Thanks to Todd Burns for the keen editing, making things nice and concise. Per usual, I’m going to take the opportunity to use my blog to run an author’s cut, or an unabridged version. A couple missing paragraphs below help flesh out the picture, especially regarding the Afro-Jamaican roots — and, hence, pan-Caribbean / Afrodiasporic resonance — of the dancehall riddim that started it all. A phrase like “Steely & Clevieâs post-Poco riddim” might seem like a slightly cryptic reference without this particular passage (i.e., paragraph #4 below); but maybe people thought I was calling it post-colonial, which is also true.
I’m also happy to report that a forthcoming issue of Wax Poetics will feature an article I wrote entirely about the (once mysterious) origins of reggaeton’s bedrock riddim on the unlikely outpost of Long Island, heavily featuring Boom’s manager Pucho Bustamante (who I interviewed a few years ago on MySpace). Will let you know soon as that one’s ready to read!
For now, head over to RBMA for their slick version, see below for the full monty, & check out this video I whipped up (also at the RBMA site & embedded below) to see & hear how the various versions all relate. If you want to get even more dembow in your ears, there’s lots to find around the web, but here are a couple of mixes I’ve made that focus on it: Dembow Legacies, Dembow Dem.
Without further ado, let’s loop —
In the world of sample-based music, few recordings have enjoyed so active an afterlife as the Dembow. A two-bar loop with unmistakably familiar kicks and snares, it underpins the vast majority of reggaeton tracks as an almost required sonic signpost. Thanks to crossover jams like Lornaâs âPapi Chuloâ and Daddy Yankeeâs âGasolina,â the Dembow has spread its distinctive boom-ch-boom-chick to glossy Latin pop, raw electro-chaabi in Egypt, transnational moombahton, and Indonesian dangdut seksi, to name a few.
With such remarkable resonance and staggering frequency of appearance, the Dembow would seem to deserve a place alongside such well-worn loops as the Amen break, the Triggerman, the Tamborzao. All these brief but inspired moments âon tapeââand all of them rolling drum rhythmsâafter having been sampled and looped and diced and spliced by hundreds and hundreds of digital-age producers, have proven so crucial to the sound of entire genres that they have taken on names, and lives, all their own.
There are a few things, however, that make the Dembow an unusual member of the sample canon. For one, the recording most often identified as the origin of the sample is not actually the source of reggaetonâs favorite loop, not exactly anyway. Itâs true that Shabba Ranksâs anti-gay, anti-imperialist anthem âDem Bowâ may as well be patient zero for the infectious rhythm that still carries the songâs name, but samples of the track accompanying Shabbaâthe riddim in reggae parlanceârarely actually turn up in reggaeton. Jamaican studio duo Steely and Clevie deserve credit for the bouncy beat they boiled down for Bobby Digital, but not as the creators of a intensely re-used sound recording. Rather, their riddim planted the seed that would grow into what we now call Dembow.
Like other popular riddims the duo produced in the early 90s, especially Poco Man Jam (to which Dembow is audibly indebted), the track accompanying Shabbaâs rally-cry draws on the deep rhythms associated with Pocomania, a neo-African Jamaican religion with practices and aesthetics that run parallel to other post-slave cultures across the Caribbean. The driving boom-ch-boom-chick that emerges between the steady kick on each beat and the polyrhythmic play of the snares, can also be threaded through rumba, salsa, soca, bachata. Itâs at the heart of whatâs been called jazzâs âSpanish tinge,â known variously as the cinquillo or the habenera. This may help explain the broad appeal of these particular Jamaican recordings, why Puerto Rican hip-hop producers moved more or less wholesale into making Spanish dancehall, and how reggaeton so quickly swept across dance scenes across the Americas and beyond. Shabbaâs âDem Bowâ was a big chune in the wide world of reggae, and not just because of its bullish stance, colorful lyrics, and catchy chorus.
But rather than samples of Steely & Clevieâs riddim resounding from trunks across the Spanish-speaking world, and rather aptly given reggaetonâs transnational roots, the set of sounds most often identified as the Dembow per se (as opposed to just the generalized rhythm which, confusingly, is also sometimes called Dembow), is a version cooked up by Jamaican and Panamanian collaborators laboring on Long Island, NY in the early 90s to create reggae en espaĂ±ol anthemsâand succeeding.
By the early 90s, Philip Smartâs HC&F studio was the premier spot for producing dancehall hits, Jamaica notwithstanding. A native Kingstonian who apprenticed under King Tubby, Smart moved to New York in the mid-70s and launched HC&F in 1982 enlisting as house musicians such fellow expatriates as Dennis âThe Menaceâ Thompson, the sole musician credited with âDub Mix II,â better known today as the Dembow riddim, or in Panama, the Pounda. Initially crafted as an instrumental for Panamanian vocalist Nando Boomâs âEllos Benia,â a close translation of Shabbaâs âDem Bow,â Thompson captured the rhythmic essence of Steely & Clevieâs post-Poco riddim while adding some digital timbales and other touches for extra sabor at the prompt of Ramon âPuchoâ Bustamante, the Panamanian manager of Nando Boom who helped engineer the reggae en espaĂ±ol movement. The wordless version that would soon play backing track to hundreds of Puerto Rican rap parties was not actually released until two NYC-based Jamaican deejays, Bobo General and Smiley Wonder, recorded their own single over the riddim, âPounder,â with the dubbed-out instrumental as a quickly coveted B-side. (âA bad custom of the Jamaicans,â Bustamante once told me.)
When instrumental CDs such as Pistas de Reggaeton Famosas include a âDem Bowâ trackâand they always include at least oneâthe track labeled as such is nearly always based on the drums Dennis the Menace laid down for Nando Boom at HC&F. Likewise, do a search for âdembow loopâ on YouTube or 4shared, and youâll hear the same echoes there too. By this point, the instrumental has been looped, compressed, remastered, and reconstituted dozens of times over. But the lineage is audible, and it makes Dennis and companyâs Dembow one of a few recordings, like the Funky Drummer or the Apache break, which has provided the basis for hundreds if not thousands of other tracks.
The story of the Dembow and its legacy gets even more complicated, since beyond a relatively small circle of reggaeton producers and connoisseurs, when most people say Dembow, they refer to its rhythmâthe boom-ch-boom-chick patternâmore generally. And in practice, reggaeton producers have been chopping up dancehall riddims and recombining them with a greater interest in split-second allusion than faithful reproduction. While wholesale loops of Dembow do sometimes appear, reggaeton drum tracks tend more often to comprise samples drawn from a small storehouse of treasured timbres: a handful of reggae riddims which have animated Spanish-language dancehall for decades. Bam Bam, Fever Pitch, Drum Song, and yes, Dembow, are all common sources, but the ingredients could come from almost anywhere if they sound right. Reggaetoneros swap sample sets like playing cards, and a willy-nilly archive of reconfigurable samples traverses the North and South American Hulkshare-osphere like a reggaeton robotics kit. For lots of listeners and producers, any of the snares from these well-worn riddims, or any snare with similar properties, could suffice to say Dembow.
A line can be drawn from Steely & Clevie, though Smart and Thompson and Bustamante, to what we call Dembow today, but for all that collective, transnational effort, the foundation for this single recordingâs remarkable resonance was most crucially fashioned in mid-90s San Juan by proto-reggaeton pioneers like DJ Playero and The Noise. On their seminal underground mixtapes, these Puerto Rican producers took a hip-hop hatchet to dancehall riddims, chopping up favorite drum loops, baselines, and riffs to create dynamic, reference-laden collages of contemporary club beats for local rappersâ double-time, flip-tongue, street-level lyrics. Over the course of Playero 38 or The Noise 6 one hears a constantly shifting bed of beats composed of signature samples from Bam Bam, Fever Pitch, and the like. Dembow was such a staple source that the entire genre for a time, after being known as underground but before reggaeton, was simply called dembow.
Crucially, around the turn of the millennium, the Dembowâand Puerto Rican reggae en espaĂ±ol more generallyâwas transmuted and extended by DJ Blass. With the rise of Fruity Loops and other software, techno-inspired bleeps, presets, and arpeggios could be sutured to Dembow snares for a killer club-ready concoction. Blassâs mixtapes like Sandunguero and Reggaeton Sex changed the sound of what would soon be crowned reggaeton while maintaining important links to predecessors. Namely, by chopping well-worn loops into discrete kicks and snares, Blass could nod to the riddims that dancers, vocalists, and audiences had come to love while shaping the sounds into his own lean patterns. Blassâs influential techniques carry forward into the productions of the duo who finally took reggaeton to the pop charts and the Anglo mainstream, Luny Tunes.
