A great example of mainstream reggaetón was Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi’s 2017 song, Despacito. The song spent 16 weeks at No. 1 in the Billboard Charts and became the most-streamed song worldwide. No doubt Despacito was a commercial triumph. However, reggaetón fans felt Despacito did not have the same flow as other songs that defined the genre, such as 2005 Daddy Yankee’s hit song Gasolina. Recent reggaetón hits like Mi Gente by J Balvin, Tenemos que Hablar by Bad Bunny, and Despacito lean towards a pop sound and distance themselves from the pure Latin American sounds.
I remember being in middle school in 2006, where I would listen to The Strokes, and Tego Calderon. I was one of the few kids in my school who would listen to alternative rock and reggaetón. But reggaetón was part of me, my parents listened to it. My most vivid memories are of when I would travel to Nicaragua, and my friends were all dancing and singing to reggaetón.
Reggaeton is distancing itself from the pure Latin American sounds.
Now as I step out into my streets in Los Angeles, California I hear people blasting the tunes of Bad Bunny and Ozuna. Which is great and I am glad reggaetón is attracting a new audience. However, nothing compares to those reggaetón dembow beats of the late 90s and early 2000s.
Walter Mercado co-founder of Adobo a DMV’s Authentic Afro Latin American experience express the following: “The genre’s popularity in the Western market may seem sudden, but it has been a long time coming. In order to get a closer look at reggaetón history we decided to speak to an expert.”
“Reggaetón needs to go back to when everyone had their own sound, now it’s all cookie-cutter,” he said in a tweet.
We decided to interview an expert to ask her if she felt this was the case.
Meet Panamanian Katelina Eccleston, creator of Reggaetón Con La Gata a multimedia platform dedicated to the history, and evolution of reggaetón. She started this platform in 2017 as a result of her interest to bridge academia, and reggaetón. We spoke about the history of reggaetón, what is reggaetón, and women in the genre.
For Katelina “reggaetón is Puerto Rican”, but as she meant with reggaetón pioneer legend DJ Blass he says that reggaetón all began with Panamanians.
The movement began as a result of migration from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and other countries in search of labor at the Panama Canal. As a result of this Jamaican-Panamanians created Reggae in Spanish or plena as it is largely called during the Puerto Rican era of the underground in the 1990s. Katelina describes how reggaetón pioneers such as Maicol Superstar, and a number of others travelled to Panama, to learn the instrumentation of Panamanian Reggae. After staying as much as 6 months she says, these pioneers contributed what they learned in Panama to the Nuyorican hip-hop influences.
Katelina states how “this fusion created the framework for what is known today as reggaetón”. She further elaborates how people tend to combine reggaetón with reggae en español when they are entirely different.
“This conflation of both genres is due to people associating Panamanian Spanish reggae singer El General to reggaetón,” Katelina says. El General is considered to be one of the “founding fathers” of Spanish reggae. His songs such as Tu pum pum, and Rica y Apretadita in the early 90’s became famous in the mainstream market. Which opened doors to other Spanish reggae artists.
Katelina describes how El General, and Panama history is important to the evolution of what is known today as reggaetón. She as well emphasizes when El General retired from music, the efforts by Puerto Ricans dominated the industry, and continue to do so.
“Reggaeton is the manifestation of the blanqueamiento of perreo,” Katalina adds.
She goes on to explain how perreo is a genre which was created in the late 1990s early 2000s by the likes of DJ Playero, DJ Blass, DJ Rafi Mercenario, and DJ Nelson. She mentions how the essences utilized in perreo are largely black, reggae, dancehall, bomba, hip-hop, and rap. She relates how a large number of the artists were black, but perreo transformed to pop or reggaetón as it became mainstream. Katelina expresses how the sound reflected less, and less nuances of black culture. Instead she describes how the black aesthetics are largely used in fashion aesthetics but for a few exceptions like Sech, Bryant Myers, Anonimus, Ozuna and Don Omar–as mainstream goes.
As we spoke about reggaeton, we dived into the discussion of women in the genre.
“I do not see any mainstream negras in reggaetón, despite the genre being derived from such a black place,” Katelina says, although she is glad to see more women in reggaetón.
Despite the lack of black reggaetoneras, for me, Katelina is already breaking barriers by creating her platform as a black Panamanian woman talking about reggaetón.
Amongst all these reggaetoneros, we both discussed our love for Ivy Queen, the star of the genre.
“Ivy Queen is iconic because at the time of her introduction to the movement lyrically, her music transcended a number of intersections tying in feminist attitudes into a largely macho space,” Katelina says.
She elaborates how Ivy Queen timeless hit Yo Quiero Bailar and her classic Reggae Respect were executed with such success during a time where the movement was moving so quickly makes her master of her domain. Before we wrapped up our conversation, Katalina mentioned one of her podcast episodes where she talks about how under this new era, and new market, she is not a fan of the clean reggaetón that is being produced.
Katelina describes now even grandma likes reggaetón because they sing to Maluma. Top hits from artists like Rosalia, and J Balvin in 2019 like Despacito dominated the world with their clean-cut song Con Altura. Another reggaeton hit that is just pop. Or how many like Katalina refer it to as popetón.
However, reggaeton is still seen as low, and dirty despite the change. Although she has no problem of Grandma singing to Maluma, Katelina says the misses “the raunchiness that attracted me to the genre in the first place.”
You hear elements of this raunchiness in Bad Bunny song Safaera, but if you are like Katelina you are aware this hit is influenced by Alexis and Fido song “El Tiburon ” which debuted back in 2005.
Recently on August 7th old school reggaetoneros Jowell y Randy dropped their album “Viva El Perreo” or “Long live Perreo”. The album is literally a homage to the essence of reggaetón. It brings a mix of old and the new school of reggaeton, by featuring reggaeton artist from the early 2000s in album produced by young composers like San Benito (a.k.a Bad Bunny).
For many this release brought us back to the perreo we had been yearning for years. No doubt there was some of us dancing to this album in our room, making our quarantine a little more fun.
For people like Katelina, the perreo in reggeaton is what makes people dance. If you are one who is just now vibing with today’s reggaeton then it’s time you follow Reggaeton con La Gata to get in sync with perreo.
Despite reggaetón going more mainstream, there are still great songs out there. From artists like Rafa Pabon, Myke Towers, Sech, Jhay Cortez, and even Bad Bunny’s recent albums. Yet one must know all these new artists who have emerged over the last few years are influenced by the old school reggaeton, they grew up listening to.
Now I am always going to celebrate the growth of this genre, and yes I am going to listen to the new artists, and I might not be a fan of all the breaking hit songs, but I am always going to play those throwbacks, because I am a kid that grew up with reggaetón.
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