Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Reggaeton book will be out early 09

The co-edited book I've been working on with Wayne Marshall and Deborah Pacini Hernandez is scheduled for release next Spring! Check page 1 of Duke University Press' Spring catalogue or click on the image below to make it larger:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Latinos & the N-Word

Click here to check Raquel Cepeda's article in this week's Village Voice titled "The N-Word is Flourishing Among Generation Hip-Hop Latinos." It brings up great points about race and class. For example: "The palpable racial tension that's been rearing its head this historic presidential election, the subject of race and who is truly considered black or white in this black-and-white race, is something Latinos need to pay attention to. For many of us, especially those of Caribbean descent who make up a sizable chunk of New York Latinos, race should matter, and so should that one particular word."

Then she has some amazing quotes, such as this gem from Immortal Technique: "The European Spaniards have left a legacy of self-hatred and racism among the Latino population; without acknowledging that, we will not evolve past our own inequity," says Immortal Technique, an Afro-Peruvian hip-hop artist who also uses the n-word. "Racism in America, as horrible and ugly as it may be, still isn't as bad as what it is in Latin America, and the sad part is that we are being racist against ourselves."

Immortal Technique

I'm extremely pleased by the always necessary reminder that the so-called Latin American racial democracy is just a myth. I also appreciate Cepeda's use of the term "Afro-Latino" to mean not just a child of African American and Latino parents... but a child of Latino parents who are also part of the African diaspora.

And, I can't lie, I was caught off guard (and got very happy) by the shoutout to my book: "With few exceptions within our community—Raquel Rivera's 2003 book New York Ricans From the Hip Hop Zone devoted prime real estate to the discussion of Latino identity in hip-hop—this is a conversation we've failed to have, whatever our personal feelings."

So what do you think? Do you agree that "the profusion of the word into the New York City Latino vocabulary is reaching an almost caricaturist quality"? Is the way Latinos are using the word today different from the way they used it years back? Why use the word at all? Why not use it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Reggaeton Vote

Click here to check out a great article by Marisol LeBrón posted on the North American Congress on Latin America's website. It's titled "The Reggaetón Factor in the U.S. Elections".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Article on Reggaeton & Urban Aesthetics/Policy

Folks doing research on reggaeton will have noticed there are few academic articles on the subject. But, thanks to Zaire Dinzey-Flores, we have one more article to add to the slowly growing list.

It's titled “De la Disco al Caserío: Urban Spatial Aesthetics and Policy to the Beat of Reggaetón” and it appears in the latest issue of the Centro Journal XX (2): 34-69, 2008.

Dinzey-Flores writes the following abstract for her article:

"Conversing with urban sociological theories, and relying on a content analysis of the songs’ lyrics, this essay exposes the 'urban spatial aesthetics' of reggaetón. The paper examines the particular views of the city that reggaetón makes public and the policy manifestations of these representations. I exhibit the reggaetoneros’ lyrical construct of an urban socio-spatial community actualized between the disco, the barrio, the caseríos and the street. I show that the lyrical profile of reggaetón underscores poverty, violence, masculinity, and race as vital constructs of an authentically urban experience. The environmental elements and themes display an aesthetic that recognizes the city as dualistically liberating and constraining; an aesthetic identified here in the 'blin-blin' sensibilities. I conclude suggesting that reggaetoneros have made public the plight of the urban poor in Puerto Rico and unearthed their potentials, becoming socio-political ambassadors who calibrate the urban policy frames in Puerto Rico."

The Centro Journal is available in libraries or through the Centro website.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talento de Barrio

Yesterday, I went to see Daddy Yankee's Talento de Barrio—the movie that he stars in and for which he served as executive producer. It was a huge hit in Puerto Rico and opened in New York and Los Angeles last Friday. (According to EFE news agency, the film generated $1.4 million and was seen by 280,000 people in Puerto Rico during it's first month.)

I expected to hate it. But I didn't.

O.k., so I found the music uninspiring. The script mostly sucked (specially the dique romantic parts). The acting was often weak (though Daddy Yankee was much better than I thought he would be).

But still, I actually enjoyed the movie. Unlike Illegal Tender and Feel the Noise, where almost everything felt extremely artificial and over the top, there was something about the images in Talento de Barrio (cliched as they often were) and speech patterns (stunted by the weak script as they were) that actually FELT like Puerto Rico. Those shots of the "Valle Verde" housing project in the middle of green mountains, the tender conversations between the main character Edgar Dinero and his hardworking mom, maybe even the simple fact that the movie was all delivered in Puerto Rican Spanish (minus a few affectations, like Soribel's misplaced, ultra-corrected "s")... Little details like that conspired so that I wouldn't hate the movie.