If you listen to the track Luny Tunes produced for their biggest hit, âGasolinaââor most of their other pistasâyouâll hear snare samples swap every four measures, embodying in their own subtle but audible manner the loop-switching practices of Playeroâs proto-reggaeton. Revising the Dembow as something more general, more flexible, and in its way, less Jamaican than it had been, Luny Tunes honored reggaetonâs rhythmic and timbral heritage while opening it up to a new variety of textural, harmonic, and melodic gestures, especially âpan-Latinoâ sounds. When Wisin y Yandel reprise Shabbaâs chorus for their club-friendly, bachata-steeped, Luny Tunes-produced update of âDem Bowâ in 2003, the phrase has little to do with imperialism or sexual orientation and everything to do with the backbone beat and criss-crossing snares that compel people to perreo, or do the doggystyle dance so synonymous with the genre.
In the decade since reggaeton galloped into the mainstream, the Dembow has been Cubanized, Colombified, Peruvinated, watered-down, dressed-up, and recomposed to fit a thousand new contexts. Recently, the rhythmâand to a lesser extent, the riddimâhas even made inroads into the more frequently foursquare world of EDM via Dave Nadaâs moombahton, where Dembow comes full circle in a strange and surprising way. Nada famously invented moombahton by slowing down Dutch house tracks to please a house of reggaeton-loving teens, but the reason this worked was precisely because Dutch house had itself absorbed Caribbean rhythms via bubbling, a short-lived but influential local club scene clustered around Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and the Hague. Producing personalized soundtracks for dance battles, first- and second-generation kids from Curacao and Suriname made hyperspeed, bricolage remixes of the same dancehall riddims that had Puerto Rican youngsters going nuts across the Atlantic.
Slowed down once again and rebranded as moombahton, Nadaâs wildly successful experiment introduced the Dembow to new listeners across the networked world, especially after producers like Rotterdamâs Munchi heard ways to move beyond screwed house remixes and connect the burgeoning genre to its Puerto Rican cousins. Munchi was initially drawn to the genre because of his love of Dembow and reggaeton and the possibilities moombahton offered to revisit these irresistible rhythms: âThe idea was so simple,â Munchi wrote to me, describing moombahton as âTHE chance for reggaeton to get out of its hole.â Having nearly abandoned the stagnant genre, Munchi noted that âIt felt so good that I could make âreggaetonâ again.â And while no one would confuse Munchiâs genre-busting work with reggaeton per se, no one could deny the genreâs presence in his tracks.
For his part, Nada himself has occasionally sampled the actual Dembow riddim for his moombahton productions (though he wouldnât say which ones), but like many others, Nada more often recreates his own Dembow-indebted patterns using a variety of drum sounds and samples. âI’ve used it in the past to help dirty up a few tracks. I’ll mangle the sample and bury it though.â
Moombahton may have already enjoyed its moment in the social media sun, but there are other corners of the so-called global bass scene where that old boom-ch-boom-chick still resounds. âThe post-tropical flight from Caribbean percussion at the end of the mini-Moombathon craze has left a large side of EDM dembowless lately,â says Rizzla, whose soca and reggaeton influences help to keep Caribbean polyrhythms in the metropolitan mix. Rizzla trawls 4shared and Hulkshare for Dembow tracks and samples but reports that, âMost of the time I use sampled individual drums and reconstruct a Dembow with variations I make myself.â
Dubbel Dutch describes a similar process for his own productions: âI personally have never sampled the Dembow riddim but have used various rhythmic cousin ‘Dembow’ loops in my productions. Most of these I’ve found via reggaeton sample packs downloaded from 4shared while searching for Mexican tribal and perreo tracks.â Bearing witness to the sonic priorities of digital bass culture, Dutch confesses that, âAdmittedly, my awareness of certain loops has even preceded my knowledge of their origins.â Accordingly, he repurposes cherished dancehall loops without being parochial, which actually places him squarely in the reggaeton tradition: âOne of my favorite âDembow’ loops comes from the Fever Pitch riddim. That one keeps popping up at various speeds in a lot of my tracks. It manages to work flawlessly at just about any tempo, whether it’s a Dutch bubbling track or an 80 bpm reggaeton beat, which is sort of a rare quality for any loop to have.â
Not unlike their sample-raiding peers in reggaeton, then, producers such as Rizzla, Dubbel Dutch, and Uproot Andy tend toward an inclusive idea of what constitutes the Dembow riddim, complicating simple narratives of a single sampleâs afterlife. âI’d say the Fever Pitch (aka Rich Girl) âDembowâ loop is a better possible candidate,â Dubbel Dutch argued, âfor an Amen or Think type breakbeat.â
For Uproot Andy, who recently released Worldwide Ting, which he calls âan hour long celebration of the Dembow in all kinds of contexts, some natural and some forced,â even such tributes are necessarily mongrel in their make-up: âThe opening track is a song I just made called the âWorldwide Dembowâ and itâs sort of an homage to the Dembow rhythm, it samples Pablo Piddy, a Dominican dembow artist, saying âsi tu quiere dembow,â and the tune is basically a reimagining of Drum Song riddim (melodically), and Fever Pitch riddim (rhythmically), although it doesn’t actually sample either of them, but pretty much picks apart the elements and recreates them with more synthetic sounds.â
Uproot Andyâs reference to Dominican dembow bring us full circle for this lively, and living, story of a loved loop. No place today can lay stronger claim to bearing the Dembow flame than the Dominican Republic, where a rejuvenated version of San Juanâs proto-reggaeton, in all its referential richness, manages to move kids on the streets (and YouTube) and, increasingly, to move into the pop sphere as well.
In the mixes of DJ Scuff and countrymenâor, say, just about anything in the Dominican dembow Soundcloud groupâthe Dembow (as such) is on constant, quicksilver rotation with chops and stabs from Bam Bam, Fever Pitch, Poco Man Jam and the like. But once again, enthralled as Dominican dembow may be with such well-worn samples, its restless producers also emulate the voracious and pliant approach of their mid-90s muses, Playero and the Noise. So a classic hip-hop break like Think, or even funk cariocaâs Tamborzao, might make it into the mix. But no matter how wide the circle of references, the name of the genre bears witness, at bottom, to the fact that Dominican dembow is built on a commitment to some relatively old riddims and some far older rhythms.
For Linton Kwesi Johnson, the UK-based dub poet and bass culture theorist, the same dancehall riddims so central to the Dembow variations were popular precisely because they can sound at once modern and traditional. âOn one hand, this music is totally technological,â he notes, âon the other the rhythms are far more Jamaican: they’re drawn from Etu, Pocomania, KuminaâAfrican-based religious cults who provide the rhythms used by Shabba Ranks or Buju Banton. So despite the extent of the technology being used, the music is becoming even rootsier, with a resonance even for quite old listeners, because it echoes back to what they first heard in rural Jamaica.â
Uproot Andy offers a similar take: âIf reggaeton took the rhythm and ran with it, Dominican dembow brings it strictly back to the roots.â
Here’s what you’re seeing/hearing in the video above:
first, shabba ranks’s “dem bow” produced by steely & clevie (for bobby digital)
then, nando boom’s “ellos benia” produced by dennis the menace (for philip smart & pucho bustamante)
then, the instrumental of the boom track, released as “dub mix II” on b-side of “pounder” by bobo general & sleepy wonder
then, a commonly circulating version of the dembow riddim (“original”), audibly related to the dennis the menace instrumental, if a bit beefed up and boiled down
finally, a return to “dub mix II” to hear how dennis the menace added subtle dub effects to his track — sounds which never turn up in reggaeton productions because of the way the loop circulates as a digital (re)sample rather than a vinyl b-side
Today is the final meeting of my last class at Harvard this year — and possibly my final class as a college-level instructor, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. For now, I’ll leave you with a few playlists I created in order to have some examples a click on during class.
In short, this was the one class this year that I didn’t completely make up myself. Music 97c (“Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective”) is a long-running requirement for Music concentrators here. Essentially an introduction to ethnomusicology — theories, methods, and repertories — it departs from standard “World Music” courses by eschewing the survey/smorgasbord and instead focusing on just a few geographical areas in some depth. I designed my own syllabus from scratch, of course, and perhaps unsurprisingly the emphasis largely fell on the Caribbean, North America, and Afrodiasporic matters. We did, however, also include units on Turkish and Balinese/Indonesian music. You can see the whole syllabus here, if you like.
Or you can just edutain yourself by perusing these playlists–
Check it out, my micropublic: I’ve got another “Throwback Thursdays” post over at Okayplayer’s LargeUp blog. This time I’m waxing nostalgic about a song produced by none other than El Chombo —
Incluye el tema…
Veteran readers of W&W may remember El Chombo as the producer of the notorious “Chacarron,” a song which — back in my blogspot days — consumed a seriesofposts as I attempted to document in relative realtime my endeavor to discover the story behind the song.
I’m not quite ready to reminisce about “Chacarron,” however; rather my post turns to “El Gato Volador,” which I also once discussed on this very blog. Alas, the brilliant homemade slideshow that inspired that ol’ post has since disappeared, but the official video is still on the ‘Tube, and this gives me a chance to discuss the song in a little more detail. And quite a song it is.
