Friday, January 19, 2007

Bernardo Brigante and his thoughts on reggaeton

Who is Bernardo Brigante? I would sure like to know. I googled him, but came up empty-handed.

A friend recently forwarded an email he received with some provocative thoughts by Brigante. Here they go.

So What Now?
By Bernardo Brigante

It captivated Latinos in 2003, and reached the masses in early 2005. Now, with everyone all but renouncing their interest in the music, the genre of reggaeton has hit a fork in the road, and has to make the decision to sink or swim. Here is a reggaeton fan's attempt to look at the music (and its social implications) holistically.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I didn't know much about reggaeton outside of Playero tapes (which I hated with a passion, by the way) and El General. Being that no concrete promotional platform existed, I'd watch what was offered to me: low-budget Boricua Guerrero videos on UHF (channel 39: HTV or something like that) along with Proyecto Uno, Sancocho and DLG. Yea, I knew it was kinda corny compared to everything else I was listening to at the time (Biggie, Wu-Tang, Supercat, Mad Lion, Nas), and the artists had no style to save their lives, but they were from Puerto Rico, stirring not just immediate interest, but also a realm of mystique to their 120 BPM songs.

Eventually (and out of nowhere), being a U.S. acculturated Latino became "cool"; most notably around 1998. They called it the "Latin Explosion" (or some nonsense like that): Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Big Pun, and Ricky Martin made HUGE strides in the Anglo mainstream music scene and everyone was captured by the hype created. And then, almost as fast as we "arrived", Latinos faded back into obscurity (in terms of the American mainstream) as if we were a change of season.

Fast forward to 2004: the once-underground genre of reggaeton is flourishing amongst America's "it" demographic: the 18-34 year-old acculturated Latino who represents billions of potential dollars in buying power. Tego Calderon lead the new wave of "contemporary" reggaeton artists (Daddy Yankee, Ivy Queen, Wisin y Yandel, Nicky Jam, etc..), and a subgenre which was once ostracized within the general Latino music scene had showed a structure and personality (two huge components of marketability) previously unbeknown to most. I, along with many other Nuyoricans and Latinos alike, championed its overnight success and the fact that these artists were being taken in by the mainstream urban machine (hearing Daddy Yankee and Pitbull completely demolish Lil' Jon's "What You Gonna Do" appealed to hip-hop, crunk, and reggaeton fans alike in one fell swoop). Other signs of it's apparent proliferation: DJs in NYC had replaced the amount of dancehall reggae they played on a normal club night with reggaeton, reggaeton mixshows were popping up on hip-hop stations, and Univision Radio switching the formats of many of its affiliate networks to cater to the new demand of its listeners' (the birth of "La Kalle").

And then came "Gasolina"… The popularity of Daddy Yankee's 2004 hit spread like wildfire, and was the dominant catalyst in casting the genre into the American eye. Then, in the tradition of American commercialism with anything naturally popular, the major labels came calling with arms wide open: some signing artists directly (Interscope with DY and Atlantic with Tego), and some creating boutique labels to cater to the budding subgenre (Roc La Familia, Wu-Tang Latino, and Bad Boy Latino). Heaps of investment capital was thrown into the culture at an almost alarming rate, and subsequently, the product placement and endorsement deals came: Don Omar and Daddy Yankee had their respective sneaker deals (RBK & Umbro), while Tego was featured in a prominent Hennessy print ad campaign. Musically, the hits were being pumped out rapidly, and the masses continued to digest: everyone, including Paris Hilton, wanted a reggaeton track with hopes of syncing themselves into the latest fad and the good graces of the young Latino listener. And that's where the apparent downfall had started. Rather than growing on its own, the genre was immediately and prematurely deemed as the "next big thing", yet the music remained horrendously formulaic in nature:


[To be frank, that's where the genre is losing many of their immediate fans: people (not necessarily only Latinos) feel the music is redundant and monotonous. And to the ear of the casual fan, it is. People feel reluctant to grow with the music because it's sense of artistry has become extremely one-dimensional.]

Despite the recent efforts of a few albums (Calle 13, The Underdog), reggaeton's sound hasn't changed much in the last few years. In a recent issue of the FADER magazine, Tego Calderon acknowledged producer Danny Fornaris (Don Omar's "Jangueo", Tego's "Mardi Gras", Calle 13's "Se Vale To To") as the "savior of reggaeton". While that statement is bold (and perhaps impulsive given the genre's current state), certainly only a forward-moving genre will accept a producer who appears and sounds nothing like the norm (Fornaris, who sports a faux-hawk and track jackets, appears more SoHo than San Juan).

As a quick sidebar, let's compare the genre to it's distant cousin, dancehall. In origin, they are similar in many ways: the sounds come from impoverished communities within Carribean islands, both are festive in nature and implement traditional sounds (dancehall has roots reggae, while reggaeton boasts a blend of salsa/bachata & roots reggae) and both have achieved American & global success.

Though its peak in popularity occurred in 2002/2003 (with the emergence of Sean Paul and Elephant Man), dancehall continues to flourish because it's constantly evolving. The riddims (beats/pistas) are innovative and ever-changing, and the artists actually want to sound different from each other (Baby Cham, Vybz Kartel, Assassin, Busy Signal, and Movado might all show up on the same riddims, but you can easily distinguish one from another). Most importantly, their heritage is the fuel and passion for their music while the music remains an enjoyable force for the masses. (e.g. Cham's 2006 hit "Ghetto Story" was banned in Jamaica for its raw lyrics, but we all grinded to that song at every nightspot we frequented!)

Reggaeton's big singles rarely acknowledge nuestra hispanidad anymore: Don Omar's "Reggaeton Latino" hit it on the head (with an emotionally captivating music video as a bonus), but why did it stop there? Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., but until we all realize our worth and begin dictating our culture, we're just crabs in a bucket. Through entertainment we've gained attention, but haven't achieved much influence! How many of these artists flashing sh*t in their videos own their masters? With the murder rate in Puerto Rico extremely high as of late (45 murders in the first 2 weeks of 2007), have they or their labels done anything to help their suffering communities? There is too much sh*t going down for Puerto Rico's musical ambassadors to consistently keep their subject matter only inside la diskoteka, la calle, y la cama.

And it isn't only the artists, poor representation falls within mass media. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with being festive and pushing the envelope (in fact, I'm all for it…it's in our nature!), but when creativity is stigmatized and objectiveness is stifled, barriers to progression will arise. Without progression and the ability to adapt, any industry will falter, especially one as volatile as the music business.

To the here and now: stations are quickly writing off reggaeton as a fad due to suffering ratings and decreasing album sales, and are trying other methods to grasp the attention of the 18-34 Latino/a. On Game's "One Blood" (Remix), NORE, who only a year-and-a-half ago claimed to "introduce reggaeton to Americans", boldly states, "…reggaeton ain't hot in the building/its okay/I get it poppin'". It might not be a direct diss, but it's definitely a sign of the times. I wonder what happened to the extremely emotional war cries that seemed wholehearted at the time: "this is a movement!," "it's about making history!"… "it's more than music!".. Hmm.

Believe me, like most of these artists and label execs, I'm out for the guap also. I'm a firm believer in the basic ideal that consumers will ultimately favor good product regardless of how manipulative marketing might be and how industry politics create smoke-and-mirrors for what's really dope. However, I don't have the answers, only calculated suggestions. But understanding that mastering the industry won't happen overnight is vital, and we need to make moves and take steps forward to save a genre with unlimited potential for success.

4 comments: said...

wow.. your article on Reggeaton was to right to the point and acertive.
i so much agree with you with all of your views and commnets..

raquelzrivera said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. But remember it's not my article. It's Bernardo Brigante's.

raquelzrivera said...

And as usual, myspace's blog is quickly filling up with fascinating comments...

Poeta Guerrera

i'm not sure how to react to this article.

he makes some good points about the genre but at the same time there appears to be a condescending nature to the things he says. at one point he's decrying the genre while ending with a call to save it. i'd have to agree that much reggaeton has not taken the role of being political. even when i did my paper, i wanted to find more politically inspired reggaeton but i found that the songs i found were usually hip hop. i'm not sure what we can do to change this.. maybe we need to go email Tego and everyone else..

what do you think?

Posted by Poeta Guerrera on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:15 PM
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Raquel Z. Rivera

Maybe it is time to put your email interview skills at work again! ;)

Lets see... What do I think?

Brigante puts out a lot of food for thought. What intrigues me most are his thoughts regarding reggaeton's "formulaic" nature. It makes me think of how, even from within, folks criticize commercial hip hop and dancehall for being "formulaic" too. Merengue, salsa and bomba have been accused of being formulaic, overly repetitive, unimaginative... So do all genres tend to fall into "formulas"? Is reggaeton's problem that it has a "formula" or is the problem the contents of the specific "formula"?

I'm very intrigued by Tego's holding up of Danny Fornaris as "the savior of reggaeton". I loved "Mardi Gras" on Tego's album. I'm going to listen closely to Fornaris' other stuff to try to understand better what Tego might mean.

What struck me the most is actually not (directly) related to music: Brigante mentions there had been 45 murders in the first 2 weeks of 2007 in Puerto Rico. I read his article yesterday, just after finding out from El Nuevo Dia newspaper that the count was up to 50.