Granted, I won't argue with the reviewers that trashed it.

The Village Voice's Tim Grierson, for example, said:

"When conservative watchdogs snarl about the ugliness of gangsta rap, Talento de Barrio might be what they picture in their head—a vile, stupid, violent-crime drama that would be laughable if its content wasn't so toxic. Drug boss Edgar Dinero (reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, who mostly glowers) prowls the gritty streets of Puerto Rico and dreams of becoming a rapper. Directed limply by José Iván Santiago, Talento de Barrio lustfully idolizes its shallow, gun-toting bad boy, as can be witnessed by the disinterested lip service given to crime's downside and a particularly risible moment when Edgar carts out the old "the whole world's corrupt" justification during a brief monologue. Reggaeton's success was due to its Latin-influenced reinvention of commercial hip-hop's sonic palette, but Yankee's vanity project resorts to every rap-music-video cliché to tell the umpteenth story of a young tough who has to choose between burgeoning stardom and the "reality" of the 'hood. Talento de Barrio sells Yankee's fans a fantasy of hot babes, cool cars, and an endless supply of fresh threads—just so long as you don't get killed first, of course. Which would be a total drag, because then who's gonna buy his records?"

Meanwhile, the New York Times' Neil Genzlinger said:

"Some rappers have shown themselves to be adept actors as well, and now Daddy Yankee, a big star in the related musical genre of reggaetón, takes his big-screen shot in “Talento de Barrio.” Unfortunately, any acting skills he might have — and it looks as if he might well have some — are powerless against the thudding cliché of a script he is saddled with. [...] He has a loving mother, he is protective of his sister, and he has aspirations that go beyond gangsterism: to be a reggaetón star, of course. But his criminal life has a gravitational pull that keeps sucking him back in. The violence-laden story, such as it is, is ineptly stitched together; it’s unclear who is shooting at whom and why; and the dialogue seldom advances beyond “Yo, dog” and “Whassup?” The soundtrack is the only draw here."

I agree with the reviewers. The movie is not a good one. But I have to admit it gave me a little taste of images and sounds that I've been hungry for. Meager (and inept) as that little taste was... I ate it up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Ninguno" (NoOne) for Office

"Ninguno, el candidato de los hip-hoppers... Vota por NINGUNO!!!!" So reads the caption that Puerto Rico-based hip-hop artist Sietenueve posted on the image above via his myspace page. (Click here for a larger image.)

Now in Englich, the caption reads: "NoOne, the hip-hopper's candidate... Vote for NoOne!!!"

See, this is my kind of political campaign. If I'm going to be bombarded by all this electoral madness... I'm so glad these folks in Puerto Rico are making a critical intervention AND providing some comedy relief by proposing that concerned citizens go vote for "Ninguno" as their write-in candidate..

Sietenueve, along with Jerry Ferrao y los pleneros de Ninguno and other artists, are joining the Comité de Amigos de Ninguno (Friends of NoOne Commitee) today at 5pm in this witty campaign for "Ninguno". (At the Centro de Convenciones parking lot in San Juan, right next to the place where the 4 candidates for governor will be debating tonight... moderation courtesy of none other than Daddy Yankee.)

The "Ninguno for Governor" campaign is the brainchild of the political theater group Papel Machete. For more on the campaign click here.

I'm sold on Ninguno! Everyone makes promises... Ninguno delivers.

Black On Both Sides - October 11

"Are you Black or Latino?" Ha! I love this event's answer: Black AND Latino. Black on Both Sides.

Black on Both Sides brings together a cross-generational line-up that includes hip hop pioneers and emerging artists for critical conversation and performance. Panelists will include DJ Laylo, Ariel Fernandez, Black Artemis, Carlos REC McBride, Frank Lopez, Rokafella and more.