Here’s the frame:
While Panama is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of dancehall reggae en espaĂ±ol, Puerto Rico gets credit for eating up the faithful versions of Panamanian artists like Nando Boom and El General and spitting out something more hip-hop laced and sample-based, as heard on the Noisy collages that made dembow loops the centerpiece of maratĂłn mixtapes. But Panamanian producers deserve props of their own for developing and popularizing an equally distinctive and irreverent, sample-based approach to Spanish dancehall (though faithful approaches persist under the plena banner, sin duda).
Panama’s master of the style is El Chombo, aka Rodney Clark, a pretty Jamaican name, though the internet reports (very vaguely of course) that he was born in the US and moved to Panama in the late 70s as a youngster. None of these facts is remarkable in Panama, where people have been named Rodney Clark for a century (at the turn of the 20th, Panama was receiving 62% of all Jamaican emigrants), and where foreigners continually arrive, especially from the US in more recent times, drawn into Canal-related work as so many Caribbean migrants before them. “El Chombo” is also something dark-skinned people, especially Afro-Caribbean folk, have been called in Panama for a long time. El Chombo’s embrace of the term and intentional projection of blackness were central to his first mixtape series, Spanish Oil, which he was issuing annually in the mid-late 90s at the same time Playero and The Noise were circulating their seminal mixtapes. The reference to oil is, of course, a reference to blackness, and it’s telling that reggae in Panama was sometimes called petrĂłleo in the 90s, not unlike melaza (molasses) in Puerto Rico.
But go ahead and click thru to hear about (and watch) El Chombo’s “unlikely hit ostensibly about a flying cat but alsoâŠa joke of a song that seems to offer meta-commentary on the state of the genre itself.”
It should be said that these two songs — “Chacarron” and “El Gato Volador” — are obviously rather on the silly side, but El Chombo is also in his way a serious producer. Over the last decade he’s enjoyed quite a bit of success, and its remarkable that even his crossover hits (mainly in Latin American and European dance markets) bear the same trademark sampladelia, largely drawn from American crossover dance-pop.
His crown jewel in this regard (perhaps his flying cat?) is no doubt Lorna’s Dee-Lite sampling “Papi Chulo” (2003), the first reggaeton song to become an international hit, years before Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina.” The song was a top ten hit in several European countries (#1 in France, #2 in Italy) and huge across Latin America. It’s really something of an underrated classic. (When I dropped it at Que Bajo a few years back, people went plĂĄtanos.)
So widespread is the song’s popularity that, among other spin-offs, it inspired a Pakistani cover which some, according to YouTube comments, even read as a pan-African gesture c/o “Makrani singer Younis Jani” (-Wikipedia). Makrani, I’m told (also by Wikipedia), is sometimes synonymous with “Siddi / Sheedi” (which is what one commenter calls Younis), which is also, far as I can tell, more-or-less Urdu for “El Chombo.” Now how do ya like that?
It may be tempting to read something like “Karibu Ya Bintou” as a relatively straightforward exercise in “indigenizing” or localizing hip-hop, but the story of Baloji’s transnational musical moorings — especially his ambivalence toward Congolese pop — complicates such an interpretation:
His first rap outfit, Les Malfrats Linguistiques (“The Linguistic Hustlers”), morphed into Starflam and Baloji became something of a Belgian hip-hop heartthrob. Meanwhile, living above a legendary record store, Caroline Music, in LiĂšge did wonders for his musical education. “I heard everythingâŠPiL, Kraftwerk, Queens of the Stone Age, the SmithsâŠ”
Despite suffering from the rampant racism of smalltown Belgium â he was almost deported back to the Congo at the age of 20 â Baloji can thank his adoptive country for the eclecticism of his style. Until recently, however, he hated most African music, especially Congolese soukous, the bedrock style of post-independence pan-African pop. “For me, it was the worst music in the world,” he says. Nonetheless, when he received a letter from his mother out of the blue, in 2007, his Congolese heritage came back into his life with a vengeance. It inspired Baloji to return to his roots and record an album â a kind of soundtrack without a film â to tell his mother what his life had been like over the past 20 years.
That said, it’s perhaps telling — as with the success of Crammed Discs’ marketing of Konono NÂ°1 as Congotronics — that Baloji would find the greatest interest in his work at precisely the moment he decides to place himself on a map that is easy enough to read.
Legibility does have its advantages. So it’s not terribly surprising that Baloji’s surrender to soukous on another song, “Independence,” ends up serving as a vehicle for a sort of Congolese nationalism, if one that strongly resists the authority of the state. As with “Karibu Ya Bintou,” the video is directed by the duo Spike & Jones, who have an awesome name and seem to make pretty awesome clips:
Most poignant though, I think, are Baloji’s own words on the matter of musical heritage and nationhood, or of signifying Africanness vis-a-vis certain source material. Here he shows himself to be, among other things, a thoughtful student of hip-hop, which, for all the dots it connects around the world, clearly draws plenty of lines in the process–
I want to make music that is very African and very modern. You have to be proud of who you are. You can sample Bob James or Curtis Mayfield, but it means more when Talib Kweli or Kanye West sample them because that’s their heritage. But we Africans also have an interesting heritage, which has richness and a diversity that is huge and under-exploited. We can also go deep into it and make it modern, celebrate its value, just like the Americans.
If I may be allowed one last little addendum, I’d like to share a recording that seems somewhat germane. While revisiting The Noise 6 for the post I wrote for LargeUp, I came across a real gem of a pre-reggaeton track. Don’t get me wrong, the Ivy Queen and Bebe songs are standouts, to be sure, but the final track — #16 to be exact — is definitely the biggest eyebrow-raiser. It’s worth noting, if you don’t know, that the last tracks on proto-reggaeton albums are often the weirdest, and this one, simply labeled “Bonus Track” (mp3), is an interesting outlier indeed:
As you’ll hear, there’s definitely a nod to “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and no doubt a few other jams from the Miami-Atlanta axis (though all the percussion can make it sound a bit like drum’n’bass at times, save for the tempo). Oh, yeah, and there’s the appearance of that ol’ “Egyptian” melody.
Although plenty is going over my head, no doubt, I suspect this is about as allusive as any other track from this era, which means it’s utterly full of vocal references and direct samples. It definitely gives a good sense of how widely Puerto Ricans were listening to hip-hop and contemporary club music as they sought to synthesize their own thing. No doubt for plenty of listeners — and maybe the producers and performers themselves — such a track might even sound both “very African and very modern.”
Next week I begin teaching my second course at MIT. It’s a new syllabus, though it draws on certain materials I’ve used before. In contrast to previous offerings, however, this will be the first time I teach a class with a primary focus on reggae outside of Jamaica — on what I’m calling here “global reggae” or “reggae as transnational culture.”
No doubt we’ll encounter a good number of themes resonant with the inextricably related subject of global hip-hop. But I’m also keen to identify particular dimensions of reggae’s transmission and transformation abroad that might, for significant reasons, diverge from the reception and refiguring of hip-hop around the world. We’ll let you know ;)
Meantime, if you happen to know any MIT students to whom this sort of course would appeal, by all means point them this-a-way. And if you spot any conspicuous absences in the syllabus below — a work-in-progress, as always — please do point them out, make recommendations, & feel free to offer critiques, supplements, and blessings.
21F.035 / 21M.539 Topics in Culture and Globalization
Global Reggae: Reggae as Transnational Culture
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts
Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-2:00 pm
Reggae is incontestably one of the most popular musics in the world. Despite its origins in the working-class urban culture of the relatively small country of Jamaica, reggae artists have powerfully projected their voices outward (in part via the imperial networks of the UK and USA) and one can hear reggae today in almost any corner of the globeânot just Jamaican reggae, but local versions and fusions with nearly every other conceivable genre. Reggae precedes the global reach of its progeny, hip-hop, but, in its dancehall guise, it has also in turn piggybacked on hip-hopâs own impressive international spread. As remix approaches and massive sound systems have become increasingly common worldwide, reggae stands as a remarkably influential template for world music, electronic dance music, and popular music more generally. Itself constituted by international flows of music and musicians but increasingly produced outside of Jamaica, reggae thus offers a rich resource for the examination of todayâs global circulations of music and media.
This course considers reggae, or Jamaican popular music more generallyâin its various forms (ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall)âas constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as Jamaican, Caribbean, Afrodiasporic, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates. By reading across the reggae literature, as well as considering reggae texts themselves (songs, films, videos, and images), we will scrutinize the different interpretations of reggaeâs significance and the implications of different interpretations of the story of Jamaica and its music. We will attend in particular to how reggae informs notions of selfhood and nationhood, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion and politicsâin particular places and at particular times.
Although Bob Marley still serves as the most ubiquitous symbol of reggae (and, indeed, of Jamaica), the reggae tradition and repertory go far deeper and represent a great deal to listeners and practitioners. In its shifting shapes and forms the genre has served for four decades as a potent symbol of independence and social critique, communitarian commitment as well as rugged individualism. While certain core values appear regularly in reggae, the genre also offers a rather flexible palette for a wide range of ideological positions, from Pan-Africanism and other forms of transnationalism to utterly provincial nationalism, from peaceful and respectful postures to aggressive machismo and militancy, from tolerance to its own forms of oppression. Perhaps most notably, reggae has made such scripts of personhood and nationhood available not only to Jamaicans but to people around the world who have adopted the genreâs gestures as their own.
