July 25th, 2007

Sgt. Sailor Moon Singin’ Sola on the Senny-Three

The other day I was taking the 73 from La Belle Mont to Harvard Square. When I got on, I couldn’t help noticing the chap flickrd above, what with his makeshift Sailor Moon police outfit, complete with blue fabric glued to shoulders and breast, metal plate thing on head, and badges to boot (not to mention the extra-large Tokyo Kid bag).

As u can also see, dude was rocking a discman, and he seemed rather engrossed by whatever he was listening to. I assumed it was probably some ol’ Sailor Moon J-pop or something, y’know, to go with the outfit and help set the mood. (Whatever the mood is for a Sailor Moon policeman.)

What surprised and delighted me at the time, and which remains bewildering, was what he was singing when he started singing along, aloud, to the song. As he thrashed his arms about (that’s an action shot, yup), he mumbled some intermittent but not totally incoherent Spanish:

blahblah blahblah blah blah sola
blah blahblah blahblah vuelto con el
blahblah blahblah dido borrar
blahblah blahblah en tu piel
blahblah blahblah vas a llorar…

in other words, interestingly enough, dude was clearly ‘singing’ along to this —

Now, I’m afraid I never got a chance to ask the good Sergeant whether he always listens to reggaeton, whether he knows Spanish, how his love for reggaeton dovetails with his devotion to Sailor Moon, etc. — he too engrossed by his discman, and I too in a rush to get elsewhere. But it was definitely another striking example of the genre finding fans beyond where one would expect to find them and cropping up in the darnedest places.

I may not have recognized Hector El Father’s tune had it not been drilled into my head by La Kalle in Chicago last year. Guilty as any other contempo-corporate radio station when it comes to short playlists, La Kalle would without fail play “Sola” for me on my commute to and from Hyde Park each day. At first I found it annoying, treacly, unremarkable — but another dose of dembow bombast. Gradually tho, as tends to happen with repetition, it grew on me. Despite its cheesiness and cookie-cutter qualities, “Sola” does some interesting things, challenging facile dismissals of reggaeton as overly repetitive (“the same beat”) and unoriginal.

For one, the beat structure offers a fair amount of variation, alternating between reggaeton, dancehall reggae, and hip-hop grooves (i.e., boom-ch-boom-chick to bomp-bomp to breakbeat/backbeat accents), and thus propelling the song forward in a fairly dynamic way (see my notes to Another Crunk Genealogy for more elaboration/examples of these rhythmic approaches).

The other thing that strikes me about “Sola” is the way that Hector El Father sings / raps. It seems to me that this song, like many others in the genre, offers a good example of a fairly distinctive style of vocalizing that has emerged in reggaeton. Many observers, myself included, have noted that reggaetoneros tend to mix dancehall and hip-hop vocal styles, but few have gone into further detail about the other influences one can hear in reggaeton vox, especially in the (nasal / strained) timbres (which tend to recall a number of Puerto Rican vocal traditions, from bomba to salsa to various folkloric / religious styles), the use of melisma (or not), the kinds of melodic contours employed, etc.

It seems to me that we can hear in Hector’s vocalizing a wide number of influences being synthesized. In particular, the overwrought, by-the-numbers ‘emotive’-ness — dig that octave jump halfway thru the chorus! it’s something of a mini-truck driver’s gear change, innit — seems equally indebted to baladas y salsas romanticas, with perhaps a dash of rock power-balladry to put it over the top. Perhaps this is not terribly original in its own way, but it’s definitely distinct from (as it overlaps and engages with) dancehall or hip-hop approaches, and I think one could make a genealogical argument that extends into the first ‘crooners’ of the underground days (e.g., Baby Rasta) who, influenced as they were by dancehall singjays, also inevitably incorporated the sounds of boybands. (Let’s not kid ourselves: who do you think Hector is making a play for with songs like “Sola”? The thugs?) As the genre turns toward “romantic” recordings in the mid-late 90s, this tendency is exacerbated. & of course with the rise of the “thug ballad” in hip-hop around the turn of the millennium, the approach becomes both popular and profitable. And there we have it, at least to my ears.

Which is the sort of thing I think about on the bus.

But I’m curious: What do you hear?

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Boima Tucker  |  July 25th, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    So Interesting, the boy band reference. Especially since the making of Timbiriche is on Univision right now and my folks are hipping me to Boy Band en espanol history like menudo y todos. For real tho’. You Tube it up man to compare. El Father just needs a cheesy dance routine and to take his glasses off to peer into the camera with cheesy ass looks, and he’s the new member of MDO right?

    I’ve just been hipped to your blog, and am really getting interested in some of the things you bring up about reggaeton, especially race dynamics in America Latina. One thought related to boy bands and reggaeton…

    The song Torre Babel by David Brisbal and Wisin y Yandel, which to me along with Bachaton, Merengueton, Cumbiaton, etc. could be entered as a new hybrid category Flamencoton. And besides the fact that evertime I see Sr. Brisbal still has a career I roll my eyes, could this be what your referencing as the latinzation of black music? Especially since I heard that most clubs in Spain have banned reggaeton (Is that true?) I feel the beat, but when they added that extra snare to replace that bass drum from dancehall in the “dembow” beat, isn’t that just the ritmo gitano?