Free and open to the public. Due to limited space, we ask that you pre-register by sending an email to:

This event is organized by the afrolatin@ forum in collaboration with the Hip Hop Theater Festival, the Hip Hop Association, and New York University's Center for Multicultural Education and Programs and in association with the Caribbean Cultural Center, African Diaspora Institute. It is co-sponsored by Africana Studies and Latino Studies at NYU, the Schomburg Center and the Columbia University Latino Heritage Month Committee.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gender, Blogging and Pedagogy

Yesterday, September 18th, I did a lecture at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania titled From Hip-Hop to Reggaeton: Gender, Blogging and Pedagogy. The students were sharp, very engaged and gave me a lot of food for thought on a topic that has been obsessing me as of late. Here is the article published by Swarthmore's Daily Gazette.

Hip Hop to Reggaeton

By Alexandria Placido
1:23 am - 09/19/08

Raquel Rivera, Ph.D, Research Fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, delivered a lecture on Thursday, September 18th entitled From Hip Hop to Reggaeton: Gender, Blogging, and Pedagogy.

The talk, which was part of the Latino Heritage Month events, focused upon Dr. Rivera’s struggle with the representations of gender in the hip hop and reggaeton communities, as well as her use of blogging as an “outlet” to tackle these difficult issues, “It’s so difficult to talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom, that’s why I started to blog,” she explained.

Born in Puerto Rico, and a resident of New York City since 1994, Rivera is the author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, which was published in 2003, and is currently co-editing the anthology, Reading Reggaeton: Historical, Aesthetic and Critical Perspectives. She is also an accomplished freelance writer, with essays appearing in Vibe, Urban Latino, The San Juan Star, El Nuevo Dia, and One World, to name a few. A former founding member of Yerbabuena, a Boricua roots music group, Rivera currently works with the bomba group Alma Moyo, as well as being a founding member of Yaya, a women’s collective dedicate to Dominican salves and Puerto Rican bomba.

While teaching a class on hip hop and reggaeton in 2006, Dr. Rivera realized that many students felt that they could not express their real opinions about gender relations as related to these musical styles, and instead they obligingly parroted politically correct phrases that denounced the objectification of women.

The Swarthmore students assembled for the discussion agreed, citing a “level of disengagement” on campus. It is this exact problem that troubles Rivera, that “we keep talking past each other” when discussing the portrayal of women in popular music videos and media. “The problem is not explicit sex,” she explained, “it’s sexism,” and asked the assembled students for their opinions. A topic of particular interest is the mixed feelings many female students feel as they are torn between liking a song’s beat, but not the message.

Rivera agreed and called for “a diversity in the images we consume” that can portray the many nuances of femininity. She pointed out that sexism is a “systematic problem,” and encouraged students to devote themselves to combating these issues.

The assembled crowd enjoyed Rivera’s engaging speaking style, which was informal and encouraged discussion and questions. Using an array of media examples, including music videos, documentaries, and her own blog entries, Rivera engaged her audience; Cecilia Marquez (’11) says, “I thought she was a really powerful speaker. She talked about a lot of things relevant to this community.”

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fat Joe Calls Daddy Yankee a Sellout for Endorsing McCain

MTV reported yesterday that Fat Joe said via a phone interview from Denver, where he was attending the Democratic National Convention:

"I opened the newspaper and got sick to my stomach[...]. I felt like I wanted to vomit when I seen that. The reason why I called [Daddy Yankee] a sellout is because I feel he did that for a [publicity] look, rather than the issues that are affecting his people that look up to him. How could you want John McCain in office when George Bush and the Republicans already have half a million people losing their homes in foreclosure? We're fighting an unjust war. It's the Latinos and black kids up in the frontlines, fighting that war. ... We over here trying to take the troops out of Iraq and bring peace. This guy immediately wants war. If not with Iraq or Afghanistan, he'll start a new one with Iran. I feel real disgusted that Daddy Yankee would do that. Either he did that for a look, or he's just not educated on politics."

"Like I said, with me, my whole philosophy on blacks and Latinos is: We're all one[...] We're in the same ghettos, same inner cities, and we're suffering from the same problems. Every problem the blacks have, the Latinos have. There's two systems of health care: the one for the rich that's really good, then there's the one for the inner city, where they leave ladies in the emergency room unattended for 24 hours until they drop dead. ... People don't even check on her hours after she's dead. This is normal stuff. This is what's happening in the U.S."

"Why should my man Daddy Yankee be endorsing McCain? This is the only urban guy in the universe to endorse John McCain. You got people who look up to [Yankee] — young teenagers that look up to him and might make the wrong choice. John McCain is the wrong thing to do. I don't think the Republicans care much about minorities. I can't believe [Yankee] went and endorsed this guy."

I have to say: I don't think I ever heard Fat Joe make so much sense.