Beginning with a consideration of how Jamaicaâs popular music industry emerged out of transnational exchanges, the course will proceed to focus on reggaeâs circulation outside of Jamaica via diasporic networks and commercial mediascapes. Attending to how the genreâs pliable but distinct forms have been, in turn, transformed in particular localities, the course will help to illuminate ongoing dynamics between the global and local. Among other sites, we will consider reggaeâs resonance and impact elsewhere in the Anglo Caribbean (e.g., Trinidad, Barbados), the United Kingdom (including British reggae styles but also such progeny as jungle, grime, and dubstep), the United States (both as reggae per se and in hip-hop), France and Germany, Panama and Puerto Rico and other Latin American locales (e.g., Brazil), Japan and Australia, as well as West, South, and East Africa (CĂŽte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda).
Bilby, Kenneth. âJamaica.â In Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, ed. Peter Manuel, 143-182. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.
Veal, Michael. Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. [Intro & ch. 1, p. 1-44]
Thomas, Deborah. âModern Blackness; or, Theoretical âTrippingâ on Black Vernacular Culture.â In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Jones, Simon. Black Culture, White Youth: The Reggae Tradition from JA to UK. London: Macmillan, 1988. [ch. 2, 4, Conclusion, p. 33-56, 87-118, 231-40.]
Gilroy, Paul. âBetween the Blues and the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic.â In The Auditory Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 381-95. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2003.
Hebdige, Dick. CutânâMix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge, 1987. [ch. 11-12, p. 90-117]
Sharma, Sanjay. âNoisy Asians or âAsianâ Noise?â [p. 32-60] & Shirin Housee & Mukhtar Dar, âRe-Mixing Identities: âOffâ the Turn-Tableâ [p. 81-104]. In Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Quinn, Steven. âRumble In The Jungle: The Invisible History of DrumânâBass.â Transformations, No. 3 (May 2002): 1-12.
Watch: excerpts from Reggae In a Babylon, Babylon, Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music
Listen: âAn England Storyâ
Chang, Jeff. âMaking a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop.â In Canât Stop Wonât Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005. [ch. 4, p. 67-88]
Kenner, Rob. âDancehall,â In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Stephens, Michelle A. âBabylonâs âNatural Mysticâ: The North American Music Industry, the Legend of Bob Marley, and the Incorporation of Transnationalism.â Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2 (1998): 139â167.
Watch: excerpts from Sound Class, Marked for Death, Belly, Predator 2
Putnam, Lara. âThe Weekly Reggee: The Greater Caribbean Jazz Age and Youth Dances in Limon, Costa Rica, 1930-1932.â Unpublished/forthcoming.
Giovannetti, Jorge L. âPopular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.â In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and CĂĄndida F. JĂĄquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
Hansing, Katrin. âRasta, Race and Revolution: Transnational Connections in Socialist Cuba.â Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2001): 733 â 747.
Baker, Geoffrey. 2009. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 165-99. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 280-96. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.
Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.
de AraĂșjo Pinho, Osmundo. ââFogo na BabilĂŽniaâ: Reggae, Black Counterculture, and Globalization in Brazil.â In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 192-206.
dos Santos Godi, Antonio J. V. “Reggae and Samba-Reggae in Bahia: A Case of Long-Distance Belonging.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 207-219.
Neate, Patrick and Damian Platt. Culture Is Our Weapon: Afroreggae in the Favelas of Rio [ch 3, 4, 7, 8].
Goodman, Steve. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. [ch. 31, p. 171-5]
Watch: excerpts from Favela Rising, Favela on Blast
WEST, EAST, AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
Akindes, Simon. âPlaying It âLoud and Straightâ: Reggae, Zouglou, Mapouka and Youth Insubordination in CĂŽte d’Ivoire.â In Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa, ed. Mai Palmberg & Annemette Kirkegaard, 86-103. Nordic Africa Institute, 2002.
McNee, Lisa. âBack From Babylon: Popular Musical Cultures of the Diaspora, Youth Culture and Identity in Francophone West Africa.â In Music, Popular Culture, Identities, ed. Richard Young, 213-228. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.
Savishinsky, Neil J. âRastafari in the Promised Land: The Spread of a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa.â African Studies Review Vol. 37, No. 3 (Dec 1994): 19-50.
Remes, Pieter. âGlobal Popular Musics and Changing Awareness of Urban Tanzanian Youth.â Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 31 (1999): 1-26.
Gilman, Lisa and John Fenn. âDance, Gender, and Popular Music in Malawi: The Case of Rap and Ragga.â Popular Music Vol. 25, No. 3 (2006): 369-81.
Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
White, Cameron. âRapper on a Rampage: Theorising the Political Significance of Aboriginal Australian Hip Hop and Reggae.â Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol. 4 No 1 (April 2009): 108-130.
Baulch, Emma. Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali. Durham: Duke University Press, 200 [ch. 3, p. 73-90]
That’s it, for now. There are plenty of holes that I’m aware of (anything on roots reggae in Cuba, say [update: after one day of comments, that's been ameliorated; new readings now above!]), and surely plenty more that I’m not. Then again, I’m finding the extant literature on local reggae scenes outside of Jamaica fairly impoverished at the moment. (Nothing on Italian sound systems? Really?) The course can’t exactly be comprehensive — we only have so much time — but I would love for this post to serve as a spot for collecting some good materials. So, as they say inna di dancehall, send on!
I don’t have as much to say about reggaeton in Mexico City as I do about hip-hop and graffiti, though it has often been an elefante in the room. Also, you don’t have to understand much Spanish to read this sort of writing on the wall —
There are other kinds of reggaetony writing on the walls too, however, and so reggaeton’s status in DF seems to me, at best, ambiguous. For instance, though I didn’t get any shots of them, when I was in DF in November 2009 I saw several brightly-colored, professionally-rendered, wall-sized paintings advertising upcoming shows from Wisin y Yandel and Ivy Queen.
And while visiting the city last month for Postopolis, I did happen to get a snap of this:
This curiosity — which I’m guessing must be a few years old now — announces a concert from Don Chezina, billed here as hailing “from the island of the gangsters”! (Way to go, Puerto Rico!) Interestingly, the poster itself declines using the term reggaeton. I’m not sure how deliberate that evasion was, but it’s interesting that instead Chezina is referred to as “el maestro del perreo boricua.” As I’ve discussed before, reggaeton sometimes seems to travel easier as a dance form — as perreo — than as a musical style.
Given the ongoing popularity of Latin Caribbean dance music in Mexico, this may not be too surprising. I’ve bought cumbia villera and reggaeton romĂĄntico CDs from the same vendor. As Deborah Pacini Hernandez details, this embrace is central to cumbia’s story of transmission and transformation. And I witnessed this affinity registered on other posters in the same neighborhood —
Still, from what I can tell, save for pockets of popularity (about those in a moment), reggaeton is pretty much genre-non-grata for participants (and gatekeepers) in DF’s hip-hop scene. Mirroring Tego Calderon’s story in PR, Big Metra, once among the DF’s most revered and popular MCs, was shunned by many of his peers after embracing that ol’ dembow and aiming at pop crossover. (Despite collaborating with the likes of Jadakiss and Twista.) Consider, then, the following account of opposition to reggaeton within Puerto Rico’s hip-hop scene, which, as Marlon Bishop relates —
split ways with the reggaeton scene in the mid-90s and went down a more conscious, political path.
I spoke with rapper-scholar Welmo Romero about this difference. Welmo grew up in Puerto Rico of Haitian and Dominican parents, and was on break from studying to defend his masterâs thesis when we got together.
âOne of the most important things about hip-hop to me, itâs way of being âin your face,â of using poetry to talk about a very crude reality,â said Welmo. âSo until reggaeton went mainstream, it maintained this spirit of defiance, of questioning inequality, poverty, the lack of resourcesâŠ
âReggaeton, I think, is a genre that had its moment. Once the major labels came in, it began to lose that defiance, and the image and music of the rapper was softened, and even the environments in the music videos changed. The ghetto disappeared and became the mansion, the cars, and the bling bling.”
Then watch this Big Metra video:
An antipathy to reggaeton came through loud and clear in the conversations I staged at El Eco with some of DF’s important hip-hop purveyors. During his talk, in an aside akin to spitting on the ground, TomĂĄs Ălzarez Brum called reggaeton “mierda” — a common charge, especially among a certain set of “underground” torchbearers. My other guest, 2phase, agreed in so many words, though I confess that I can’t recall the particular phrasing. (Any recollection, Camilo?)
