Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Puerto Rico: More Than Reggaeton?

(If you would rather read in Spanish, haz click aquí para leer la versión de este blog que se publicó como mi columna de hoy 15 de agosto de 2007 en el periódico nuyorquino El Diario / La Prensa.)

A few days ago, an Associated Press article came out with the subtitle “Puerto Rico es mucho más que reggaetón” (Puerto Rico is much more than reggaeton).

"Puerto Rico is a country in great need of new things and it’s very important that new artists come out and demonstrate they do something that is not reggaeton,” said Kany García, a twenty-five year old Puerto Rican pop singer-songwriter who is currently promoting her debut album with Sony-BMG.

Kany García’s comment reminded me of an article by the renowned Puerto Rican writer Juan Antonio Ramos, published a few months ago in the island newspaper El Nuevo Día.

In the article, titled "Puerto Rico: ¿reguetón?", Ramos responds to comments made by a “blond Mexican singer” who he never mentions by name. The singer in question explained during an interview aired on Puerto Rican TV that her decision to include a reggaeton song in her latest album was an homage to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. “It is very clear that reggaeton belongs to you Puerto Ricans. It was born here. To say reggaeton is to say Puerto Rico,” said the singer (in Spanish, of course).

Juan Antonio Ramos begins his analysis of the singer’s comments by marveling at how much the perception and reception of reggaeton has changed: “Five or seven years ago, such a statement would have been interpreted not only as an unfortunate mistake, but as a monumental insult to the dignity of the Puerto Rican people.”

“Reggaeton’s success has been such that it no longer has any enemies,” writes Ramos, clearly annoyed by what he perceives as a generalized unwillingness to challenge reggaeton publicly anymore. “It would not be exaggerated to say that to condemn reggaeton has become a sacrilege. It’s almost equivalent to being a bad Puerto Rican,” Ramos adds.

Kany García’s and Juan Antonio Ramos’ observations have left me wondering about the whys and hows of reggaeton’s speedy trajectory from the margins and toward the center. Previously persecuted and severely marginalized, reggaeton is currently enthroned in the commercial Boricua music scene as the hen that lays the golden eggs.

It is fascinating that a genre whose primary musical lineage arrived to Puerto Rico not long ago from Jamaica, Panama and the United States (and is still tied to musical innovations in these places), is today seen by many as unquestionably “belonging to Puerto Ricans,” “born in Puerto Rico” and synonymous with the “Puerto Rican nation.” And I’m extremely intrigued that while critics like Kany García and Juan Antonio Ramos perceive reggaeton as a force that has monopolized the Puerto Rican music scene, many reggaetoneros claim that they are still marginalized (socially and musically) in the Island.

So which is it? Is reggaeton still the victim of marginalization in Puerto Rico? Or is reggaeton the “dominant culture” and music of modern day Puerto Rico that is now marginalizing other cultural expressions?

My gut tells me both are true at the same time. But my thoughts are still half-baked and need a lot of work. More soon.

No comments: