(For those who prefer to read in Spanish: Haga click aquí para acceder directamente a la página de El Diario / La Prensa con la versión en español publicada como mi columna de hoy, 8 de agosto de 2007.)
Casa de Leones' “No te veo” has been one of the summer's reggaeton hits. Initially a Jowell and Randy song, the new version features Jowell, Randy, Guelo Star, Maximan and J-King. Last time I checked, it had made it to #1 on the Billboard Latin Rhythm Charts and to #4 in the Latin Charts. The album debuted at #3 in the U.S. National Sales Charts.
I first heard it on MUN2. I liked its playful visual aesthetics and, especially, the ocean view from above the Old San Juan stone wall (where I've witnessed so many sundowns). I was intrigued that the song, produced by DJ Blass, didn't have the usual dembow percussive pattern that has given reggaeton one of its most distinctive qualities. I was even more intrigued that one of the singers at one point raps: “Ma, no te vas/ baila la soca.” (Ma, you're not leaving/ dance that soca.") I wondered: Why the mention of that other Caribbean genre that is soca? Is it just that it rhymes easily with "tu boca y mi boca" or is it an explicit statement about the song attempting to go beyond the usual reggaeton frontiers?
In search of a better informed ear than mine, I asked DJ and ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall. He responded via his blog: "Although 'No Te Veo' will no doubt be heard as reggaeton by most listeners (and promoted as such by Los Leones), the underlying track differs from most reggaeton productions in some significant ways. For one, it’s much faster: whereas typical reggaeton tracks tend to hover around 90-100 beats per minute, 'No Te Veo' clocks in at around 120 bpm, which makes it sound and feel closer to house, techno, soca, and other club/dance music (especially with the thumping kick drum on every beat). The other significant departure is the role of the snare drum. Rather than tracing out the standard 'dembow' pattern (boom-ch-boom-chick), the snare drum here plays something closer to a 3:2 clave, emphasizing the upbeats in the second half of the measure rather than repeating that classic Caribbean polyrhythm that reggaeton shares with dancehall and many other regional dance styles."
Wayne posted the above and other thoughts regarding the song in his blog and got fascinating feedback from his readers. I'm particularly intrigued by the sonic connections they've been drawing to continental African pop and its circulation and re-circulation in the African diaspora in the Americas.
So the bottom line is that "No te veo" is not the typical reggaeton. But, as Wayne explained to me, neither is it the typical soca either. And it remains to be seen if other artists will end up patterning their music after this song.
Should we be calling this song "reggaeton" considering it breaks with some of the most basic musical conventions that have become associated with the genre? In a previous post titled "(post-)reggaeton," Wayne expressed hesitance to call anything post-reggaeton. I agree. Considering the shifting trends and "omnivorous" (great adjective, Wayne) qualities of reggaeton, it seems best (particularly for music and cultural critics) to avoid imposing definitions on the genre.
If the core artists and audiences say this is reggaeton, then I'm not about to say otherwise. On this, it's better to just listen and dance.