It’s the sort of objection that keeps rearing its head in places like this 15 second YouTube video I posted a few years back. It’s actually rather surprising — or, I suppose, revealing — how often the mierda (i.e., shit) is applied to reggaeton (see also, basura / trash). It’s a form of diss implicating matters of taste and value. As I’ll explain, however, it’s not so easy to say that reggaeton is rejected either because it is seen as “low” or, alternately, as some sort of foreign import for the local jetset. Ironically, reggaeton in DF is (dismissed as) both of these things. Naco y fresa.
At one end, we find reggaeton used as a stylish signal of metropolitan fashion, a globally-circulating symbol of cosmopolatino cool, the sort of thing you’re careful to put on your flyers and email-blasts if you’re, say, promoting “LUXURY HIP HOP” at a super-swank club in one of the schmancier parts of town (h/t Daniel H) —
Given the way that reggaeton figures into fresa fantasies, you can understand why some might revile it. But interestingly, the disgust and dismissal of the genre also feeds into animosity toward the poor kids (literally) who make up reggaeton’s other main constituency in Mexico City. Camilo Smith has an excellent post on the intense anti-reggaeton sentiments he encountered when pursuing more information about the so-called “cult” of San Judas (a phenomenon recently profiled in the NYT). Here’s Camilo’s take —
The anti-reggaeton sentiment, I think, is more classist than anything. The reggaetoneros are viewed as thugs and neardowells, when in fact, most are just young kids among the desperate and needy whom San Judas is supposed to protect. Albeit with airbrushed and rhinestone caps.
One Facebook fan site, is filled with pictures tagged with racist and mean captions and comments. Odiamos a todos los reggaetoneros ke van a la iglesia de San Judas los 28′s (We hate the reggaeton fans who go to the San Judas church on the 28ths) has over 4,000 fans.
You can see a few of its mocking portraits below, and after the jump. There tends to be special distaste for reggaeton’s doggy dance or perreo that the kids do.
Go over to Camilo’s blog to read the whole post and see the pics (he really dug up some digital gems), but I can’t resist sharing this mashup of San Judas and Yandel —
And since I stay steady scratching the surface of what reggaeton means in Mexico City — how it figures in DF’s noisy, charged soundscape — I’ll have to come to a close with a few telling jokes culled from Camilo’s web wanderings. I’m not sure about the particular provenance of these (i.e., was the author posting them writing from DF?). But the way they simply cut-n-paste several classist cliches suggests that reggaeton, despite its uptake in places like Polanco, remains strongly anchored to images of poverty, crime, and lack of education:
Que le dices a un reggaetonero con trabajo? / Me puedes dar mas papas fritas?
(What do you say to a reggaetonero with a job? / Can you give me more fries?)
Que le dices a un reggaetonero en traje y corbata? / Que el acusado que se ponga de pie porfavor.
(What do you say to a reggaetonero in suit and tie? / Will the defendant please stand.)
2 reggaetoneros en un auto, no se oye musica a todo volumen. Quien conduce? / Un policia.
(2 reggaetoneros in a car; you do not hear music at full volume. Who’s driving? / A cop.)
Bringing it back home, this page, which includes the jokes above, even offers a list of places “where you can encounter a reggaetonero” in Mexico City:
>>>> DONDE ENCUENTRAS A UN REGGAETOĂERO <<<<
*LOS DIAS 28 EN REFORMA. LLENDO A VER A SN JUDITAS
*EN EL METRO O EN LOS TRANSBORDES DEL METRO ESPERANDO A ROBARTE TUS PERTENENCIAS
*AFUERA DE SUS VECINDADES
*EN MOTONETA CAZANDO GENTE
*TRABAJANDO DE COMERCIANTE EN EL CENTRO
*TRABAJANDO DE MICROBUSERO
*TRABAJANDO DE VAGONERO
*EN LA CALLE ROBANDO
*DE PORRO EN ALGUNA FIESTA
*JUGANDO FUTBOL SIN PLAYERA AFUERA DE SU CASA
Given such an evocative map, I clearly need to return to DF once more and see what I can hear while riding a minibus or getting robbed on the street.
Since I’m in a syllabus sharing mood, I figured I should finally get around to posting the one I put together in Spring 2008 for a course on “Global Hip-hop.” A series of case studies examining how hip-hop travels outside the US, what it carries with it, and how people adapt its forms to their own ends, it was a hugely fun class to teach, and I was thrilled by the response at Brandeis. (At 150 students — which is where we finally capped enrollment — it was easily the biggest class I’ve taught, as well as the largest that Music or AAAS had hosted in years.) I’m sorry that I can’t include here all the audio and video that we reviewed (never mind pdfs), but poke around the webz and you’ll find lots of the examples referenced in the readings, as well as many of the articles themselves.
Florence Levy Kay Fellow
Music / African and Afro-American Studies
Over the past several years, hip-hop has been heralded as a global phenomenon and an American export par excellence. Although a flurry of books, articles, and college classes have begun to examine the cultural, social, and political significance of hip-hop’s worldwide resonance, studies of the genre rarely focus on the specific ways that hip-hop travels, how it is engaged, represented, reproduced, and changed in various locales around the world, and how it animates local cultural politics despite carrying such strong, and sometimes contradictory, connotations of what it means to be American and African-American. This course considers hip-hop as itself constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as American, African-American, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates.
A host of questions arise in considering the scope and significance of global hip-hop: What does the genre, in its various forms (audio, video, sartorial, etc.), carry with it outside the US? What do people bring to it in new local contexts? How are American ideologies of race and nation mediated by hip-hop’s global reach? Why do some global (which is to say, local) hip-hop scenes fasten onto the genre’s politics of place and community, of struggle and opposition to the status quo, while others appear more enamored with hip-hop’s portrayal of personal gain, hustler archetypes, and conspicuous consumption? How do hip-hop scenes differ from North to South America, North to South Africa, Europe to Asia? What threads unite them?
In pursuit of such questions, we will read across the emerging literature on global hip-hop as we also explore the growing resources available via the internet, where websites and blogs, MySpace and YouTube and the like, appear to be facilitating a further florescence of international (and peer-to-peer) exchanges around hip-hop. We will consider a number of case studies of hip-hop scenes around the world as well as closely related (and sometimes antagonistic) musical/stylistic offshoots and hybrids, including: Puerto Rico (reggaeton), Brazil (funk carioca), England (grime), South Africa (kwaito), Tanzania (bongo flava), Jamaica (dancehall), Germany, Japan, Kenya, Cuba, Morocco/France, and Australia. We will also examine the international roots of hip-hop in multicultural New York and how American hip-hop figures the foreign (as in “orientalist” gestures and other sonic representations of otherness). Larger themes to be explored include postcolonialism and globalization, mass media and migration, race and nation.
Basu, Dipannita and Sidney J. Lemelle, eds. The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Chang, Jeff. Canât Stop Wonât Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martinâs Press, 2005.
Condry, Ian. Hip-hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Forman, Murray and Mark Anthony Neal, eds. That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Mitchell, Tony, ed. Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
20% – Class Attendance and Participation: all students are expected to attend all class meetings and to participate in discussions, especially in Thursday sections
40% – Weekly Wikipedia Edits: each week students will make a small but substantive edit or addition to a Wikipedia article related to course materials. Students will also post a brief note to an open thread on LATTE explaining what they have done and why.
40% – Final Paper: a 10-15 page essay investigating a hip-hop scene outside the US: what representations exist and/or frame the scene’s narrative, how does the global/local dynamic play out, how does it compare to other places, etc.
Week 1: Introduction & a Brief History of Hip-hop’s Roots in Multicultural New York
Kelley, Robin D.G. âForeward.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, xi-xvii. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Mitchell, Tony. “Introduction: Another RootâHip-hop Outside the USA.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 1- 38. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Chang, Jeff. âInventos Hip-Hop: An Interview with Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi.â In Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. Jeff Chang, 255-261. New York: BasicCivitas / Perseus Books, 2006.
_______. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005. (Chapters 1-4.)
Flores, Juan. “Puerto Rocks: Rap, Roots, and Amnesia.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 69-86. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Hebdige, Dick. “Rap and Hip-hop: The New York Connection.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 223-232. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Patterson, Orlando. “Ecumenical America: Global Culture and the American Cosmos.” World Policy Journal 11(2): 103-17 (1994).
Thomas, Deborah. “Modern Blackness; or, Theoretical ‘Tripping’ on Black Vernacular Culture.” In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Kenner, Rob. “Dancehall,” In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Marshall, Wayne. “Bling-bling for Rastafari: How Jamaicans Deal with Hip-hop.” Social and Economic Studies 55: 1 & 2 (2006): 49- 74.
_______. “Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme” .
Week 3: Hip-hop, Reggae, and Reggaeton in Puerto Rico
NegrĂłn-Muntaner, Frances and Raquel Z. Rivera, “Reggaeton Nation.” NACLA News. 17 December 2007.
Giovannetti, Jorge L. “Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.” In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and CĂĄndida F. JĂĄquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
Marshall, Wayne. “From MĂșsica Negra to Reggaeton Latino.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Week 4: Hip-hop vs. Reggaeton in Cuba
Pacini-HernĂĄndez, Deborah and Reebee Garofalo. “Hip Hop in Havana: Rap, Race and National Identity in Contemporary Cuba.” Journal for Popular Music Studies, 2000: 1-41.
