Tons o’ Tons, or Distributed Reading #5382

I tagged a “raï-ggaeton” video over at my linkythinky a while back. A bit o’ chutney-ton, too. Both seemed interesting to me as rather explicit examples of the localization of global pop (and rton in partic), if not terribly compelling as specific things &, yeah, rather steeped in the odor of novelty. That’s not the only possible cultural outcome, tho, obviously.

To wit: I’ve recently received two hot tips via email pointing me to possible new -tons emerging abroad — el “jesgrew” puertoriqueño quizas?

John Schaefer to jace, me :: Aug 20

Hi Wayne and Jace,

Could this be the first Moroccan reggaeton?

Here’s the first mention of “Gnawaton”:


That video John links to is pretty amazing, I gotta say. It’s a serious production, for one (as the end credits attest), changing scenes idon’tknow howmany times and offering up some pregnant juxtapositions between the old and the new. Notably, the imagery appears to be the most reggaetony thing about it. Paste in a new face and voice, cut in some scenes from San Juan barrios, and you’ve got a Daddy Yankee video. Tellingly, though, E.lam Jay, the rapper dude, resembles Sean Paul more than any reggaetonero — tho the cornrows coulda been Don Omar-inspired, too. (Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so: a commenter here calls it “sean paul in an arbic version.”) Moreover, the underlying track reminds me much more of uptempo dancehall crossover stuff — the Coolie Dance riddim or Sean Paul’s “Temperature” — than any reggaeton tracks, per se. There’s no dembow, first of all. And the housey tempo, 3+3+2 synth stabs, and claps on 1234 are more an 04 dancehall ting than a reggaeton accent.

I don’t think John’s imagining things, however, when he asks the question above. I’m pretty sure I hear the word “reggaeton” in the song at least a couple times (tho I’m happy to be corrected by someone who knows Arabic). & another version of the video at YouTube actually calls it “Gnaoui Tone” while provoking plenty of ambivalent discussion over the fusion of styles:

burnnero (2 weeks ago)
what a shit song, I dont understand any thing in this new style

Jamahiriya (1 month ago)
Nice song !

wiam15 (1 month ago)
i love so much this sing. e lam et mohammed sont super il forme un couple super

actarius (2 months ago)
Darhem is authentic and has a very nice voice.
The other guy is just spoiling the thing.

sisi1475963 (2 months ago)
i like this song but just mr drham not that crazy man e lam i hate hem his so fucking bad

When checking out one of these would-be -tons, I always tend to ask myself things like: in what sense could this be construed as reggaeton? why forge/impose that symbolic link? if it’s not just cynical marketing or ignorant appropriation at work here, and yet it doesn’t do the dembow, what exactly is going on? what does it say about the resonance and interpretation of reggaeton in Morocco?

or, for that matter, in Ethiopia?

Steve Kiviat to wayne :: Sep 8

Thought you might find this of interest

Gurage is an ethnic group in Ethiopia. The Gurage people inhabit a sparsely fertile, semi-mountains region in southwest Ethiopia, about 150 miles southwest of Addis Ababa -wikepedia

Ethiopian Music – Tewodros & Abraham – Gurageton

The video above would seem to pose many of the same questions, especially with its explicit labeling. And I should say first of all that, regardless of its relationship to reggaeton, it’s an awesome song&dance. (I love the plinky-plink piano version of Dre’s “Next Episode” that opens the video, setting the clubby scene.) But it doesn’t sound much like reggaeton to my ears, despite also appearing to describe itself that way during the track — and at a prominent moment at that, just before a chorus. Sure, it’s got a nice bump on the offbeat, almost ska style, especially at that relatively speedy tempo. But, as reinforced by style of dance in the video, I hear this more as a nod to kwaito than anything else, beatwise and flowise both. Of course, that’s just generally speaking, for this comes across as quite original in its synthesis of all sorts of internat’l club music and I can’t claim to know all that much about Ethiopian dance-pop. [Update: A little (!) more YouDigging yields a bunch of Gurage-related videos that seem, to my ears, to indicate that “Gurageton” does a pretty good job of electronicizing good ol’ folk-dance music, which is not to say that kwaito isn’t in the mix here, but that offbeat emphasis and the double-time claps clearly have some strong roots in the region.]

Clearly, people hear all kinds of things in this, and make all sorts of meanings. The comments @ YouTube again offer mixed reactions & strong opinions, frequently fingering the jagged edges of race&nation:

kahabity (5 days ago)
i don’t like it

haniayu15 (1 week ago)
nice Teddyo one step in ethio music and like the style keep it up

trueiopian (1 week ago)
hell yea i like this
guraga the best!!

Saralicious4real (2 weeks ago)
Im a Ethiopian fo’reeal, but this shit is so wannabe black american.

s3763492 (3 weeks ago)
i can say@!!!!!!!!!!
taddyo the raper………not just me
all my fuckin frnd love this hiphop music
even somalia tooooooo men.
i just have to say ethiopia for life…

matitesbu (3 weeks ago)
are u freaking kidding me….will someone remind this dud that he is an ethiopian….i suggest this young fellow to march to the ethiopian farm and start plowing the land.That is exactly what we need.The world has more than 300 million americans…I am sure they don’t need anymore americans…try to be an ethiopian for a change.

unpreedicktable (3 weeks ago)
Yo Gurenya had me crackin up! GRAGETON… now that shit was funny! But this is a good video nonetheless

Among other things, perhaps what’s going on here — or what is interesting to me — is that reggaeton has come to signify, like dancehall and hip-hop and reggae and funk and jazz and son before it (in Africa and elsewhere), a new kind of currency for participating in, as some would style it, the modern. (& Here I’m riffing off a provocative, thoughtful essay by James Ferguson called “Of Mimicry and Membership.”) As with certain styles of dress and address in previous eras and places, reggaeton today says something similar, all over the world. It’s hot and cool, racy and sexy.

Here we hear global hip-hop with an accent, reinterpreted & refitted, uptempo and (often) upwardly mobile — or at least mobile, marked by (aspirations to) mobility. Routes & cultcha, tú sabes?

For people who write about and study reggaeton — or produce, promote, and sell it, I suppose — these tons of -tons present something of a challenge then, no? Para decirlo en otra manera: Who am I — or who anywhere has the authority — to draw the lines around reggaeton? Must all of this activity, every masquerading -ton, necessarily end up in the reggaeton narrative, whether or not the purported -tons conform to some general criteria we might use to measure some abstract thing like reggaetonness?

& Among other upshots: Who cares? & why?