In Defence of Reggaeton
I understand people who don’t like reggaeton. Especially in places where it is ubiquitous. I can well imagine why its sound and lyrics generate rejection. My history with reggaeton was not love at first sight (hearing). In the early 2000s my musical taste revolved around reggae and hip hop, and the first reggaeton songs that started to hit in Colombia seemed to me monotonous and distasteful.
Everything changed at the end of 2003, when someone recommended me the album “El Abayarde” by Tego Calderon. For me the best reggaeton album of all times. For those who don’t know it, El Abayarde is a journey through hip hop, reggae and salsa, which of course reaches its peak in reggaeton. From that moment on, my relationship with the genre changed completely. I went from hating it to adoring it.
I do not intend to make a scholarly defense of reggaeton here, such as the one made by a renowned Colombian intellectual, arguing among other things that it represents a step forward in female sexual liberation. While her theory has some validity, in my opinion it is an accommodating and myopic reading that does not tell the whole story.
In essence, reggaeton, like hip hop, is about the life of an individual (almost always a man) who, thanks to his talent, manages to escape poverty. And in it, women are indeed an object of desire, but an object nonetheless, which is discarded once it is used. Very few, if any, reggaeton songs celebrate lasting love.
So I see the point in the criticisms made of it for the values conveyed by its narrative and aesthetics. But I also think that its manifestation, rather than the disease, is the symptom. The disease is to be found in poverty and lack of opportunities. But I do not want to expand on this. My argument in defense of reggaeton does not go that way.
My point is that whether we like it or not, its rhythm has got the world dancing . It’s got the whole planet grooving. From Los Angeles to Tokyo, from Buenos Aires to Moscow. Its main figures are today among the most listened artists on platforms such as YouTube or Spotify.
And what this represents is a valorization of the culture where it comes from. The world is surrendered at the feet of the cadence of the Caribbean, the uninhibited dance and the fluency of its language. Reggaeton artists don’t bother to sing in English, on the contrary, the great American idols collaborate with them and sing in Spanish. Thanks to reggaeton, Latin, Latinos, are in vogue.
If Latinos are smart enough to capitalise on it, we can ride that wave and exploit more expressions of our culture, as the Americans did through Hollywood or the South Koreans with K Pop. This is where my defense of reggaeton lies. In that its international success values a unique element of Latino culture, so scarce in others, which is to party for the sake of partying, to dance for the sake of dancing, for the joy, for the happiness, because no one guarantees that tomorrow we will still be alive.
And this recognition that the world makes to one of our Latino values, allows us to take a substantial step to affirm ourselves as a culture, to look at our navel and feel proud. Like the French of their gastronomy or the Germans of their cars. Because in the low collective self-esteem lies one of the greatest damages that centuries of colonialism, racism and classism have done to us. Let reggaeton continue to spread like a disease throughout the world, because the more it does so, the more it cures us.