Oh, and on rumors that Daddy Yankee tried endorsing Obama first, but was turned down by the Obama campaign, check: El Nuevo Día, Fox News, and Blabbeando.

And one more thing about the ironies of these debates: Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico may be U.S. citizens but they can't vote in presidential elections. For a classist but witty take on this by fake news outlet El Ñame (kinda like The Onion, but starchy), check the post: "Daddy Yankee Endosa a McCain; Cacos Ya Saben Por Quién NO Podrán Ir a Votar". Now in Inglich: "Daddy Yankee Endorses McCain; Thugs Now Know Who They WON'T Be Able to Vote For."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not all Latinos Support Abuelo Yankee

O.k., so Daddy Yankee announced this week that he supports Abuelo Yankee John McCain. (Witticism courtesy of poet/scholar Urayoán Noel.") (Further commentary on the endorsement by Marisol LeBron, Blabbeando and El Nuevo Día.)

Somehow, with all that back and forth of commentary on yesterday's blog post, I forgot one important detail. With all this discussion about Daddy Yankee and reggaeton's conservative potential and Latinos having anti-black tendencies... I forgot reggaetoneros/raperos Don Omar and Julio Voltio (among plenty of other Latino artists) endorsed Obama.

So we do have to be critical of the knee-jerk anti-blackness of many self-identified Latinos. But we also have to keep in mind those Latinos that have decided to support the Obama campaign. Lets take this video as an example: Alejandro Sanz, Paulina Rubio, John Leguizamo, Jessica Alba, Kate del Castillo, Cucu Diamantes (Yerba Buena), Pedro Martinez (Yerba Buena), Andres Levin (Yerba Buena), George Lopez, Luis Guzman, Don Omar, Voltio, Lila Downs, Lin Manuel Miranda, Frankie Needles, Huey Dunbar, Nydia Caro, Ivonne Caro Caro, Brazilian Girls, Carlos Marín and family, Carola Gonzalez, Viva Nativa, Jose Alberti...

Please lets not make Daddy Yankee more of a posterboy than he already is!

On a related note, I found Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's good critical take on a New York Times story on Obama and the Latino vote. "There are many things to admire about the New York Times. A complex and nuanced understanding of the vast diversity of Latino America is not among those things.[...] The sloppy, inaccurate story goes on for 32 agonizing paragraphs, using the terms 'black' and 'Latino' as though they were mutually exclusive – which they are not. Historians estimate that 95 percent of the African slave trade to the Americas took place in Latin America. [...] The story also erroneously portrays Latinos as a race unto themselves - an error egregious enough to be stated in our own census bureau's definition of Hispanic as a person 'of any race'. Including 'black'." And she writes plenty of other good stuff.

And one more thing, my little brother asked (after reading yesterday's blog) what I thought, in a nutshell, about all these political/electoral debates: "de ke se trata eso? ke piensas de eso?" So let me just say...

bueno, ya tu sabes: yo soy del Partido Contra los Cabrones. así que los políticos no son mi gente favorita. pero entre Obama y McCain, Obama es mejor por mucho. Bueno, quizás no por tanto, pero es que McCain es un verdadero espanto. McCain representa los intereses más anti-ecológicos, pro-guerra, pro-grandes negocios, pro-ricos, conservadores.

(well, you know: I'm from the Party Against the Cabrones [I don't have a good translation for that, sorry]. Politicians are not my favorite people.... but between Obama and McCain, Obama is better by far. Well, maybe not that far, but McCain is truly truly a nightmare. McCain represents the most anti-ecological, pro-war, pro-big business, pro-richfolks, conservative interests.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Daddy Yankee Endorses John McCain

Well this all gives me a new perspective on that silly slogan in Puerto Rico calling for the youth vote: "Vota o quédate callao" (Vote or Shut Up).

Now that Daddy Yankee has decided to endorse McCain, all that rings through my mind is the second half: Quédate callao.

Check "Election Time WTF" and "Daddy Yankee Go Home" for a bit of scathing commentary. I'm looking forward to reading more. Let me know if you have or find any.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton's Rough Road to Glory

Two years ago I was interviewed for a documentary about the rise of reggaeton in Puerto Rico. Well, it has finally been released.

Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton’s Rough Road to Glory premiered on MUN2 last Thursday, July 31, 2008. It aired again Saturday, August 2. And, as of yesterday August 5th, the documentary is officially on sale.

