The 'true' history of reggaeton
In 'Reggaeton. A Latin Revolution,' Argentine journalist Pablito Wilson analyzes the origins and content of the internationally successful musical genre
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What is reggaeton? What is it not? Where does it come from, Puerto Rico or Panama? If reggaeton is the new pop, what is trap? What are the keys to its industry? How has the pandemic affected it? Is reggaeton a 'macho' genre, or could this label also apply to all other music in history, such as opera?
In Reggaeton. Una revolución latina (Liburuak), Argentine journalist Pablito Wilson offers a pioneering approach, as rigorous as it is enthusiastic, into the history and sociology of the urban music genre par excellence. He connects it with other music such as reggae and hip-hop, pop, rock, salsa, bolero, and with current themes that go beyond (or not) reggaeton: life in the streets, artistic rivalries, the revolutionary role played by women today, the industry where the music circulates and, of course, its roots.
The origin of the genre, as Wilson explains in his book, dates back to 1990, when Jamaican reggae singer Shabba Ranks released the song "Dem Bow," sparking interest in some Caribbean islands that at the time wanted to build their own identity.
"In reggaeton, it was the Puerto Ricans who took dembow and built a musical genre from there. According to many of them, Tego Calderón is the first person to propel this style outside the island, until Daddy Yankee arrives and changes everything," explained the writer, born in Argentina in 1985, in a recent interview with EFE.
One of the goals of the book was to question the existing prejudices against the genre, which question its musical quality or accuse it of being sexist.
"There is a vision of virtuosity that provokes a component of prejudice towards reggaeton, a certain arrogance, because talent can be applied in many ways," said Wilson in another interview with La Vanguardia.
In the book, Wilson explains that reggaeton began as an integral part of the Puerto Rican cultural identity. In the early 1990s, it was not a commercial genre, but a stigmatized music because it was sung and consumed in the caseríos (public housing for the underprivileged classes) and danced to by marginalized groups. In a matter of three decades, it has become the most consumed genre in Spain, the third largest consumer of reggaeton in the world, after Mexico and the United States.
The first hit songs came in the late 2000s with the so-called first wave singers, such as Daddy Yankee and Don Omar.
"Some singers made mistakes at that time in terms of the image of women, but I think the content of the songs has changed because society is moving forward," Wilson told La Vanguardia.
On the other hand, the pandemic also brought with it a new way of listening to music and enjoying the genre.
"Many people took refuge in music and reggaeton. Also the pandemic affected many artists, such as Karol G, who released the biggest hit of her career, "Tusa," but that slows down because the pandemic arrived. Then, people can't get together to party in houses and the visualizations don't propel as they normally would have done," the journalist told EFE.
Wilson insists that it should be the reader who judges whether the lyrics of the songs are right or wrong, his book is just an attempt to change the stigmatized look that is held on this genre.
"I want it to be useful for whatever the readers want, that if they are going to criticize reggaeton, they do it with foundations, that if they are parents they understand better what their children are experiencing. To break the rules you have to know them first," he told EFE.