Thursday, May 03, 2007

From White to Mulata: The Darkening Powers of Reggaetón

Jowell & Randy have a song out called "Es Mala." Tito, a DJ and a student at Wesleyan University, has the following sharp, sharp observations to make:

Hey Raquel,

Have u heard the song "Mala Es" by Jowell & Randy off of Don Omar's "El Pentagono" ? It's definitely worthy of discussion... Here a some of the lyrics:

"niña niña niña blancaa..
te ponen reggaeton y cambia a mulata

niña niña niña niña blancaa..
te ponen reggaeton y cambia a mulata

tu eres bien mala , bien mala
se te nota en la cara
tu eres bien mala
y cmo el diablo mala ati se te nota en la cara

yo soy el que te motivo la falda
mirandote bien con esa falda blanca
tu estas dura sin duda y que nalga
mai tu me mata
esta noche yo te cambio de blanca a mulata ma"

Seems as if all the desired Women in Reggaeton are "mulattas" or in this case all Women are simply transformed into mulattas as a result of the dembow. Seems to me that Reggaeotn's attitude towards Women is increasingly not only sexualized, but also racialzed.


I sent the song to you via e-mail. I think that Reggaeton follows the narrative of the "mulatta" lust found in other genres, but I find that Reggaeton in comparison to other genres is becoming more & more explicitally sexually. Whereas before artists might have used a code word or some type of other word to maybe dumb-down their true sexualized & demeaning lyrics, artists are now becoming more & more direct, vulgar, & explicit. Even something as simple as going from saying "amor" to "sexo" makes the angle more sexualized for Reggaeton. Not to mention that "perreo" is a term derived from animals & is directly related to sex, so I think Reggaeton comprises a sexual culture to it, that is to say, that to listen & like reggaeton is somewhat naughty or sexual for a female & empowering & dominating for males. I think the "mulatta" is the idealized woman in reggaeton & this is evident from the music videos to artists simply sayin "ay mulatta" etc. in their songs. The issue for me is that when you take a musical genre that in my opinion is viewed as & is very sexualized & attach notions of race to it you you create a racialized & sexualized "subject" in those you are portraying & seeing as Women have very little agency in the Reggaeton world, this representation is pretty much upheld in PR society both on the island & in the states.


I think reggaeton has been raunchy & explicity all along, but I think the lyrics have reverted back to the "Reggeaton Sex" days of Underground. I think that "raunchiness" & degradation have become more mainstream & therefore are seen as less scandalous & more acceptable to society, so I think it has questioned our value as a community. The fact that Reggaeton outright refers to sexual references & acts & is accepted as mainstream Puerto Rican culture posing an interesting cultural issue for me. Now you can go to Puerto Rico and see young girls singing "dame con el palo, " & they're parents paying no mind to it, which I think is crazy. In the beginning of Reggaeton I found the lyrics to be much more raunchy, violent, & drug-related. Then maistream Reggaeton came along, switched the "sexo" to "amor" & the "nenas" to "gatas." I think these sudle changes in language allowed Reggaeton to be more successful in the mainstream, but now a lot of artists are moving back to the original lyrics because they already have a stable fan base. I mean, look at someone like Tony Dize, if you translated osme of his songs into english, they could put even 50 Cent to shame with the blatant sexual references & degradation of women.


Thank you so much, Tito, for sharing your thoughts.

I'm wondering: What do other folks think?


Eric J said...

Wow. The amazing thing here is the clarity with which the racialized stereotype of the exotic (i.e. negatively objectified and sexually dehumanized) black woman is carried into the present from its popular origin in colonial lore to its nearly seamless expression the latin context. I mean, amazing. These are kids with the deepest racism, the unwitting kind that dares to masquerade as compliment. I hope this isn't growing.

Kara Walker, Franz Fanon and others have taken the mask off this farce a long time ago, but only intellectually.

I don't think it will ever register in a popular way, no matter how much the black woman shows up as simply human in real life.

Too much out there to quote, cite, but I did bump into this out of cuba:

Again, wow. I wonder when we'll move to a new place of thinking on this...

raquelzrivera said...