_______. 2006. “La Habana que no conoces: Cuban rap and the social construction of urban space.” Ethnomusicology Forum 15, no. 2: 215-46.
_______. 2008. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
Wunderlich, Annelise. âCuban Hip-hop: Making Space for New Voices of Dissent.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 167-79. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Eli. Inventos: Hip Hop Cubano. DVD. (2003)
Week 5: Hip-hop vs. Funk in Brazil
Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.
Sansone, Livio. “The Localization of Global Funk in Bahia and Rio.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, 135-60. London: Routledge, 2002.
YĂșdice, George. “The Funkification of Rio.” In Microphone Fiends, 193-220. London: Routledge, 1994.
Stanley-Niaah, Sonjah. “Mapping of Black Atlantic Performance Geographies: From Slave Ship to Ghetto.” In Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, ed. by Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods, 193-217. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007.
Magubane, Zine. âGlobalization and Gangster Rap: Hip Hop in the Post-Apartheid City.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 208-29. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Ariefdien, Shaheen and Nazli Abrahams. âCape Flats Academy: Hip-Hop Arts in South Africa.â In Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. Jeff Chang, 262-70. New York: BasicCivitas / Perseus Books, 2006.
Lemelle, Sidney J. ââNi wapi Tunakwendaâ: Hip Hop Culture and the Children of Arusha.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 230-54. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Wanguhu, Michael. Hip Hop Colony: The Hip Hop Explosion in Africa. DVD. (2005)
Week 8: Postcolonial UK Soundclash: Hip-hop, Reggae, Grime, and Bhangra
Gilroy, Paul. “It’s a Family Affair.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip- hop Studies Reader, 87-94. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Hesmondhalgh, David and Caspar Melville. “Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 86-110. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Sharma, Sanjay. “Noisy Asians or ‘Asian Noise’?” In Disorienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, ed. Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk, and Ashwani Sharma, 32-57. London: Zed Books, 1996.
Week 9: Hip-hop and RaĂŻ in France / North Africa
Gross, Joan, David McMurray, and Ted Swedenburg. “Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities.” Diaspora 3:1 (1994): 3- 39. [Reprinted in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, ed. by Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo, 198-230. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.]
Swedenburg, Ted. “Islamic Hip-hop vs. Islamophobia.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 57-85. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Prevos, Andre J. M. “Postcolonial Popular Music in France: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980s and 1990s.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 39-56. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Helenon, Veronique. âAfrica on Their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 151-66. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Meghelli, Samir. âInterview with Youcef (Intik).â In Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness, ed. by James G. Spady, H. Samy Alim, and Samir Meghelli. 656-67. Philadelphia: Black History Museum Publishers, 2006.
Week 10: Hip-hop in Germany
Bennett, Andy. “Hip-Hop am Main, Rappin’ on the Tyne: Hip-hop Culture as a Local Construct in Two European Cities.” In That’s the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader, 177-200. New York; London: Routledge, 2004.
Pennay, Mark. “Rap in Germany: The Birth of a Genre.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 111-134. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Brown, Timothy S. ââKeeping it Realâ in a Different âHood: (African-) Americanization and Hip-hop in Germany.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 137-50. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
Week 11: Hip-hop in Japan
Condry, Ian. Hip-hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Wood, Joe. “The Yellow Negro.” Transition 73 (“The White Issue”): 40-67.
Week 12: Hip-hop in Australia and the Pacific
Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Mitchell, Tony. “Kia Kaha! (Be Strong!): Maori and Pacific Islander Hip-hop in Aotearoa-New Zealand.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 280-305. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Henderson, April K. âDancing Between Islands: Hip Hop and the Samoan Diaspora.â In The Vinyl Ainât Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. By Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 180-199. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.
I’ve written a lot here about the “riddim method,” a cheeky term suggested by my co-author Peter Manuel to describe a well-worn practice (and in the case of our article, a distinctly Jamaican version of it). We jest, but we’re serious. In short, what we try to explain is an approach to musical materials as shared/public/communal resources which people feel a certain license to riff on, reinvent, rearrange, remix — an approach sharpened and modernized in some special ways in the soundsystem<->studio industry-ecology of L20C Kingston, and an approach long gone global via reggae’s own migrations not to mention as absorbed and additionally broadcast by hip-hop, house, jungle, garage, grime, you name it.
But just because people participate in riddim/remix culture doesn’t mean they aren’t quick to turn the screws of copyright when it suits them. As Peter and I note in our article and as Larisa’s thesis will no doubt illuminate in lots of nuanced detail, plenty of reggae artists, musicians, and producers have sued each other over the years over allegedly unauthorized examples of plagiarism or infringement or tiefing.
Take Nando Boom, for instance, one of the Panamanian pioneers of dancehall reggaespaĂ±ol. My co-editor-y-compi, Raquel, told me many months ago that SĂ±r Boom was suing Don Omar (as well as Wisin y Yandel and their producers) for the unauthorized use of elements from his “Enfermo de Amor” in their relatively successful single, “MySpace” (a song initially discussed here way back when). So thanks to Raq for putting it on my radar, though I’ve been steadily wondering — even while sitting on a draft of this post — what’s been happening with the suit. In that regard, I gotta thank my tweep Tito for letting me know yesterday that the case was recently settled, at least between Nando Boom and Don Omar.
Indeed, it apparently was announced earlier this month that SĂ±r Boom was withdrawing “counterfeit charges” against Don Omar and would accept his $100k offer as “bastante” despite having turned up his nose at it for about a year and a half (he initially demanded a sum in the millions and is still waiting on W&Y to “square up”).
When I discussed “MySpace” back in June 2007, what I appreciated about it was the brief moments when Don Omar performs a retro style reggae/ton flow —
We hear a number of signposts of the new reggaeton â state-of-the-art synths, emotive harmonic progression, dembow loops â but we also hear a nostalgia for âold schoolâ 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 canât quite place it) â
Jace was quick to note that the riddim itself seemed to be a version of “Night Nurse,” and about that he was right. What neither of us caught at the time was that Omar was actually directly alluding to — really, re-performing — a central phrase from Nando Boom’s own version of “Night Nurse” (and it’s worth noting that a good number of Boom’s songs, including his own big hits, have been covers of Jamaican dancehall recordings):
While taking more departures than Arzu’s siempre fiel (save for Spanish) “Amor” — including, of course, the very melody / flow and lyrics that Don Omar recites — Nando Boom’s song is itself quite audibly a version of Gregory Isaac’s rubadub classic, employing the Night Nurse riddim as well as some of Isaac’s vocal melodies (and, yeah, underlying medical conceit). Doing what Omar does in “MySpace” or what Nando does on “Enfermo” — i.e., inserting a musical mnemonic, invoking a familiar phrase — is not merely commonplace but arguably central to the poetics of reggae and its many musical kin. (Can I get a zunguzungung?)
Call it quotation, homage, allusion — we have lots of words for this sort of thing (including, I’m afraid, “interpolation,” which is an attempt to bend language & culture to the demands of commerce & its legal armature). So while there’s no disputing that Don Omar has, in a word, “copied” something from Nando Boom, there’s no way that SĂ±r Boom himself can avoid the same charge on the very song for which he is claiming ownership. (Or just about any other song in his “catalog,” to risk reifying another recording industry concept.)
“Defamation”? Oh man, could the litigiousness get any more specious? (I better watch my mouth though, don’t?)
To his credit, Omar has essentially gone the genteel route, proclaiming himself a “caballero” all along, apologizing throughout, offering praise and respect for Nando, and offering $100k in recompense. Actually, it’s not clear how much they eventually settled for. Nando Boom will only say it’s “bastante”; he won’t specify p/q “hay secuestradores” (kidnappers).
Now, I’m not saying that SĂ±r Boom didn’t pay some serious dues. I feel too that, in some sense — indeed, in the same sense that applies to the pioneers of hip-hop who never got to profit from its eventual global commercial triumph — dude deserves some “reggaeton money,” if you know what I’m saying. Despite his seminal contributions to the genre, Nando Boom never made the kind of cheese that these guys have. And maybe that’s what Don Omar’s magnanimous settlement is nodding to. Still, I don’t know about shaking down random infringers participants in riddim/remix/REGGAE culture.
Among other things, it just adds to bad precedent — and I don’t mean actual legal precedent, since this never went to court, and I’m not really sure about the wider implications of a Panamanian ruling about reggae copyright infringement (except that it could be bad for a lot of Panamanian reggae artists) — I’m talking about how bad faith behavior can have chilling effects on an immense, international, interlocked system of peer-to-peer cultural norms.
I hope Wisin y Yandel and the producers of the song continue to stand their ground. Or maybe just break dude off with a micro-writing credit or something, if that’s what he’s getting at. That seems fair enough, especially if it can be dialed down to the degree to which his so-called “property” animates the song — good luck trying to calculate that, folks.
