As I’ve argued before — and will be arguing next week in Mexico City — one can hear reggaeton’s embrace of tecno synths and “Latin” loops as an audible shift from (explicitly, sonically marking itself as) “música negra” to “reggaeton latino.” Such a change, I contend, corresponds to an attendant shift in the cultural politics reflected and informed by the music, responding to major changes in context (from under to commersh, PR to US) and drawing the lines of community in a significantly different way (boricua, morena…). New vistas, new pistas, no?
Perhaps no recent track demonstrates this better than “Noche de Entierro,” produced by Luny Tunes and Tainy and featuring Daddy Yankee, Hector El Father, Tony Tun-Tun, Zion, and the ubiquitous (just wait) Wisin y Yandel. As my co-editor (and co-presenter next week), Deborah Pacini-Hernandez notes w/r/t the song (in response to a question from our other co-editor, Raquel Z. Rivera),
the song is invoking cumbia and vallenato — 2 genres whose connections are historically close, tho they don’t sound so much alike anymore esp as cumbia has been reinvented in Mexico. The flute-like sounds are definitely invoking classic cumbia; the accordion invokes the accordion-based vallenato as well as cumbias played with accordions. The sound of this piece sounds inspired by Carlos Vives’ pop rock interpretations of vallenatos and cumbias.
Hear for yerself —
At the same time that we note such a strong (surfacy?) shift, it’s important to note that plenty of listeners will still register in the genre’s slickest contemporary commercial confections a great number of sonic signifiers tied to the sticky stuff of melaza. I’m not just talking about those enduring kicks&snares from the Dem Bow and Bam Bam riddims; several recent hits have contained other, nicely submerged allusions to the dancehall reggae sources that animated so many underground/melaza/dembo mixtapes back in the mid-90s.
Sometimes this is fairly subtle, though still audible, as in Wisin y Yandel’s “Pam Pam,” a song which had been gaining serious airplay on La Kalle back when I was still commuting around Chicago (no La Kalle in Boston, tho; que pasa with that?). Not only does the bassline trace out a classic 3+3+2 pattern (beneath the boom-ch-boom-chick), those of you familiar with the Bam Bam / Murder She Wrote lineage may notice that the underlying synthesizer melody plays a phrase that recalls a certain unforgettable line from Red Fox & Screechy Dan’s “Pose Off,” a song that would have been well-known in the PR “reggae” scene, which took to the Drum Song riddim as much as to the Bam Bam and Dem Bow —
Another good, recent example of how contempo reggaeton references its sample-heavy, reggae-infused roots is “My Space” (inevitable, wasn’t it) by Wisin y Yandel w/ Don Omar. We hear a number of signposts of the new reggaeton — state-of-the-art synths, emotive harmonic progression, dembow loops — but we also hear a nostalgia for “old school” stylee in a few retro interludes (e.g., around 1:10, 2:10), complete with throw-back, flip-tongue rapping by Don Omar over a crunchy, skanking, digi-reggae loop (though I can’t quite place it) —
You’ll have to decide for yourself, por supuesto, whether these examples draw the lines differently, or still connect dots in a way that permits for all sorts of social articulations. It’s clear that people make all kinds of meanings from (and claims on) reggaeton, as I’ll be exploring in the next post. What interests me is how the music itself — which is to say, the choices that producers and vocalists makes — serves to structure, reshape, reaffirm, or undercut such meanings and claims.
As always, I’m curious to hear what you think.
28 thoughts on “Reggaeton’s Contempo Indexical Lexica”
How can you concentrate on the musical details with so much culo in those videos?
(Sorry for being so un-scientific, I have exams :) I enjoyed reading this very much, looking forward to the next post!)
That’s a totally valid question, Chapin. And it’s not the first time someone has put it to me, though previous interlocutors have come at it from more of a feminist orientation: i.e., how can you show these videos (in class, in a lecture) and not discuss the objectification and silencing of women? I certainly don’t mean to do so, though I confess that my primary concerns, at least at this stage of the research, have more to do with questions of race, ethnicity, and nation and with musical rather than visual cues.
Of course, all of these things are quite intertwined here (the musical and visual, as well as race, nation, and gender/sexuality), so it goes without saying that a full analysis would take them all into account. Oddly, or perhaps tellingly, I have to admit that I don’t always notice the booty so much, as my eyes — or really, my ears — are drawn to other details. That’s no excuse, but it speaks to where I’m coming from at the moment.
