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!


Elis Fierro said...

I have yet to watch the documentary. It is sure to be a great watch. But watching the trailer I do agree with your notion of the unnecessary killings. I also wanted to know when your READING REGGAETON book or essay collection is to come out.

raquelzrivera said...

Hi Elis. Now the book is called just plain Reggaeton and will be out by Duke University Press in the Spring of 09. As soon as they finalize a few details, I'll post the book cover and the table of contents.

I saw you have a blog on reggaeton too. I'm running to work now but will check it out soon.

Hernan said...

How is racism a "hot-button issue" that comes with reggaeton? Given the music, I can understand poverty and misogyny being associated with the genre, as well as the violence and drugs, but racism?

I'm dying to see this documentary now...

raquelzrivera said...

Since poverty and racism are so connected, it's impossible to look at one without the other.

Just like in the rest of Latin America (not to mention much of the rest of the world), in Puerto Rico the upper classes are lighter, the lower classes darker.

la salvaje said...

I look forward to seeing it. And your book!!

Philly Stress said...

Hispanic racism isn't talked about enough.

raquelzrivera said...

Philly Stress: I couldn't agree more.

justin said...

New post question: Do you have any knowledge of a group that was focused on Afropop WW "Reggaeton" 8-13-10 by the name of [sounds like] kaya trece, que a trece, guya dresi or similar? I am looking for the correct spelling to research and acquire this music. Focus was on "post-reggaeton", with the band noting they were not reggaeton, not hip-hip,. etc. Much thanks

raquelzrivera said...

Calle 13. They are very extremely popular and their music easily available. Enjoy.