I can understand if the bad blood / press might have itself felt like bastante to Omar, but I still can’t believe he didn’t go to court over this. Would it really have cost him $100k in lawyers’ fees? (Did they really make that kinda dough with “MySpace”?) Then again, given that the Panamanian courts had apparently granted Nando Boom’s request to arrest Don Omar and Wisin y Yandel should they ever come to Panama (see last para here), who knows whether he could have beaten the charge. In a US trial, I think he might be able to make a decent argument, despite that I don’t have great faith in this country’s legal system when it comes to policing musical practice. But when the issue becomes a question of national patrimony (even if that so-called patrimony is also Jamaican), tensions can really flare.
As I’ve been noting for a while, this sort of geographical enmity / argument among reggaeton’s “stakeholders” (i.e., would-be stockholders) — in particular between Panama and Puerto Rico — animates a great deal of online discourse about reggaeton, and my chapter in the reggaeton book was an attempt to speak to and sort out the various claims. Ultimately, I try to show the various and distinctive ways that each node in the network — Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, New York — have done their part to shape what we now call reggaeton. Clearly, not enough people have read it ;)
Nearly every blogpost, news article, and vaguely related YouTube video have played host to strongly jingoistic arguments about who is owed what in this case. See, for example, the comments from one particularly UNHINGED fellow on that blogpost about Tego pointing out Boom’s hypocrisy —
CARLITO EL PANAMENO is practically calling for his gente to receive reparations from reggaeton. But shouldn’t that open the floodgates of such claims? Should reggae and hip-hop artists, in turn, shake down their legion interpreters in Panama and Puerto Rico alike? I mean, if that’s the game, better be prepared to play by those rules. If it’s true that, as is alleged, Hector El Father decided to drop a dime on Omar + W&Y, I wonder whether Nando Boom should worry about someone making a call to the Cool Ruler.
I suspect some dear readers out there, much as they like me, are getting sick of seeing my bristly face when they load the page, so I figured I’d get something else up here at the top, though I don’t have time for a proper post right now. One thing about those beard shots — ok, 2 things — 1) somepeople like em; 2) you can’t exactly call me a typical navel-gazing blogger now, can you?
As for placeholders, I’ve got a couple good ones per ongoing conversations in the comments.
The first comes c/o “Acid Washed Genes,” where we’ve been having a pretty lively discussion of “gypsy” signifiers, balkan beats, and nu-whirled politricks. Special shoutout to Joro-boro who, among other gems, posted a link to the following video, about which he writes —
It is kolbasti and according to my Turkish friends it is a style of music and dance originating from the Laz communities in the Trabzon area.
In addition to it being kolbasti, I would add that it is awesome:
The second is just a thought, inspired by some reportage c/o Marlon and Tito, who both have noticed a number of English language pop/club songs drifting into formerly Spanish-only (if not reggaeton-only) playlists. It’s easy enough to blame Pitbull alone for that, but I think the responsibility might actually lie with reggaeton itself. I have been thinking, for some time now, that reggaeton was remarkable for making space in Anglo media for Spanish language music, but I might have gotten it totally wrong: instead, reggaeton has made it safe for English language pop/club music to work its way into formerly Spanish-only spaces. Maybe the genre’s anti-imperialist detractors were right all along? Reggaeton: making the Latin world safe for Ke$ha.
I don’t have a video for that, but I do have a reggaetony YooToob which people seem intent to send my way. I wonder whether it will rub you as wrongly as it rubs me.
[Since we're talking about reggaeton again, and about the absence/return of dembow, it seems like a good moment to repatriate the following riddimmeth0d post from early 2006. The post, a complement to an article on reggaeton I wrote for the Boston Phoenix, features a mix which uses the dembow drumloop to string the songs together, most of which represent the sound of the genre during its mid-decade heyday. For more mixxage along these lines, see also: Dem Bow Dem, a mix of "Dem Bow" cover versions (as opposed to songs which only gesture to the dembow rhythmically or timbrally). This was initially posted on 19 January 2006, almost 4 years ago to the day!]
to accompany my piece on reggaeton (with sidebar!) in this week’s phoenix, i’ve put together a mix intended to demonstrate just how deep the dem bow runs through contemporary reggaeton (as well as to establish some sonic links to jamaican dancehall and to other styles).
the sonic-social-symbolic connections here are multiple, myriad. though one can try and try to convey them in prose, sometimes hearing them is really the best way. and that’s what the riddim method‘s all about (for me anyhow): letting the music do the talking.
so let’s get to the sounds in question, but permit me just a couple of notes to orient your attention to what you’ll be hearing.
it almost makes no sense to make a “dem bow mix” of reggaeton songs since the vast majority of reggaeton songs appear to feature some element of the inspiring, originary riddim. (and i’m not exagerrating when i say the vast majority.) thus, to make a reggaeton mix is to make a dem bow mix, and vice versa. that’s how inextricable the two are. the dem bow is reggaeton’s rhythmic DNA, a constant feature of the genre’s rhythmtexturtimbre, performing a function somewhere between ‘amen’ and clave. rather than boiling the blood of copyrighters, such use should prove a demonstration of the degree to which a vast world of derivative works can emerge from the creative sampling of recorded music, but which would not be possible – or conceivable even – without an utter disregard for, disrespect for, and disagreement with (american “international”) copyright law.
in the mix i’ve posted here, you’ll hear many appearances of dem bow, including more subtle, textural uses of the percussive loop as well as riddims that really foreground it. moreover, just for good measure, i often add an additional layer of the dem bow (in various versions) to thread pieces together, though a close examination will reveal the riddim already lurking in most of the tracks i’ve selected here. finally, as might be expected, i’ve also cooked up a couple specials and some little segments that i hope prove interesting.
i begin with the dem bow riddim itself (an “original” instrumental version, technically, as one would find on any one of a number of reggaeton “beats” CDs), overlayed with some clips from the BBC/”the world” radio program which aired last summer and featured some interview clips and beatboxing boom-chicking from yours truly. i like the way the mainstream media “hype” comes across here, complete with mis-pronunciations (“reggae-tawn”) and slight exaggeration. from there, we move into shabba ranks’s “dem bow,” the hit which propelled the dem bow riddim to NY, PR, and beyond. i don’t really want to get into the implications here of an entire genre essentially emerging from something that draws such stark lines in the sand, but suffice it to say that shabba’s thematic focus on “dem bow” is consistent with a lot of reggae (and some reggaeton): it’s anti-gay, anti-oral-sex, anti-imperialist.
the latter point – shabba’s pro-black stance against colonial(ist) oppression – points us to an interesting, and often overlooked, irony: that the dem bow is closely related to another dancehall riddim, the poco man jam, created by steelie&clevie in 1990, essentially “re-licked” (and tweaked) by bobby digital for shabba’s “dem bow,” and associated with and juggled alongside each other ever since. of course, “poco” in this case refers to the afro-jamaican religion, pocomania (alt. pukkumina), but i can’t help hearing a strong resonance with another meaning of poco. reggaeton’s relationship to race is something that has gone pretty unexamined in all of this coverage, so that’s another dimension – linked as it is to circumstances in the post-colonial americas – which i attempted to address, if only briefly, in my article for the phoenix.
after the dem bow/poco man section (including tunes by gregory peck, cutty ranks, and super cat), we hear panamanian founding-figure el general performing “son bow,” his traduccion of shabba’s “dem bow,” and from there, we get into the real deal: some PR-reppin’ from tony touch to kick it off, followed by some early, ruff-n-ready sounds from ivy queen. once we get into the reggaeton songs, we essentially thread our way through various “big chunes” that employ the dem bow, making a couple detours as we go: we hear how reggaeton producers nod to contemporary hip-hop as we segue from “el tiburon” to the busta rhymes song that seemingly inspired its chord-progression (as well as a dubplate-version by kingston-based DJ scrum dilly); there’s a section devoted to “juggling” over what we might think of as the gasolina riddim (for luny tunes appear to approach their riddims much like, say, lenky approached the diwali and steelie&clevie approached the poco man); and finally we close with two mini-mixes, the first devoted to bachataton or reggaetonchata or whatever they’re calling the increasingly common mixture of reggaeton and bachata (actually, i think they’re calling it reggaeton, and genres like bachata may be in serious danger of being eaten by reggaeton), the second devoted to some salsa-drenched remixes, including one of my own, connecting el gran combo’s “ojos chinos” to the tego song that alludes to it.
that – and the tracklist below – should be enough to give you a handle on all of this (si no ya lo tienes). ojala que hope you dig. if you do, go out and get yerself some reggaeton today. (i recommend these.)