OK, here’s an attempt at contributing:
I think the ‘new’ mainstream audience of reggaeton asks for these latin elements in the songs – by using market mechanisms: the innovating sounds sell bigtime, while you hear nothing anymore from oldschool stars like Nicky Jam, Baby Rasta, Lito y Polaco… I think we can see Calle 13 as the starters of the reggaeton-con-sabor-latino, and other artists like Tego Calderon, and more recently Daddy Yankee correctly saw that’s the future of the genre, and adapted their style. Because it’s what the ‘new’ audience wants: a positive message, confirming their latino culture. As opposed to the old underground audience, who looked up to Jamaican dancehall and US gangster hiphop culture. I reference to the timeline of reggaeton you linked to in this post…
From my very isolated position in Belgium (latino culture = zero), I think sex(ism) has a lot to do with this too. Reggaeton latino appeals to a more female audience: not only do they idolize the male rappers, now they enjoy the music too, without suffering of being painted as lust objects (okay, except in the videos :p). As opposed to the guys in the barrios of Puerto Rico who (used to) like raps about bling, gunz ‘n bitchez.
And I guess some try to cash in on the new mainstream public, while reminding their long-time fan base they know their roots. “MySpace” is a great example: on one hand, you have the explicitly retro reggae bit (it almost feels like you’re warped back in time 10 years). Like saying “hey guys, remember this?”. On the other hand you have the modern subject and, well, all the stuff you mentioned above :)
Now would the producers really think it through that much, or is “this will bring in some cash” a better motivation? ;)
Interesting points, Chapin.
Right away, tho, I’d say that what I’m conceiving here as “cultural politics” (e.g., the race-, class-, & gender-based significations & articulations expressed/engendered by certain forms of sonic organization) is by no means mutually exclusive from an orientation of â€œthis will bring in some cash,” as you put it. On the contrary, the two are quite intertwined, even in an underground economy.
Also, I beg to pick a bone with your reggaeton history here: although Calle 13 have definitely embraced the pan-Latin-eclectic approach, one could hear such elements — from salsa to plena — in the music of Tego, Yankee, and others (e.g., DJ Nelson’s and Luny Tunes’ bachaton/salsaton experiments) well before Calle 13’s debut. & I wouldn’t necessarily draw such easily lines between the themes of underground and reggaeton: they both borrow heavily from hip-hop and reggae, dipping into the gangsta/bling thing, sure (at least / especially more recently), but never exclusive of romance/sex. Although duos such as Wisin y Yandel and Rakim y Ken-Y have recently advanced more of a boyband-style, and marketable, persona, one can see&hear precedents for this as far back as The Noise 4 (mid-90s), which promised “temas romÃ¡nticos” and “clean lirics” and offered up chintzy reggae ballads.
Finally, not to take you to task, but sex(ism) cuts both ways: reggaeton latino may appeal more to a female audience in offering less of a boys’ club atmosphere than early underground recordings, but I’m really not convinced that it’s any less sexist in portraying women as “lust objects,” especially in videos but also in lyrics (though you’re right to note that there seem to be more songs about relationships and love these days, especially on the charts, than bellaqueo and perreo).
the first digi-reggae loop in MySpace is a version of Night Nurse. maybe one of the tacky Sly & Robbie versions?
responding to Chapin– the culo issue is huge… it does seems odd to delve into musical nuances (IDing basslines like i just did for example) without at least thinking about all those female asses shaking in front of our faces.
in part b/c i live in a latino barrio of new york, i can’t help but think about this in terms of public space — latin public space being overwhelmingly macho if not male, guys on the corner saying very direct & uncomfortable things to passing women, cars driving by with Pitbull shouting ‘todo el mundo con la lengua fuera’, and so forth — music being one of the ways in which people demarcate urban space & identity, both at the level of culture or nationality as Wayne charts it (mÃºsica negra –> reggaeton latino) but also of course at the level of gender & sexuality; only *listening* to reggaeton impairs one’s ability to understand how the latter functions.
btw, the Mexican metal scene is huge in new york. it’s a like a whole other world…
funny to think of ears as blindspots, but of course you’re right about that in this regard.
and thanks for the ID — i believe that’s the one.
Wisin y Yandel had both female and male dancers at the show I saw just outside DC at the George Mason Patriot Center. But of course the four male dancers were in hoodies, while the four female dancers were in much skimpier wear. Both before this show, and before the Aventura show I saw there a month later, there was a dj onstage playing run-of-the-mill techno with just ocassional Latin signifiers. The crowd did not seem enthused (nor was gringo me).
I’m loving the cumbia and vallenato inspired stuff like NDE and the new Lo Nuestro Se Fue.Love the flutes. Love the accordion. I blame it on Juanes not Carlos Vives though, his stuff was huge in PR when Camisa Negra and La Paga came out.