Posted by Raquel Z. Rivera on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:48 PM
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Yes, the "formula" issue in this critique about Reggaeton could be true and it is perhaps true, but the author failed to recognized the poetical dimension of this genre .

I am not into Reggaeton; yet, with curiosity, once in while, I have switched my car's radio station to La Kalle...I do it sporadically, ...and during these moments, I am amazed by the wording and variations within a repetition...I have not heard the same Reggaeton song twice...the lyrics, even though seemingly crass on first impression, vulgar and what have you, has also a sleek, suave and skillful play of words that seems to be growing in literary direction.

"Soy una Gorgola"

I just heard this last night!, a gorgola is a hideous creature that often adorns the most beautiful Cathedrals in the world...Most notably the cathedral of Notre dame in Paris.

I'm just imagining now, this mythical figure from Notre Dame, hanging out in clubs, "buscando almas..."

In that realm, poetry doesn't necessary serve politics, nor the cannons of beauty established by our society. That sort of concept is beautiful; but it falls into "Ideals".

" Ideals" are not absolutes...they are the dream some people share.

In the other hand, poetry is free, it is not tight down to is what it is...

No wonder, Plato, tells us in his essays about the Republic, that in order to have a working Republic, one must first control all poets, artists and playwrights..."for they are inspired by something from above"...they don't follow the sense of the established cannons of Beauty...they are "Inspired"...they listen to the Nine Muses..."

"Inspiration", is the key word to understand this genre's subterranean treasures.

After a while, I had no choice but to recognize, that It takes a surrendering of the self to something from "above", in order to come up with the poetical word-play in most of the non-sense I here in la Kalle.

Posted by Victor on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:17 AM
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Poeta Guerrera

i wonder what the murders are related too. do you know if they were poverty related crimes? i was thinking about moving to the Island and my uncle told me that the economy was so fucked up, i would be screwed. He told me I should save up enough to survive first, before deciding to make a trip out there to stay.

Posted by Poeta Guerrera on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:15 AM
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Sounds like what every Puerto Rican from the mainland said about the music the first time they heard it, then when they realized that it was here to stay they had to shut up and accept it.

The H-urban format is what killed the crossover popularity of reggaeton. By not incorporating it within the Hip Hop/Dancehall radio formats and just trying to go for the Latin crowd, it ignored how the music became popular to begin with, the underground. It's still popular in the clubs and the mix of dominican music with it is giving it life, same thing with cumbia. It's clear however, that it won't be the flavor of the month again for some time.

As for Fornaris, the beats he's coming up with are no match for Bachaton. That's still killin it at every party now.

Posted by David on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 2:25 PM
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Divine0313 /

I can't front, this is an ill piece right here. It resurfaced a few things that I felt in regards to reggaeton. I remember speaking an Rican Islander, who was building with me about the hoods and Hip Hop scene there. He was detailing how lots of MCs go and do Reggaeton because it pays. Not necessarily that they're Reggaeton artists, such as Tego, Calle 13, Voltio, etc. but since Hip Hop's forum in PR isn't the favored market, Reggaeton becomes the option. Besides you can still rhyme.

I understand what he meant as far as the formulaic statement. Besides is mathematically structured and derived, so a formula exists. But the variety in topics, the variety of sounds explored are not really there. The potential exists since it's always infinite, but Reggaeton is now a mainstream market and even before it became such, it was inteded to be a mainstream genre, their goals were to stack paper. The formula is in the recycling of subject matter and no real unique ways of flipping topics from each other. It was something ill to me when I saw them add Bachata in and then some Techno sounds too. But even I, who would check in La Kalle once a week probably don't even rock it that much even, since some of it vibes like pop ballads now. The sounds of the songs reveal the intent behind it's creating.

Then in opposition to Dancehall, although some from Jamaica considered some artists in the genre selling out, since the music heavily dominated by artists who are Rastafarians, consciousness and rebelliousness is never really sacrificed. Plus in production of the music, they vary in sounds and drumb patterns too. Sean Paul isn't a Rasta and his music was more intended in commercial status. But others like Capleton, Sizzla, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and others, had much of a religious/revolutionary tone to their music, but with a nice beat to grind to. Then there were the Reggae and Rap collabos like Capleton with Method Man, Junior Reid on various occasions with Wu-Tang, Buju Banton and Beenie Man with Pun and Joe or Vybz Cartel with Cormega. Not only would the MCs rhyme on Reggae beats but then also on Rap beats. I don't know who else besides Tego rhymed with Rap MCs and on their beats.

Rap music of course has both paths of Reality Rap and bubble gum Rap. Lots of Reality Rappers are underground and doing it with indie labels. Would Reggaeton artists be willing to do that? Would they unite with MCs from PR who don't want to sacrifice the sound of Hip Hop to switch over to Reggaeton? Would they do what's necessary to not allow it to go down the path of Freestyle?