The documentary may not be “the definitive story of reggaetón” (as the website claims), but it certainly seems to be the first large-scale, bona-fide documentary on the music genre. (And if you know of good documentaries on reggaeton that have not had mass media exposure, PLEASE let me know. I would love to spread the word.)

Sure, The Chosen Few: El Documental filled the void for quite a few years. But, lets be honest, as fascinating as much of the artists’ commentary was in that 2005 production, the effort was more of a hybrid documentary/infomercial than usual.

I really appreciate Straight Outta Puerto Rico’s emphasis on the social context out of which reggaeton came about in the 1990s in Puerto Rico. (Surprise, surprise—I’m a sociologist.) Of course, the interest this emphasis generates and the motives behind it are not just sociological/historical. This chosen focus also has a lot to do with the market appeal of a story featuring the drugs/money/violence bochinche factor.

The way that MUN2 promoted the documentary in was telling: “Drugs, Money, Reggaetón” was part of the title. And the preview clip that they chose to feature “explores why many early reggaetón artists' careers were funded by drug dealers.”

Visit page on mun2

Now, on to other stuff I liked about the documentary. Due credit is given to Jamaican and Panamanian reggae. But then the story concentrates on Puerto Rico, no apologies made. Good. I’m usually hyper-sensitive to folks that claim that reggaeton is ONLY Puerto Rican. I’m just as hyper-sensitive to folks that claim that reggaeton IS NOT Puerto Rican. It’s a tired, heated, stale debate that I hope dies a quick and spectacular death. But this documentary does not go to either extreme. What a relief!

I may be no expert in camera work, but I found quite a few shots looking cheapy and/or sloppy. And the news footage featuring dead bodies and bloody survivors struck me as overdone.

I asked filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner (and my co-author for a NACLA journal article we titled “Reggaeton Nation”) for her impressions of the documentary in a nutshell. She writes: “Straight Outta Puerto Rico glosses over all of the hot button issues that come with reggaeton: poverty, racism, and misogyny. But like reggaeton itself, the film beats to the idea that there's more to music that meets the ear, and that finding out where music comes from is a vital way to make sense of ourselves and the world.”

Straight Outta Puerto Rico actually coincides with many of the points Frances and I made in the NACLA journal article. But it is so extremely powerful to see the stories and analysis right from the artists' mouths. And even better is to see the old music footage featuring Vico C, Ranking Stone, Chezina and many more artists. This documentary definitely includes some amazing historical gems!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I (finally!) managed to make time to read Karrine Steffans Confessions of a Video Vixen (2005). I know... I'm way behind on the times, since she already put out the sequel—The Vixen Diaries (2007).

Do I recommend it? Well... yes, if you're interested in a first-person narrative (carefully crafted for pop appeal) of gender power dynamics in the music industry or if you're interested in how pain and self-hatred inform the decisions of this particular "video vixen." It's no literary jewel. But I'm glad I read it. It has given me a lot of food for thought.

And it also made me wish that a man in the hip-hop industry would have the guts to tell a similar tale (but from a male perspective)—a story that focuses on how much of the swaggering, partying, womanizing and posturing is, deep down, informed by a pain and self-hatred so similar to Karrine Steffans... so similar to the pain and self-hatred most of us battle.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reggaeton in Utah

Click here for a 5/5/08 article (where I'm quoted) about reggaeton in Salt Lake City, Utah, prompted by Ivy Queen's upcoming show this Friday at the E Center.

The article is neither extensive nor groundbreaking (actually, it's a bit confusing/misleading on the terminological/historical tip... then again, it is a tricky history to convey). But it's still fascinating and indicative of where the media and market are at with respect to reggaeton, starting with the title of the piece, which doesn't actually mention the name of the genre but instead reads "Hip-hop-influenced genre is on the rise and DJ hopes Utah takes notice."

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video - a review

Here's a fragment of a review I just wrote of Sut Jhally's documentary Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video (2007). I'm sure a lot of folks will find this documentary insightful and useful... so I won't wait until the review is out in print to give you the scoop.

By the way, Sut Jhally is the Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation, the institution responsible for producing this documentary and many others—including Byron Hurt's groundbreaking piece on hip-hop and masculinity titled Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes.

Here's the trailer:

Here's my review:

Dreamworlds 3 is focused on analyzing how music videos both inform and are informed by our culture’s dominant attitudes regarding femininity, masculinity, sexuality and race. One of this documentary’s strongest points is its close attention to music video’s “storytelling techniques,” not only in terms of its lyrics and images, but also in terms of filmic techniques (camera angles and movement, for example) and the stories that these tecniques tell. Other strengths include its discussion of how the “pornographic imagination” and the porn industry inform music videos, as well as its portrayal of music videos as a constructed “fantasy” and “dreamworld” that is not the “real world” but is still in constant dialogue with it.

Another of Dreamworld 3’s crucial contributions to making more productive the often sterile dialogue surrounding gender and popular culture, is its framing of the question of sexism, not by asking if an image is “good or bad,” but through an analysis of whose stories are being told and how. According to the documentary, the problem is not that there is too much sex in music videos, but that there is no diversity in the stories being told since they are monopolized by the “heterosexual male imagination.” Furthermore, the documentary makes it very clear that female objectification itself is not the problem; the problem is that females are only being portrayed as objects. Once again, the key issue for Jhally is the lack of diversity in how gender is represented.

Though the aims and strategies of hyper-sexualizing women in music videos are thoroughly covered, one is left wondering how (and if) sexualization and objectification works in terms of images of men. The question of how women viewers receive and respond to all this imagery is also left somewhat unclear. Surely, it is the male heterosexist pornographic imagination constructing the dreamworlds of music videos “to draw in male viewers.” But what about women? What are the details of their attraction, repulsion and/or indifference to hyper-sexualized images (of women, of men)? How are their responses different from those of (most) men? But frankly, faulting the documentary for failing to hone in on these questions seems like nitpicking, given all that it does do.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reggaeton: Allegedly Puerto Rican

The article "Ritmo boricua que mueve al mundo entero" (Boricua Rhythm that Moves the Whole World) published yesterday February 27 in the newspaper Primera Hora in Puerto Rico seems to assume that the sun rises and sets right above the island.

(This is the photo that accompanies the article, bearing the caption: "Don Omar is one of the most popular reggaeton artists in and outside of Puerto Rico.")

According to the article, reggaeton is a "provocative rhythm that was born in the minds and hands of a group of Boricua youngsters a bit over two decades ago." It also states that "initially, reggaeton became one of the most favored genres thanks to pioneers like Vico C, who distinguishes himself through his clean lyrics and social critiques."

There seems to be a huge confusion here. First, Vico initially did rap/hip-hop, not reggaeton. Second, Vico made his initial fame on the street thanks to the dirtiest, wittiest lyrics. Third, the "rhythm" that has characterized reggaeton arrived in Puerto Rico via Panama's reggae in Spanish and Jamaica's dancehall reggae.

It's true that in Puerto Rico it was given a new name, new life, unique characteristics and that from there it jumped to international stardom. But to attribute reggaeton's "birth" to Puerto Rican youth without taking into account the wider Caribbean context perpetuates the isolation and "insularism" of Puerto Ricans. That's not cool. Puerto Rico is wonderful, a "chulería," but it's not the world's bellybutton!

As I told one of my readers in the Spanish version of this post, the problem is not saying that reggaeton is Boricua. The problem is saying that it is ONLY Boricua. Or that its origins are SOLELY Boricua.

Reggaeton is Boricua. But we have to share the credit for its creation and birth.

I like to think of cultural practices in their multiple dimensions. And I also like it when we can share the credit (or the blame) with all of those that deserve it. I find it useful, empowering, inspiring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reguetón: ritmo dizque boricua

El artículo "Ritmo boricua que mueve al mundo entero" que fue publicado hoy 27 de febrero en el periódico Primera Hora de Puerto Rico como que peca de asumir que el sol sale y se pone justo encima de la isla.

(Esta es la foto que acompaña el artículo con el calce: "Don Omar es uno de los exponentes de reguetón más populares dentro y fuera de Puerto Rico.")

Según el artículo, el reguetón es un "ritmo provocador que nació de las mentes y manos de un grupo de jóvenes boricuas hace poco más de dos décadas." Además afirma que "inicialmente, el reguetón logró colocarse entre los favoritos gracias al trabajo de pioneros como Vico C, quien se destaca por sus letras limpias y denuncia social."

Aquí hay como que hay una gran confusión. Primero, que lo que hacía Vico inicialmente era rap/hip-hop y no reguetón. Segundo, que Vico primero se popularizó en la calle a mitad de los 80 con las letras más sucias (e ingeniosas) que ha parido madre. Tercero, que el "ritmo" que caracteriza el reguetón llegó a Puerto Rico via el "reggae en español" de Panamá y el "dancehall reggae" de Jamaica.