Comments to this same blog post from


Peace Raquel,

Have you heard "La Bemba Colora", Danny Fornaris' "Black from the back" song?

Posted by David on Friday, May 04, 2007 at 9:55 AM
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Raquel Z. Rivera

That song deserves its own blog post! (See next blog) Hhhmmm... it can actually inspire a whole book!

Posted by Raquel Z. Rivera on Friday, May 04, 2007 at 10:12 AM
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I cannot comment on the intentions of the artists. Perhaps their lyrics were produced by racist thinking and brainwashing and so forth. Its not unheard of at all. The tragic mulata, the oversexed mulata, the voodoo priestess mulata- all common themes. I live in the south where it is KNOWN by all men that "light skinned" women "cant f_ck_ but that they are "freaky". Where girls with green eyes or "cat eyes" are immediately labeled as "sluts" simply based on apperances and generations of women of a certain phenotype being adored as courtesans, mistresses, sex objects and trophies for black and white men alike.

And I know many men (and women) who love ppl with African ancestry, both the appearance and the culture. That given the choice between someone non "black" and "black" they want the black one. The like the way they speak, move, their musical preferences, the foods they eat. And there is in no way any hint of degradation, objectification or racism when they say "I find black women appealing" nor is there any when they meet white women who are culturally "black" and they say "wow, you dance/cook/talk/walk like a black girl". (using the USA one drop definition of "black")

I wont say there is NO racism,but I am not wiling to say that any stated preference in sexual partners is automatically racist and if the speaker doesnt think its racist, its because he was brainwashed and doesnt realize it. I have preferences. And its not due to any mandingo warrior noble savage hot latin papi stereotypes I've been fed by whitey or absorbed from a horrible racist oppressive culture.

Posted by Nina on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 6:38 AM
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Believe me, the deeper America gets into this war and when the US dollar falls (all that has to happen for this is China calling in its debt), both Puerto Rico and Black America will realize the foolishness of many of the things we hold as cultural values. Injustice has a way of making people realize why and how they're being oppressed. Im completely optomistic about that.

Posted by David on Tuesday, May 08, 2007 at 1:10 PM
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I'm torn. Just as I wondered in an earlier post of mine, if the increasing references to "abusadoras" and aggressive women signals a greater appreciation of women being sexually and generally aggressive and assertive or if the same "women are evil and cheat and bring us down with their sexual powers" motif still runs thru the music, despite the genres changing decade after decade.

I'm torn, as I said, because on the one hand I know a TON of latinos who simply ADORE "mulata" women. Who prefer the negras, the morenas, the mulatas to the "blanquitas". And in certain contexts, commenting on race and their appreciation for the women with the African heritage is simply that- appreciation. And to tell a woman who is "white" that she moves or cooks or looks like a "sista" is meant as a compliment, that she has sabor above and beyond what they would expect from a "white" (regardless of ethnicity) girl.

(whether they SHOULD prefer these things is an issue Im not going to even get into. i certainly have my cultural preferences when it comes to men)

I think of the line in Under The Cherry Moon when Prince tells the girl"first you get loud, then you get BLACK". And I think of all the white American girls who shook off their middleclass white upbringing to scandalize their parents dancing to the sounds of Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker. A white girl when she walks in the club, a sista on the dance floor. I believe, like it or not, the theme of White Girl Who Listens to "Black" music and Becomes Temporarily Black (and therefore more interesting and sexual) is a popular one. Breakin? Dirty Dancing? The white guys on reality shows who are oh so straightlaced and white, but who suddenly BUST A MOVE and get down to hiphop and do it WELL.

I think of the reading I have done on dance that contrasts many European dances with African dances and the differences in posture, pelvic movement, shoulder and upper body movement. And in that context, it doesnt bother me to read those lyrics.

I meet colombianos, dominicanos and especially puerto rican men- young ones, who adore the morenas. Like their looks, style, how they speak, how they move. And theres no disrespect or dehumanization going on. They marry them, have children with them- the whole nine yards. (not saying by ANY means that marrying a woman indicates theres going to be respect involved. hah. my point is that they arent simply after the women for sex only to discard them later to marry someone with blue eyes and long flowing hair to have "pretty" babies with)

And of COURSE, considering the long history of objectification and exploitation of women of African ancestry, we have to stay on guard and make sure we arent falling into the Mandingo/a trap. The "mulata" as fetish. I would say there is a thin line between appreciation and objectification.

