solo album,En Letra de Otro, a tropical rap/soul outing in which she pays tribute to iconic artists like Tego Calderón, Shakira and Carlos Vives.

The full-length release was accompanied by an HBO special of the same name that shows her origins in the small and humble town of Condoto, in the state of Chocó, on Colombia’s Pacific coast. “For me it was very important to show a little bit of Gloria’s world. To be able to show them where I was born with a lot of sincerity, to show my family, my aunts, where I come from,” she says.

Goyo rose to fame in 2010 as the passionate voice of ChocQuibTown, along with her husband, Carlos “Tostao” Valencia, and brother Miguel “Slow” Martínez. Together, they have captivated audiences since their worldwide smash hit, “De Donde Vengo Yo,” which won them a Latin Grammy for best alternative song. With their six-album discography, the Afro-Colombian trio have built a reputation for conscious lyrics that speak to their pride for their heritage with a genuine, streetwise sensibility.

“I think I’ve earned a beautiful place because I’m a woman, and I have my voice. There are songs [by ChocQuibTown] that became part of many people, and many couples, especially when they feel that pride of being Colombian and feeling represented.”

The transition from ChocQuibTown — her school, her family, as she describes, and with whom she still works — to her own solo project was a natural one.

“The timing became a little difficult, but the truth is that we always thought it was important that the three of us could make a transition to be able to show our own sensibilities, our own experiences, and to be able to do other things,” she says.

Goyo comes from a musical family. Her late grandfather was a bolero player, and her father, who owned an impressive vinyl collection, played his records at neighborhood parties and often entrusted his daughter with the song selection. Her favorite was “Goyito Sabater” by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, which earned her the nickname “Goyo.” She is also the niece of the great Jairo Varela, founder and leader of the legendary Grupo Niche.

“I feel like a fan,” she says, referring to her uncle and his famous group. “For me, it was always super exciting to have a person like him as an example when it came to writing. That’s why I’m also a composer and write what I sing, and that seems super important to me,” she adds. “As a family we are also safeguarding a legacy that is not only the family’s but belongs to all Latinos who feel how important Grupo Niche and Jairo Varela are to our history.”

Throughout her career, Goyo has advocated the importance of Afro-Latina visibility in the music industry by speaking on the subject in interviews and on social media. What it means to her to represent her Afro identity to the public is “being able to shake off a lot of myths that ‘this can’t be done.’ ”

“I feel like a person who has opened doors, who motivates other artists or other people, just as I am also motivated by many artists,” she adds. “I’m very impressed when sometimes they send me photos of girls who dress like me, or give me as an example of a woman who fulfilled her dreams. And it’s paradoxical, because I’m still fulfilling dreams.”

Tickets to Billboard’s Latin Women In Music can be purchased here.