Cierto es que en Puerto Rico se le dió nuevo nombre, nueva vida, características particulares y de ahí saltó a la fama mundial. Pero eso de atribuirle el "nacimiento" del reguetón a jóvenes boricuas sin tomar en cuenta el contexto caribeño más amplio perpetúa el aislamiento y el insularismo boricua. Eso como que no brega. Puerto Rico será una chulería, pero ¡no es el ombligo del mundo!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Y vuelven las Nikes macheteras

Con motivo de la primera vez que se exhibe en Puerto Rico la obra Filiberto Ojeda Uptowns / Machetero Air Force Ones del artista Miguel Luciano, decidí someterle al periódico Claridad un artículo sobre las tenis. No sólo lo publicaron inmediatamente, sino que usaron las imágenes de la obra para la portada de la revista cultural En Rojo y también para la portada del periódico.

Haz click aquí para leer el artículo de Claridad.

Como el sitio web de Claridad no tiene la opción para que los lectores dejen comentarios, ofrezco este blog como alternativa, si alguien se inspira.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Vote or shut up?

(This is the English version of the blog I posted yesterday in Spanish.)

If the 2004 P. Diddy-driven “Vote or Die” campaign can be criticized for a sloppy slogan and design, the just-launched campaign for the youth vote in Puerto Rico, “Vota o quédate calla’o,” is equally (if not more) sloppy.

A bit over two weeks ago, this TV commercial aired in Puerto Rico, featuring Daddy Yankee, baseball player Carlos Delgado, singer Janina, volleyball player Karina Ocasio, basketball player José Juan Barea and Rocky “The Kid.”

Here is a hasty transcription/translation of what the commercial says:

There are more than 700,000 Puerto Ricans between the ages of 18 and 35. In 1980, elections were decided by 3,000 votes. In 2004, by 3,500 votes in 8,000 poll sites. Less than one vote per poll site made the difference. One vote per poll site! That means that your vote is worth a lot. So much so that, with it, our country's history is written. You have until January 19 to register. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Or stay silent.

I didn’t know about the commercial until I read an excellent article by Rafah Acevedo in this week’s Claridad titled “Voto cuando las gallinas meen...”. The title is a play on the popular saying about children being allowed to speak only when hens pee… in other words, never. In the article, Acevedo says that, though the campaign claims to be stimulating youth to use their right to voice their opinions through the vote, in the end, the campaign actually silences young people.

I love the peeing chicken illustration and the author’s critical perspectives. Click here to read the entire article.

I’ll give the campaign the benefit of the doubt and assume that there are good intentions behind it. Of course it sounds great, that whole business about getting young folks motivated to be involved in their country’s affairs, to exercise their right to vote. But what happens when the candidates are a bunch of liars, thieves and clowns? What happens when our only option is to choose among candidates that are (to quote my currently favorite Tego song) “ni fú ni fá”? What are we asking young people to do? To be thankful for the opportunity to choose among two or three weak candidates since that is their only chance to intervene in their country’s affairs?

But that’s not true! Voting is not the only (or, often times, even the best) way to voice our concerns or participate in positive social change.

That phrase they picked as the campaign’s slogan is horrible, but an excellent example of how the campaign is misleading: “Vota o quédate calla'o.” Do they mean that not voting is like not speaking, something like “Vote or be silent”? Or do they actually mean “Vote or shut up”? (As if, if you don’t vote, you have no right to an opinion about what goes down.)

Since this campaign seems to take its cues from its “Vote or Die” U.S.-based predecessor, here are some critical approaches to the older campaign: Radio commentary by Davey D and a video featuring artists M-1, David Banner, Juvenile and others:

I confess that, if things keep going the way they are here in the States, this year (for the second time in my life) I’ll grit my teeth and vote for the president for the same reason I voted in 2004: I don’t like Democrats, but I fear Republicans.

But that is simply my (somewhat tragic) decision based on strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils.

I won’t hold it against anybody if they don’t vote, as long as they do it because they care and not because they don’t. And, most importantly, I hope that if they don’t vote, they make sure they DON’T SHUT UP.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

¿Vota o quédate callao?

Hace varias semanas, se estrenó este anuncio en Puerto Rico, featuring Daddy Yankee, el pelotero Carlos Delgado, la cantante Janina, la volibolista Karina Ocasio, el baloncelista José Juan Barea y el locutor Rocky “The Kid.”