I wrote about Ivy Queen and the constant attacks on her appearance that HECK, what do we expect. Hector doesnt have to worry about being fat. Tego doesnt have to worry about having nappy hair. No one cares if Jon Erick has breasts. They get to jump on stage fully dressed while half naked girls cavort and provide the eye candy. She cant just perform, she also has to be a Sex Object. So I wont say there is no objectification of women, not at all.

I do worry. I also try to take it with a grain of salt and recognize that many young men in their crude vulgar way are expressing their appreciation for women of a certain type, often women who look like their very own mothers, sisters, nieces, cousins and so on. I try to not overanalyze everything and attempt to see it in the same vein as all the hype about blondes and redheads and beautiful blue eyes in other communities.

The race issue to me is less of a problem than the entire gender issue.
No real answers, just my musings.

Posted by Nina on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 6:36 AM
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Editor said...

Very very good analysis. Someone who spends alot of time thinking about reggaeton, like I do. I'll put in my two cents about the genre here.

In my opinion, the driving force behind mainstream reggaeton (for the artists) is 1-a desire to get out of poverty permanently and 2-lack of savvy (result of the education system).

I started listening to it back in 2005 because I just got sick of mainstream hip hop and I tend to gravitate towards non USA-mainland hip hop anyway because of my personal background. I am an educated woman so while I love the beats and rapping skills of the artists, some of the stuff they say is "off the chain" crazy.

So, why are they, the artists, doing this. Reggaeton world view (the denegration of women in general, the intense, singular interest in the mulata) is what they know, and what's more, they are especially good at conveying that point of view through their music. Furthermore, making Reggaeton for the mainstream market is what they are being TOLD that they are good at by record companies, execs, the media, the fans, it's how they are making a living. When I think of people of color being used for money like that, I always think about that line in Higher Learning where the runner tells Ice Cube's character that he is in college on scholarship (aka being PAID) because he can run and Cube's character looks at him and says "run N*gga run" (in other words, then do what you are told).--Remember, most of this mainstream reggaeton is being distributed by the infamous Universal Music and denegrating hip hop seems to be the only thing they'll sell.

Therefore, because of a lack of savvy (other than rapping and music producing), critical thinking skills, a limited world view, a lack of understanding of the past, they, the artists, persist in doing what they do.

As a spanish speaking, non-latino black woman, the genuine racism in the music is clear as day and I find it intriguing only because in a weird way, reggaeton opens a wide window to the past, to the plantation and it is really easy to see the tortured souls of our African and indigenous ancestors in these young men, who grow up in poverty (because rich kids Caribbean kids arent the ones making this music) have a desire to do better for themselves but because of centuries of psychological abuse by the dominant culture the only thing thing they have that is marketable is the degradation of their women...And, in that respect, Puerto Rican Reggaeton artists have everything in common with the 50cent, snoop doggs and ludacris' of the USA because up here, the black american s story is exactly the same, accept in English, and in my opinion, it is much much worse.

As a reggaeton listener, I listen because I like the beats, the artists have interesting stories, and there is alot of genuine artistry in their work. But again, it's that lack of consciousness and living the tortured dreams of our ancestors that brings out the racism and self-hate in much of the music.

Please keep me posted when your upcoming book on Reggaeton comes out. I'd love to read it.

Anonymous said...

stop bitchin its a song

Anonymous said...

What I notice about the Reggaeton videos isn't the presence of mulatas, but the presence of "hispanic" looking Latinas. In other words you don't really see brown women with curly/wavy hair, but lots of tanned looking white women, brunettes, that look like they could be maybe Latina but not specifically Dominican. Now I know that is a tricky description, but what I mean to say is that a mulata has African heritage, clearly. The women in Reggaeton videos look like a generic Miss Universe Latina. The same look-tan skin, with straight black hair. They look more mestizo in the Mexican sense than anything else, but not at all mulata.

Raquel Z. Rivera said...

Excellent point, Anonymous, about the "Latina Miss Universe" phenomenon.