Dem Bow intro: BBC “The World” excerpts
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
Gregory Peck, “Poco Man Jam”
Cutty Ranks, “Retreat”
Super Cat, “Nuff Man a Dead”
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
El General, “Son Bow”
Tony Touch, “Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepa”
Ivy Queen, “Yo Soy La Queen”
Tony Touch ft. Nina Sky, “Play That Song”
Wisin & Yandel, “Rakata”
Alexis, Fido, & Baby Ranks, “El Tiburon”
Busta Rhymes, “Break Ya Neck” (w&w dembow mix)
Scrum Dilly, “Nah Go Stray (dubplate)” (w&w dembow mix)
Hector “El Bambino,” “Dale Castigo”
Daddy Yankee, “Dale Caliente”
Daddy Yankee, “Cojela Que Va Sin Jockey”
Ivy Queen, “Marroneo”
Daddy Yankee, “King Daddy”
Tony Touch ft. Lisa M, “Toca Me La”
Daddy Yankee, “Gasolina”
Don Omar ft. N.O.R.E., “Reggaeton Latino (remix)”
Don Omar, “Dile”
K Mill, “Metele Perro”
Ivy Queen, “La Mala”
Pitbull, Master Joe, & O.G. Black, “Mil Amores”
Ivy Queen, “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado”
Tego Calderon, “Metele Sazon”
Tego Calderon, “Dominicana”
El Gran Combo, “Ojos Chinos” (w&w dembow mix)
Daddy Yankee, “Sabor A Melao”
Dem Bow outro (Shabba Ranks vs. El General)
Ok, back to reggaeton. So, once again, back to questions of vitality and vocality. Or, how it’s doing and for whom & from whence it speaks.
one way of looking at the “reggaeton” “crash” (and recovery?)
I was tickled to see Birdseed name reggaeton genre of the year for 2009, fully contra Gavin’s provocative post about the genre’s crash. If one is not persuaded by Birdseed’s praise of reggaeton’s post-dembow turn to synthy club beats (right alongside, let’s note, its longtime main sources: hip-hop and dancehall), the real proof in the pudding is Dominican dembow, but more on that below…
First, a couple other items relating to reggaeton’s urbanity, if you will. This is gonna get a little meta, but my post about Gavin’s post resulted in a post by Marisol which got cross-posted to Racialicious, where it generated an intense and interesting conversation about Calle 13, reggaeton, and transnational racial politics, among other things. Marisol’s central argument riffs off something I wrote in my response to Gavin:
Wayne makes a good point that âmĂșsica urbanaâ basically functions as a (seemingly sexier and less scary euphemism) for reggaetonâs old moniker of âmĂșsica negra.â So itâs interesting to me that reggaetonâs resident blanquito has appointed himself the gatekeeper of said race music. … Iâm curious about the work that placing a blanquito at the center of âmĂșsica urbanaâ does. For sure it makes the music palatable to the a wider audience, as so many blanquitos have crossed-over ârace musicsâ in the past. But I think the work that Calle 13 very clearly does is âfuel fantasies about reggaetons inherent latinidad,â as Wayne points out in his chapter âFrom MĂșsica Negra to Reggaeton Latinoâ in Reggaeton (Duke UP). There is something appealing to the many music critics who have profiled the group in their brand of Latin World music, something in stark contrast with the repetitive samples and versioning of Black music that is central to many other reggaeton acts.
I recommend that anyone interested in reggaeton and race read the entire exchange.
As it happens, I was asked recently to write another dictionary blurb, an entry for Calle 13. Trying to sum up an act like Calle 13 is difficult even with the 9000 or so words tossed around on that Racialicious post, but I only had 200. In light of the conversation at Racialicious, I found Calle 13’s polarization of the reggaeton audience (never mind of their peers in so-called mĂșsica urbana) difficult to leave out. Here’s what I came up with (exceeding word limit a little) —
I still have time to edit this, incidentally, so if you feel strongly about the word choice or what gets put in vs. left out, I’m all ears.
Curiously, a few years before “mĂșsica urbana” became the new industry term, the media had already announced the dawn and dusk of the “hurban” era — a term given to the new formats adopted (and, before too long, dropped) by such radio franchises as La Kalle, centered on reggaeton but also including Spanish-language rap, r&b, NYC-based bachata and other styles that could be confidently classed as hispanic-urban. I corresponded recently with a student working on a paper about the rise and fall of “hurban,” or as they described the project:
I am currently interested in the mass proliferation of “hurban” media outlets during 2004-2006, and their eventual demise from mainstream radio. Basically, I hope to analysis why “mainstream” Reggaeton, a la N.O.R.E.’s Oye Mi Canto and Daddy yankee’s Gasolina, has “fallen off,” so to speak, of the mainstream U.S. media circuit.
So if you can answer some of these questions, that would be so helpful:
Why do you think Reggaeton and the “hurban” radio station phenomena failed to hold a spot in the mainstream media? Was it a backlash from Anglo-audiences, who were quick to jump on the catchy Reggaeton bandwagon but soon decided they did not really understand the music? Or was it a feeling from the young Latino demographic that the music “sold out” to corporate interests?
Or, was it simply the repetitive nature of the music (use of dem-bow, “copycat” artists, similar lyrics) no longer attracted the same attention?
Do you think there will be a resurgence of Reggaeton in the mainstream pop music circuit?
These are interesting questions, if familiar. I was happy to hazard some answers, though once again, I’d be eager to hear from people who have other evidence or narratives to offer. Here’s what I replied:
I think one thing that needs to be put into context is how much the “hurban” marketing angle was a relatively contained (if well hyped) experiment on the part of major media conglomerates like Clear Channel and Univision. If we understand it as an exercise in top-down, corporate branding — as opposed to grassroots demand, regardless of the extent to which it sought to tap into that — then it becomes easier to explain the sudden abandonment of the format when it failed to meet high expectations.
Another thing to note is that the question of the rise and fall of “hurban” is separate from the question of reggaeton’s fleeting heyday in the Anglo mainstream; hurban format stations were not pitched at Anglo listeners. On the other hand, reggaeton’s receding from mainstream urban radio and MTV (where it maintains a marginal presence, but a presence all the same) and the failure of the “hurban” format might have the same root cause(s), as you imply. My sense is that a certain lack of interest in reggaeton/hurban was less about an Anglo lack of comprehension or a Latino disenchantment with the corporatization of the genre, and more with a sense of saturation and sameness: at the height of reggaeton’s (mainstream/media) popularity, radio DJs and major record labels were pulling from a relatively small pool of hits and artists, and the Luny Tunes sound was so dominant — and momentarily successful — that it crowded out other approaches. I think a lot of people just got bored.
That said, it’s worth noting that reggaeton — or whatever one wants to call it (and it’s telling that “mĂșsica urbana,” not so different from “hurban” as labels go, has become the latest umbrella term for the music) — continues to offer a fair amount of variety to listeners willing to seek it out. I’m not sure what it will be called the next time there is a resurgence of Spanish-language dance-pop in the mainstream pop circuit, but I’m quite confident that we’ll hear that sort of thing again. The underlying reasons for reggaeton’s mid-decade explosion — burgeoning Latino demographics in the US, savvy music entrepreneurs, a timely stylistic overlap with contemporary club music — are factors that remain very much in play.
In the other corner of reggaeton’s big tent, across from the slick commercial stuff that fills-out Birdseed’s YouTube queue and aspires to radio spins and TV airings (and, yes, YouTube views) — the stuff that Jace more or less dubs music for airports — is Dominican dembow, an exceedingly local (if also diasporic / virtual) reanimation of reggaeton’s former (and formative) sound. In a somewhat surprising and awesome move, the DR’s hip-hop scene has embraced PR’s mid-90s underground aesthetic — the stuff of Playero and The Noise mixtapes — fullup of samples from classic (that is, early-mid 90s) dancehall riddims like Bam Bam and Drum Song, rubikscube beats shuffling the same snares, hats, and hits into an endless array of colorful configurations.
I’m particularly struck by how these productions resonate with Marisol’s questions about sampling & reggaeton’s racial politics — questions raised, notably, not just by DR dembow but by PR’s ‘regreso’ acts as well):
Is it time to think of sampling practices within reggaeton as an overtly political act? Is sampling consciously hailing an audience and interpolating the performer and audience in a specific genre?
I often wonder how much these theories about sample-riffic music and memory/signification require particularly active, engaged, and perhaps cognocentric (?) modes of listening, though we might posit — especially with the sorts of samples recycled in (proto/regreso) reggaeton / Dominican dembow (i.e., largely, short percussive sounds with distinctive timbres) — that there are modes of embodied (and perhaps even what Adorno would call regressive) listening that also, in their own ways, involve forms of musical memory. At any rate, that this practice is happening at the producerly level is remarkable in its own right.
More important than giving all this seemingly related activity a name is to note that the efflorescence of shared referents and practices, all this artful work of technological reproduction (to refix Benjamin for our labor/leisure effacing age), continues unabated outside the corporate mediasphere (that is, if things like YouTube can exist outside of that; I’m not sure they can). This vibrant shared and co-produced culture thrives on overlapping publics networked by language, diaspora, dance, Facebook, and filesharing. This is the point that I try to underscore whenever I get asked about the so-called reggaeton crash — if we only look to corporate radio, to the formal commercial sphere, for measures of music’s vitality, we may well overlook the lion’s share of what’s happening. Que fue indeed.