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  July 25th, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    That’s a great example, Boima. Thanks for bringing into the conversation. Found it pon youtube —
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZvh3m6Kzvo

    On the one hand, yeah, I do think “Torre de Babel” is consistent with the story I’ve been telling about reggaeton — that we can see and hear the genre increasingly promoted as a pan-Latino genre and fused with various putatively “Latin” styles. Flamencoton indeed. On the other hand, as a reggaeton remix of a flamenco song (or is it flamenco-infused Spanish pop?), we could also hear this as the “reggaetonization of Latin pop” or even, no doubt for certain listeners, as the “african(american)ization of Latin pop.” Lots of ways to hear it, I s’pose.

    As for the rhythm stuff, I’d recommend — as I do above — reading the notes for Another Crunk Genealogy to get a sense of how I think the things relate. What you call the “ritmo gitano” — which, yes, runs through a good deal of flamenco, too, and (whattaya know) crops up in a lot of that Balkan beat stuff — is what I’m identifying in that mix as a fairly widespread rhythmic approach. Many in Spain might hear it as the habanero rhythm, connecting it in name to the Caribbean, while some in Havana would call it the tresillo, a sparser version of the infamous cinquillo. See, e.g., Ned Sublette and Samuel Floyd on these points:
    http://www.amazon.com/Cuba-Its-Music-First-Drums/dp/1556525168
    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0734-4392(199921)17:1%3C1:BMITC%3E2.0.CO;2-G

  • 3. Boima Tucker  |  July 26th, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Cool… Good points. Perspective right? I’ve also heard of this stuff http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjqo04j8dfg Romanian Reggaeton. I heard that they really feel it in Romania, all the way to the tough guy blinged out image. I’ve been looking for more of this stuff.

  • 4. Nina  |  July 28th, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    I love Hector El Father’s voice. Isnt it so nasally and jibaro and Puerto Rican? I think he and Voltio excel at it. I absolutely LOVE it that. So Afro-Caribbean. (Its also common in timba and other cuban music)

    Tego excels at the congested throaty phlemgy Maelo sound. LOL Would that have some element of “rasp”? Tego always sounds like he is chewing taffy or has a wad of tobacco in his mouth or something.

    Interesting that flamenco is mentioned as Learning Flamenco Guitar is on my list right under Bachata Guitar and Boleros.A friend of mine told me he wants to learn some more african-esque guitar techniques and this led to a discussion of me wanting to learn bachata and flamenco and then of course a huge discussion on the links between reggaeton, salsa, bachata, boleros, flamenco and africa and the middle east.
    I have a friend who is very into Greek and Arabic music and often mentions similarities he hears to certain sounds in reggaeton.
    I confess, I frequently add flamenco arms and/or belly dancer arms and moves to reggaeton. I think they do a good job at selecting the more sensuous “exotic” beats and melodies to add interst to the songs.
    I also submit that reggaeton artists still make music with the dancer in mind, and so choreography plays a part in this. They perhaps envision the club, or a video they have seen or the video they want to make and toss in a flamenco sound or some belly dancing stuff.

  • 5. Nina  |  July 28th, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Oh, btw. I would also say that I believe the latin, especially the caribbean latin audience is different. And that songs such as sola are indeed being marketed with women in mind, but young male latinos are really really into that kind of thing too. I wouldnt hesitate to say that they enjoy the romantic reggaeton tracks as much, or more than the women. This is a culture where men love Camilo Sexto, cry to aguinaldos at Christmas,weep to Marc Anthony songs and pout to the sounds of Aventura. I dont think the whole boyband angle means this is being aimed at female audiences. Que Lio by Lavoe wasnt, most bitter old bachatas werent, the songs by Odilio Gonzalez werent. Many men tell me they love bachata because of lyrics. This is sort of the way they relate, though I would say that an American hiphop and a Jamaican whatever audience prolly would NOT feel the same way about such themes.

  • 6. Nina  |  July 28th, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    ONE MORE THING
    People LOVE Hectors nasal voice. I’ve noticed that people, including Nina, almost always will join in singing the song when his vocals come in. Its fun to hear and fun to imitate and I think a lot of Puerto Ricans find it irresistible.

  • 7. Vamanos  |  July 29th, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    When I first got into reggaeton I was nearly put off entirely because of the whole latino romantico moments that I just could’nt get into. So Don Omar, Daddy Yankee, Tego, Wisin & yandel was and is more my bag. Their productions are often more centred on basslines, beats, samples and pop hooks. Coming in as fan of Reggae & Hip Hop I was naturally drawn to those elements. But a couple of years on, I now find myself getting more and more into the actual catchiness as reggaton as ‘songs’ rather than beats, rhymes & riddims.

    Aithough I’m still finding it hard to get down with the more romantico stuff that my colombian friends are into, I love shit like Mia by Tito which has amazing melodoes and pop hooks but still weighs heavy with Tainey Toon’s acidy beat-fest production. But I’m afraid I’m not massively into Hector’s style for the exact reason that Puerto Rican’s apparently love it(above comment).

  • 8. wayneandwax  |  July 30th, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Great points, Nina! Appreciate your perspective as usual. I like the comparison to bitter bachatas and the general love for sentimentality in a lot of Latin music (if we want to posit such a thing). And I think you’re right, then, to note that “boyband” (sound) has a different valence for reggaeton listeners. I’m not sure I’d be so swift to say that a hip-hop or reggae audience wouldn’t feel these themes. It’s true that vulnerability is not so common in hip-hop, but reggae certainly has its share of sentimental tunes (I mean, lovers rock is practically a subgenre devoted to sappy ballads) and r&b certainly has a strong sad-sack streak running through it.

    Interesting to hear Vamanos’s take on things, too. I find that reggaeton gets a pretty mixed reaction when I play it at nights otherwise devoted to hip-hop, reggae, whirled party music, etc. People seem to dig the tracks that hew closer to hip-hop and dancehall, while those that smack of “Latin”/romantic sounds fall flat. Definitely something here that has to do with being acculturated to certain sounds/themes.

  • 9. Birdseed  |  July 30th, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Boima: Romania seems to be one of the great undiscovered melting pot hotspots of the music world right now. Romanian gypsy music, Manele seems to be able to draw influences from every western, african and oriental source imaginable… If you read the Wikipedia article, a lot of academics seem to draw paralels to what’s always been happening in the caribbean, and look how great that turned out.

  • 10. wayneandwax.com » N&hellip  |  July 30th, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    [...] I’m rly enjoying (and learning from) all the reggaeton conversation happening here these days (e.g.). Thanks to all for contributing! And keeping it going… [...]

  • 11. Oneleven  |  August 16th, 2007 at 2:41 am

    Yo – la voz laina! I know we’ve spoken in the past about the generalized use of upper register – sometimes extreme upper register – vocals in the older bomba traditions… In many old bomba recordings, the vocals have a haunting, almost eerie quality because of the use of nasal and sinus cavity resonances, as well as what might sound like very odd and strained vocal embellishments to the ear of someone raised on contemporary vocal styles, or even older styles more modeled on European derived tonal and timbral aesthetics. Of course, for many many years bomba was directly passed down to young practioners from their elders – in not a few cases people mention grandparents as having had important influence – in their families and communities, and thus the continuity and integrity of bomba for generations was remarkable. This was true not just in respect to vocal aesthetics, instrumental technique, and dance form/movement, but also related cultural practices such as folktales and sung games, spirtual/religious practices, and linguistic legacies such as frances patua(Kreyol) and african derived speech forms/vocabulary…
    But the majority of people involved in contemporary bomba do not have extant community/familial links to traditional practices as such, but have inherited to a great degree the legacy of folkloric troupes founded by researchers or academics, who were able to recompile and preserve many things, but also of course changed the nature of praxis by placing bomba on stage in front of an audience, as something done for the public, not by the public. Many traditional forms of dance/music/song were preserved relatively coherently, but much was lost to history and the memories of the last of an older generation that had become isolated and discconected from the mass media derived youth culture. Much of the “what” was preserved, but little of the “why”….
    I digress rather sharply, I fear – point being that bomba traditions were primarily passed on for generations by elders – not relatively youthful professional or semi-professional musicians and cultural workers. Perhaps I can take some poetic license here and speculate that people used to sing like old people because that’s what the ancestors wanted to hear? Not so far fetched when you regard elders as having been the repositories of culture in the context of a popular worldview steeped in ancestor worshipe derived spiritual practices….
    Interstingly, some of the few bomberos I’ve had the honor of knowing who were exposed to old songs and vocal stylings at the community or familial level have that eerie old quality instilled in their voices, ans sound markedly different from many of their contemporaries whose voices are more influenced by the legacies of the folkloric troupes as well as cosmopolitan influence especially from salsa, rhumba, and R&B…
    Check out this video for further reference – some older recordings of old people who learned from old people who learned from….

  • 12. Oneleven  |  August 16th, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Sorry about the aboce – looks like my video post code didn’t fly through – try the url:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOikl-BomoM

  • 13. Birdseed  |  August 22nd, 2007 at 10:41 am

    This song is apparently one of the biggest hits of the year in Turkey. I wonder if some of you might recognise the melody… ;)

    Burak Kut – Komple

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIZgzuIG8l8

  • 14. wayneandwax  |  August 28th, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Birdseed. I’m only getting around to viewing this one now, having been online only sporadically of late. This is great, and YouTube seems to contain a good number of video remixes as well, while the labelling of this one makes the connection to the source of inspiration pretty explicit –

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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