Posted by Divine0313 / on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:14 AM
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The impact of Tego’s “El Abayarde” in Latin and American music should not be underestimated. I predict that 15 to 20 years from now people will speak of “El Abayarde” in the same breath as we speak today of Willie Colon and Ruben Blades seminal salsa album “Siembra.” Quite simply, “El Abayarde” is one of the top ten best records of the decade- in any genre, and “The Underdog” is something else all together: a masterpiece of afro Caribbean rhythms of the likes never seen before.

But since this post by brigante is well written (hey, I’ll give him that) I’m going to let you all in on my little theory: let’s call it IS DEAD Jim (in honor of Star Trek’s good Dr. Mccoy) and yes I was a trekie in a past life…

There is a certain phenomenon that happens in popular music: INSERT POPULAR GENRE and follow with the phrase is dead.

I have heard the following proclamations over the years: [endif]-->

1: Rock is dead

2: Hip Hop is dead

3: Jazz: is dead

4: Reggae: is dead

Let’s take the acid test. Look for a successful music pop genre and type the word is dead + google the genre and you shall feast your eyes on a long list of, well written, premature obituaries.

Here, lets take a test: substitute the Fornaris name with Luny Tunes on the brigante post and re-read. Well guess what? Nothing changes, because is a self-contained proposition. In other words, it’s an autonomous tautology. Once you accept the premises you are forced to accept the conclusion. [endif]-->

However, we know better than this. Disco didn’t die: it evolved into House music.

Rock didn’t die it evolved into all kinds of different sub genres (punk, alt, goth)

Now I have been hearing the same argument on reggaetón since 1996. Obviously the genre won’t die. If it was going to happen it would have done so already but look at Tego ,Omar, Calle 13 et all.

In the end popular music genres evolve and that evolution is what creates other music genres. In other words, nothing comes form nothing, There’s always an influence, and reggaetón has been here for more than a minute. [endif]-->

I find it telling that brigante admits that he never liked Playero. In other words, he’s not a fan of the genre. But whether reggaetón will still be the number one music genre ten years from now, is something that none of us can predict. The only thing that I can honestly say is that there has never been- not even with salsa- a latin genre with the impact as reggaetón. I leave you with Billboard’s Leila Cobo’s latest article: [endif]-->

Dec 28, 2006 — MIAMI (Billboard) - During the past year, many voices predicted the imminent demise of reggaeton, claiming that the genre was stuck in a lyrical and musical rut.

Judging from Billboard's year-end Latin charts, reports of reggaeton's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Reggaeton, a mix of dancehall, rap, tropical music and a distinctive bass-heavy beat, dominated the Latin charts in 2006, with titles in the genre occupying four of the top five slots of the year-end Top Latin Albums recap. The resilient format remains a hit with the younger Latin audience.

Daddy Yankee leads the charge. For the second year in a row, he is Latin music's top-selling artist of the year, thanks this time to his live set "Barrio Fino: En Directo."

Beyond reggaeton, the only album to share the top five on the Top Latin Albums recap with the boys from Puerto Rico came from the boys and girl from Mexico — RBD, the six-person pop group propelled to fame by the primetime telenovela "Rebelde." Their album "Nuestro Amor" was No. 4 on the chart.

RBD is also the No. 2 act on the Top Latin Album Artists recap behind Daddy Yankee.

Reggaeton duo Wisin & Yandel top the Hot Latin Rhythm Songs Artists and Hot Latin Songs Artists recaps after placing an extraordinary 14 tracks on the Billboard charts.

And newcomers Rakim & Ken-Y score the top title on the Hot Latin Songs recap and the Hot Latin Rhythm Songs tally with "Down."

Posted by jose on Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 11:20 AM
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Anonymous said...

THE REASON REGGAETON IS DYING IS BECAUSE IT'S NOT A CULTURE. It's just a beat, it has no elements unlike hip hop culture, which has deep history and elements that invite other cultures and races to practice it. Reggaeton is only supported if an artist is from Puerto Rico. How can this genre survive when it hasn't incorporated anyone else but Boriquas. However, there are more people in anyother south american country than in PR. How do you think they feel in, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, etc..... Reggaeton uses a language only enjoyed in Clubs, it is not concious. Most countries in South America and Central America are third world countries suffereing from poverty and starvation, that's their reality. Not bling, bling, cars, and hoes. Reggaeton is merely a dance, and 90 percent of it is produced by the looney tunes. It's a fad because there are too much politics in that industry. Only Boriquas can excell in that movement. HIP HOP Latino is going to be the next thing and it is going to come from all sides, there is going to be all kinds of variations of it because every latin country is making it with their own dialect and flavor. It's the new revolution!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!