I have some sort of theory about accordions and afro-latin music (afro-accordiano), but its still sort of nebulous. :)
The bachata and salsaton stuff has done well and I think the popularity of those fusions has triggered a move to South/Central America to expand beyond the Caribbean. Well, maybe I should take that back. Perhaps they are expanding to include MORE of the Caribbean and not just the Antilles?
I think Mas Maiz was also an attempt to make a more Pan Latino reggaeton song.
Chica Virtual and Impacto seem to me to be going back to the late 80’s early 90’s dance scene. Perhaps because Arcangel and Daddy Yankee have more of a hiphop orientation?
Last week we had a Panamanian DJ who totally alienated the PR/South American crowd with the old school reggae/reggaeton he was playing. NO ONE wanted to hear it and it was interesting to me to see how everyone reacted to him and “that panamanian shit”.
Just some random commenting.
Has anyone heard the stuff coming out of Cuba these days, these kats have been doing this already combining the salsa elements and a more fresh approch to the lyrics also. Since they have been alienated from the embargo they have less exposure to the mainstream reggaeton sound, thus it seems to be they have to come up more with their own. Much props to these artists there working on outdated computers and very little food if any to eat at times. my boy at Trespeso Music has been helping the kats over there as of late, check out his site at:
he also got his whole catalog signed on the new USA network series “Burn Notice”, it airs June 28..
Ja ja ja we are not in Dafur but yeh but it gets very trying, power cuts, tech issue & a state thats into psychological suffocation, especially when you know you got talent and flow. our lyrics are iether deemed too agitating or too dirty. WHAT the F@CK they want us to sing about ? Bling Bling, Guns & Drugs in a distorted revolution ????
So yeh we keep it underground yet sounding commercial. We got almost 100 trax with some cats in Hollywood who do placements for FOX, CBS & most of the networks from east to west. Burn Notice is set to be as big as CSI just a shame we gotta wait years for the 1st Royalties but once that river starts to flow it’ll be More Fried chicken & less beans & rice. AND whole lot more liberty to confront the issues in our region Locale.
Check Us Out
Guabo de Trespeso….Palante
Reggaeton is terrible. TERRIBLE.
As a Latino, I hate that this is being called “latin” music.
Yow. A lot to respond to all of a sudden…
Great observations, Nina. Very interesting — and not really “random” at all! Definitely appreciate your perspectives here, your ethnographic anecdote, and your tips for further listening. A subtle, provocative argument to boot!
Thanks also for the tip, Carlos, and to Guabo for adding your two cents. I’m definitely digging those Trespeso tracks (nice Cypress Hill sample!), and I appreciate you weighing in here. We don’t hear enough from Cuban artists, period, never mind Cuban reggaeton artists. I’d be curious to hear more about how y’all see yourselves in relation to the rest of the reggaeton world. But just for the record, I can’t stand CSI, and I prefer beans&rice to fried chicken — so watch what you aspire to ;)
Finally, Mando, your opinion/dismissal is a common one, so I wish you could elaborate a little more on why you think so. I think the way people draw these lines — whether between the terrible and non-terrible or the latin and non-latin — is very interesting, and often revealing: does reggaeton bother you simply b/c it’s terrible or b/c it represents something else, something more specific that gets under your skin? Obviously there’s a lot tied into what’s labeled “latin,” if one identifies as Latino. I wonder, tho, are you ok with, say, Marc Anthony and salsa romantica defining what is “latin” music? What disqualifies reggaeton from being considered “latin” music?
Hey Wayne do you know the track La Perfect Ocasion by Gocho (los compadres compilation)? I found that in a commercial compilation of spanish summer hits on torrentazos, along side the “my space” song. It sounds like a cumbia track on which they put a dem bow. Like the other way around of what you’re describing. Even though my limited knowledge can’t really help me identify this guy.
Good point, Guillaume. (And nice track.) There’s definitely a lot of that “other way around” stuff going around, especially in bachata urbana, to my ears. A fair amount in merengue (and meren-house) too, such as Fulanito (as you shared w/ me up in MTL) or Magic Juan. Seems like we could hear this as part of reggaeton’s more general influence on (whirled) pop (and esp latin pop, within that).
And then there are reggaeton artists, such as Calle 13 or Tego, who employ a fair amount of production from that angle as well. Lots of fertile territory here —
The “reggeatonification” of other genres makes good commercial sense too – here in Sweden they tried to release Aventura’s bachata hit “Obsession” and it did absolutely nothing on the charts, then they released the same track in a remix with Dem Bow tacked on and it became a sizeable radio hit.