No me había enterado del dichoso anuncio hasta que vi un ingenioso artículo de Rafah Acevedo en Claridad titulado “Voto cuando las gallinas meen...”.

Me reí muchísimo con la ilustración y me pareció un acercamiento crítico muy bueno. Haga click aquí para leer el artículo completo.

Concuerdo con Acevedo que esta es una campaña publicitaria que urge a los jóvenes a poner en práctica “esa libertad flaquita que les han regalado.”

Voy a darle el beneficio de la duda a la campaña y decir que quizás hasta cierto punto es bien intencionada. ¡Claro que suena muy bonito eso de animar a los jovenes a preocuparse por los asuntos de su país, a ejercer su derecho al voto! ¿Pero y qué pasa cuando los candidatos son casi igualmente paqueteros, raqueteros, velagüiras? ¿Qué pasa cuando ninguno de los candidatos vale la pena? ¿Qué pasa cuando la única opción es escoger entre candidatos que (para citar mi actualmente favorita canción de Tego) “ni fú ni fá”? ¿Entonces qué les estamos pidiendo a los jóvenes que hagan? ¿Que se conformen con uno de dos o tres candidatos flojos porque hasta ahí llega su derecho de intervenir en los asuntos del país?

Nacarile del oriente. Ni fú ni fá.

Esa frasesita que escogieron como el tema de campaña me parece bastante terrorífica, por cierto: “Vota o quédate calla'o.” ¿Querrán decir que no votar es como quedarse callao? ¿O será que si no votas, entonces no tienes derecho de opinar sobre lo que pasa? ¡Uy! Cual de las dos opciones más engañosa.

¿Votar por uno de los candidatos que perpetuará el miserable estatus quo? ¿O será mejor organizarnos como grupo de presión más allá de las urnas electorales para realizar cambios fundamentales en la manera en que se dirige el país? No es que estas opciones sean mutuamente exclusivas, pero si me dan a escoger una de las dos, voto por la segunda. Acevedo también:

“Sería más práctico que 700 mil jóvenes actuaran democráticamente para defenestrar la clase política puertorriqueña y convertirse en un extraordinario grupo de presión. Así, en vez de votar cada cuatro años para que las cosas permanezcan igual, organizarse para evitar que la religión fundamentalista y el político taimado decidan hasta la legitimidad del modo en el que uno decide unirse a otra persona o el modo en el que uno se coloca en la cama en el ejercicio de la gozosa desnudez, 700,000 jóvenes en la calle evitarían que el contubernio entre desarrollistas y gobierno permita que les den permiso a los cementeros de cerrar playas, fincas, islas, con el propósito de hacer privado lo que es público. Impedirían la argumentación carifresca de que el expendio de permisos ilegales incentiva la economía.”

Esta campaña publicitaria pro-voto de la juventud me recuerda a la quizás también bien intencionada pero plagada de inconsistencias campaña que liderara P. Diddy en 2004 con aquello de “VOTE OR DIE.” Para un acercamiento crítico a esta campaña, oiga un comentario radial del periodista y DJ Davey D y/o vea el siguiente video con comentarios de los raperos M-1, David Banner, Juvenile y otros:

Confieso que, si las cosas acá en Estados Unidos siguen como van, este año (por segunda vez en mi vida) ejerceré a regañadientes mi derecho al voto presidencial por la misma razón que voté en 2004: aunque no me gustan los demócratas, los republicanos dan más miedo.

Pero eso es simplemente una decisión estratégica (y francamente trágica) de votar por el menos peor de dos males.

Al que no vote no lo culpo. Pero, eso sí: SI NO VOTAS NO TE QUEDES CALLAO.

¿Qué es esa ridiculez de “Vota o quédate callao”?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Panel: Caribbean Popular Culture Through Music

Click here to access the podcast of the panel discussion "Exploring Caribbean Popular Culture through Music" held last November 17, 2007 at the Brooklyn Museum and moderated by curator Tumelo Mosaka. I was one of the panelists, along with artist Miguel Luciano and Prof. Sujatha Fernandes. We discussed the cultural impact of different popular Caribbean musical styles, including soca, salsa, calypso, reggae, reggaetón, hip-hop, mambo, and merengue.

The art exhibit that inspired the panel, Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art, will be up at the Brooklyn Museum until January 27.