Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Relevance of Reggaeton - NPR show

This afternoon I was on WNYC (NPR) radio show Soundcheck discussing our book Reggaeton.

The comments folks have left on the WNYC webpage have left me wondering. Where we being flat out uncritical? It's such a tricky balance to achieve: to be critical but not to engage in simplistic bashing.


Anonymous said...

I actually enjoyed this interview, especially when comparing it to other interviews you've done -- say, on radio stations in the middle of the country, for example...

The questions were, of course, a bit predictable, but in reading the comments, I think that people seem to be responding less to you and more to whatever issues they had with reggaeton before listening to the interview in the first place. Where I thought this interview was strongest was in providing a historical perspective, and trying again to speak against the search for a single point of origins in one nation-state or another. You are right, it is a tricky line to walk between facile dismissal and lack of critique; it's even more difficult to walk that line in an interview, where you are being herded in particular directions by the interviewer. But there's enough there for commentators to truly engage with, even if they don't.

Notice, for example, how no one wants to talk about what happens to racial politics once the genre is popularized, or how popularization always involves depoliticizing the racial in favor of shallow aesthetic stereotypes? The interviewer asked you about Bonsai, but not about Loiza -- and they're from the same album.

raquelzrivera said...

Thanks for the feedback! For a second I was like: who is this person who heard me on a radio station "in the middle of the country"? And then it hit me. Hi M! And thanks for your great company during that radio ordeal!

N said...

Comments both on the show and the comments.

Regarding the dismissive comments on the NPR page-

You know, music from the streets, especially if made by "black" people is not typically considered worthy of respect or attention until it is no longer popular and no longer the actual voice of the underclass. Once it doesn't speak uncomfortable truths and remind people of that which they wish to ignore or deny, then it becomes "worthy" of merit and attention. IMO people's reaction to the products of a culture show how they truly feel about that culture ie those people.

What the Marsalis family does is worthy of attention, its "different". Well decades ago jazz occupied a place similar to that of reggaeton. The name jazz itself is said to refer to sexual intercourse.But since black folk arent playing it in the streets, getting drunk in clubs and dancing to it anymore, its now Art. Not that we don't all know this already.

Sex, vulgarity and sexism-

If people want to adhere to a simplistic view of sexuality and equate vulgarity with sexism and misogyny, that is their right. But some of us who believe that in certain contexts a mutual expression of sexual lust is acceptable and even desirable. I do not object to vulgar descriptions of male desire if it is done so in a way that does not demean or objectify the desired person. So I think what you said was on point. Millie Jackson and Bessie Smith gave as good as they got, lyrically speaking.Let La Sista do the same!

Were you critical enough?

PR Sexism- Listen, there is sexism in almost every culture on earth. Perhaps sexism in lyrics encourages it in the population, but I think its simply a reflection of existing attitudes and would be expressed some other way if there were no reggaeton.

Re Reggaeton being male dominated.

Most boleristas are and have been male. Salseros? Male. Merengueros? Male. Congueros? Male. Bluesmen? Male. Classical composers? Male.Swing bandleaders? Male. Classical conductors? Male.

Why you have to "excuse" or explain when it comes to reggaeton, I don't know. There certainly doesn't seem to be this emphasis on lack of female superstars when discussing other genres.

Enough blogjacking.I think you did a good job and I am SO glad you guys are out here doing this!!!! Keep up the good work!


raquelzrivera said...

Beautifully said: "Millie Jackson and Bessie Smith gave as good as they got, lyrically speaking.Let La Sista do the same!"

n said...

Oops, I misread the Marsalis part. Well, I'll retract that and say that I am just idly discussing how reggaeton compares to jazz, a genre that is respected now but once wasn't.

Anonymous said...

It's not relevant anymore. There were some dark years, those being 2004-mid 2008. Yeah no one's blasting this awful music from their cars anymore in Hispanic neighborhoods. Good riddance.

The book could stand as a testament to a fad but no more than that. Certain genres of music had their day, Reggaeton is another casualty.
By the way, everyone I know agrees with me from a white guy I'm friends with who lives in the thick of it in Washington Heights to a Latino Barber - going to a barbershop in any Latin neighborhood would prove my point.

Reggaeton was what it was but it's done now.

raquelzrivera said...

I think you're overstating your case, anonymous. If top-sellers like Wisin and Yandel are STILL putting reggaeton into their albums and if my neighbors in East Harlem are STILL blasting it... then I think pronouncing it dead might be a little premature.

I absolutely agree with you that reggaeton is not what it was. But it is still relevant. And it will still be relevant once it's dead... in the same way that museum pieces are relevant.

One more thought: if the same artists that made what you describe as the "awful" sounds of reggaeton popular in 2004 are the same artists using the same cliché lyrics over pop balads and tecno and calling it "urban music".... Is the problem really dead? Is there really that much to celebrate?

Jennifer said...

LOL he said it all when he said he was a white guy. Non-Spanish speakers, for some unexplicable reason, LOVE to bash reggaetón. Why? You don't understand it...
I would never go out of my way to criticize French musicians... why? Because I don't know French lol! Ahhh haters, gotta love 'em! :)

You sound so FULL OF IT because everybody knows Washington Heights is full of Dominicans and the Dominican youth LOVE reggaetón. Dominicans and Ricans are the biggest supporters of reggaetón in NY. I'm 20 yrs old & Puerto Rican and have a ton of Dominican friends.... and guess what? They all LOVE reggaetón. Maybe you're bashing because you're bored or because you're an older person who frowns upon music for the youth because of the suggestive dancing and lyrics or whatever, I don't know....

PS - Wisin y Yandel had the #7 spot on the Top 200 billboard chart two weeks back. Reggaetón artists still easily sell out concerts in Latin America. Reggaetón will be dead when the Latin community doesn't support it anymore, not when one person says he doesn't hear it in the Heights anymore. LOLz. When's the last time you saw a reggae/dancehall album on top of the charts? Blasted on the streets 24/7. The answer is you can't remember. Does that mean reggae/dancehall is dead? It's still booming in Jamaica and neighboring islands. Stop acting like you know anything about reggaeton/what you're typing lol.