I think Gallego has a cumbia-esque track on his cd and Gocho also has Piez Izquierdos with a bachata feel. I have noticed that the cumbia/vallenato thing seems to be HOT this year. I still blame Juanes. Or credit :)
I’m listening to a lot of Dominican stuff, Im not even sure if I classify it as Reggaeton or Dominican rap.
Oh, did I mention that Mami Tu Me Dominas by W&Y is rocking? Are we going back in time? Seems everyone is going all vocorder techno metal these days. I was going to say are we going to have Rave Reggaeton next, but AlJadaqui has a song with The Soprano, so perhaps we are going to have the equivalent of PE and uh, that rock band next. That would be cool, the rockeros with the raperos!
Raveyton? That’s so yesterday, Nina ;) srsly, tho: reggaeton circa 2001-3, back when Blass was runnin tings, is just full of ravey synths and drums — elements which carry forward, if subtly, even in a lot of today’s pistas (just think of those double-time percussion crescendos). Some of the biggest, cheesiest rave anthems — the sort of things the kids are dancing to these days, retro-stylee — were outright plundered by reggaeton producers, who also suddenly found Euro-techno sound libraries at their fingertips via FruityLoops and other software.
I really need to get around to finishing a post on reggaeton’s use of rave sounds, which I’ve had sitting in my ‘edit’ box for far too long. It’s certainly an interesting part of the genre’s socio-sonic storytelling, and it offers some parallels to such genres as crunk, hyphy, bubbling, grime, brazilian techno/funk and other raved-up, nu-whirled musics. Thanks for the further thoughts (and tips)!
Hey Wayne, thanks for a great blog. Been digging it a while now.
Just thought I’d correct one of your references there. The synth line from Wisin y Yandelâ€™s â€œPam Pamâ€ does not originally come from Red Fox and Screechie Dan’s “Pose Off”. The original is from the monster hit “Lambada” by Kaoma. Possibly it is a traditional, but “Lambada” precedes “Pose Off” by three years.
Thanks for the reference, Troels. That’s a really interesting connection and opens into yet another lineage of cover songs and melodic allusions. I did a little googling, and as it turns out, “Lambada” is itself a cover version of a previous song, a Peruvian hit called “Llorando Se Fue,” which has been covered countless times and which no doubt can be heard being played by any number of those Peruvian “panpipe” groups that contribute so conspicuously to subway soundscapes here in the US. (This may deserve a post of its own if I can get around to it.)
See, e.g., this Wiki entry —
And this video of the Peruvian version —
& I didn’t mean to imply that “Pose Off” was the original instance of the tune. I simply said that the use of that synth line in “Pam Pam” recalls “Pose Off,” which it no doubt does for many listeners (including me, but probably a great number of reggaeton devotees, who heard no end of Drum Song versions back in the day). Also, it’s worth noting that “Pam Pam” and “Pose Off” both refer only to the A phrase of “Lambada,” which we might schematize as an AABA song form; hence I suspect that “Pam Pam” is an allusion more directly to the dancehall tune than the Brazilian song — or its Peruvian predecessors.
So you’re observation makes all of this socio-sonic circuitry I’m trying to trace out here even more complex. I suppose plenty of contemporary listeners, esp in Brazil or Peru, might hear the synth line in “Pam Pam” as contributing to reggaeton’s “pan-Latin” profile rather than affirming its continued links to the dancehall reggae tradition. And round and round we go…
Amusingly, we’ve had the same type of panpipe-playing Peruvians haunting the town square in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s been a while since I last saw them but they’ve been there for ages. How they keep up their incomparable Andinian zest in a place like Copenhagen is beyond me.
Anyways, I am aware that you didn’t pose off “Pose off” as the original instance and I accept your argument that Pam Pam probably alludes to the dancehall version. However, I am inclined to think that the original “Llorando se fue” is a big tune in the Latin Carribean.
Despite the kitsch element I find The “Llorando se fue”-version to be quite amazing.
funny, despite considering myself a fan for ages, there is definitely a perception i have that the older stuff and the newer stuff arent really the same thing. i do remember all that DJ Blass and other stuff tho. my entire pre 2004 collection has gone poof so i find myself unable to recall much of what i listened to before things blew up, it does make it hard to think about the evolution of reggaeton when u cant remember accurately what was out in the pre Gasolina days
anyway:) hi, im making a few compilations this week and my research caused me to end up back here almost exactly a year later!!
when the pc went poof, i lost all my dancehall and reggae stuff that i had arranged by riddim, that totally sucks!!
Please do expand upon this raveyton thing.
Im diggin thru the vaults trying to resurrect an old PC to retrieve my pre 2003-2004 music.Wish me luck.
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