Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reggaeton's White Hope and the "Reggaeton Crash"

I have a lot of feelings watching this video, but not quite any thoughts yet. I have had some thoughts on Calle 13 in general recently though.

While I like Calle 13, there is something as of late that makes me completely uncomfortable with how Residente's blanquito flow and his "art school/class clown attitude," as Wayne Marshall aptly terms it, are being heralded by reggaeton supporters and detractors alike as shining example of where the genre should go. Calle 13 is being positioned by many as the great white hope that is going to resuscitate reggaeton from its supposed "death." (pero no con mas gasolina, that's for sure).

Wanye Marshalll just blogged a fantastic post entitled "Can We Talk About 'Can We Talk About the Reggaeton Crash?'?", responding to, among other things, Willie Colon's assertion that reggaeton has peaked Wayne says,
i think reggaeton’s gonna be around (and popular) for some time to come. we’ll see what it sounds like, though. and whether people still call “it” reggaeton (they did, after all, used to call “it” any number of names).

colon may be right that the “euphoria” has passed, but that doesn’t mean the genre’s days are numbered. plus, this is clearly a bit of self-promotion for his own music, talking bout how people have returned to salsa. they never really turned away.

on another note, isn’t saying “música urbana” basically like saying “música negra”? it is in english — a pretty specious euphemism really. might as well say “race records.” so maybe we’re back where we started, but in a worse place?

I think Wayne makes a good point that “música urbana” basically functions as a (seemingly sexier and less scary euphemism) for reggaeton's old moniker of “música negra.” So it's interesting to me that reggaeton's resident blanquito has appointed himself the gatekeeper of said race music. Check out this clip from Calle 13's NYC concert at the NOKIA Theater from October 2008:

Residente goes on a whole tirade about the contours and future of “música urbana,” placing himself squarely at the center. I'm curious about the work that placing a blanquito at the center of “música urbana” does. For sure it makes the music palatable to the a wider audience, as so many blanquitos have crossed-over "race musics" in the past. But I think the work that Calle 13 very clearly does is "fuel fantasies about reggaetons inherent latinidad," as Wayne points out in his chapter "From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino" 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.

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'm sure Joe Schloss would have an interesting opinion on this).

I think this is what makes it difficult for me to situate the video for "La Perla," it simultaneously dismisses and trafficks in notions of authenticity. Its impossible for me to reconcile all this -- the music says one thing, the lyrics another, the video another, and Residente's public performances and persona yet another -- of course maybe I shouldn't be trying to reconcile any of it.

Anyway, I welcome thoughts on Calle 13 and/or the video for "La Perla," hit me up.


w&w said...

Nice post, Marisol. Thanks for the further thoughts.

The great thing about "La Perla" as well is that it gives the lie to some sort of irreconcilable distance between reggaeton and salsa.

It seems to me, and I don't really know to be honest, that the central question about whether sampling is a political act, hailing an audience in an act of, say, racial cultural politics -- is how much it matters that people recognize the samples. Are there subconscious dimensions to the affect of particular samples? Or do these ideas about samples and signifying practices, which definitely have affective resonance for a (close) listener like me, only work for a certain (elite) segment of the audience?

Definitely curious to hear what Joe thinks!

raquelzrivera said...

And speaking about giving "the lie to some sort of irreconcilable distance between reggaeton and salsa" check the trailer for Mariela Sosa's documentary "La clave" where salsa and reggaeton artists celebrate reggaeton as a continuation of salsa.


I'm looking forward to watching the whole documentary. From the trailer, I get the feeling the similarities might be overemphasized.

Marisol LeBron said...

Raquel, thanks for bringing this doc to my attention I'll have to check it out.

Wayne, I see your point about the differences among audience members. The thing that is interesting for me is that so many of the samples in older reggaeton or underground songs are fairly recognizable since they're usually dancehall or hip hop songs that had achieved a measure of success and notoriety in clubs and parties.

Listening to the nostalgia-laden tracks on "Regreso Al Underground" you hear similar beats and samples to those in pre-2003 reggaeton/underground, I'm not terribly well versed in dancehall or reggae, but I was surprised by how many of the samples and beats I recognized even if I might not have known the name of the song or the original artist (of course that's a whole other can or worms).

I don't know whether these decisions about sampling and versioning are deliberate, and one can only venture a guess at the listening practices of others and whether they are conscious of how reggaeton samples "musica negra," but its definitely something to think about.

Thank you both as always for the food for thought.

nina said...

I have been studying the intent of the artists for a year or so now, so this intrigues me. I am pretty convinced that at least some of it is a conscious effort to reach a black audience, and some is simply an assumption on the part of the creators that the audience gets the references.
(Would I hear certain music as I do if I had never seen certain movies? Nope)

I also wrote a little on Calle 13- http://arrozconbeans.com/?p=1338

Sadly, I don't have the luxury to study, I gotta work my 9-5.Have yet to convince anyone that they should pay me to talk ying about reggaeton and salsa and dancing slutty. One day.

Love the blog, the WHOLE blog, though. I'm a fan.Wish I had more time to drop by and comment.

Anonymous said...

Hey, nice post and nice blog in general -- I'm definitely interested in where you go with your research, Marisol.

As far as sampling: While crate digging will always thrive in underground subcultures (Joe Schloss has a good book that examines this practice), to my ears the pendulum has swung definitely in the direction of familiar, recognizable samples. The producer flatters the audience when they can recognize the original song (everybody cheers when they hear that familiar riff or whatever); it can summon nostalgic associations; perhaps most importantly, it's a nice way for less mainstream artists (as well as mainstream!) to snag some attention by deploying a shared cultural resource.

Pitbull's output uses lots of samples and interpolations of songs that were big club tunes if not really on pop radio -- I don't think you'd have to be a member of an elite audience (maybe a subculture) to recognize some of them.