The Pravda of Reggaeton

El Medico, photo: www.cultstgo.cult.cu

By Dimitry Prieto

On May 3rd each year, my town Santa Cruz del Norte celebrates Holy Cross Day in honor of its patron saint with High Masses in the Roman Catholic and Anglican-Episcopal churches, regattas of fishing boats in the town’s small bay, each craft decked out with May crosses, adorned with flowers, processions, and all this after being woken up by a “mambisa” trumpet. Those are the characteristics of these festivities sponsored by the local government and ministry of culture office.

The only thing missing is the placing of a shining cross on the Jijira hill, as the elderly say used to be part of the tradition. The people of Santa Cruz hope that one day the cross will return. Beyond its Christian and Maritime symbolism, the flowered cross evoked the “May Pole”, a phallic symbol that is still part of the May festivals in many corners of Europe, Asia and America.

But the parties of today are just that: parties, a good time, and although the May Pole might be lacking, what’s not missing these days is Reggaeton.

In the early morning hours on the eve of May 3rd, my sleep was interrupted by this contagious music of uniform rhythm that many Cuban groups play in unique variations, a small sample of which provided entertainment at the parties.

Reggaeton filtered through the coolness of the cool Cuban spring night from a plaza located on the other end of town directly into my ear on the fifth floor of the modest building where I live, which was built by micro-brigades.

Reggaeton has polarized Cuban society: on one side, the illustrious opinion of the defenders of tradition, public morals and good taste; on the other side, the persistent clueless -those who play it and listen to it, and who blast it from their cars and stores…

The latter have been winning the battle for public spaces; the mass media usually keeps a distance from the issue and the cultural leaders have practically given up on it as incorrigible. They’re hoping to on the counterattack soon with a program of competitions and activities aimed at promoting the more “conservative” genres of music among the youth.

But Reggaeton has a unique quality: it has something that the Russians call “Pravda.” That word, which was the title of the main Bolshevik, and later Soviet newspaper, means not only “truth” or “justice” but also something like “testimony”, “shared living experience”, or “moral rectitude.”

It refers to the creation of an avenue for communicating the experiences of the people and for assuming with sincerity what is actually happening.

Reggaeton has brought out into the open lifestyles that many of us knew existed but prefer not to talk about; lifestyles that even some of us have lived at different times in our lives.

Those lifestyles are difficult to accept. And when those Reggaeton artists scream to the four directions of the wind what is happening “on the streets”, many Cubans are not as bothered by the rhythm as by the harsh lyrics that do not attempt to embellish the facts, but on the contrary, turn into art the life experiences that many have shared in secret, but which are difficult to accept at such close range.

Reggaeton has been a strange “close encounter” with ourselves.

There is something Nietzsche-esc about Reggaeton, in its limitless defense of the spirited and “power hungry” street dwellers; their songs project a singular image of “super-men”, infused with technology, mercantilism, and machismo.

In fact, I used the metaphor of Reggaeton a few days ago when I had to introduce the philosophy of Nietzsche to my students. But in my own core, when I hear that rhythm in the street (or when it keeps me from sleeping in my own bed on the eve of the May Holy Cross celebration), I prefer to think of the Russian Christian existentialist Nikolái Berdiaev, who in the mid-20th century gave a brilliant analysis of Pravda in Russia and its role in the subversion of czarism and the Bolshevik ascendance.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.



6 thoughts on “The Pravda of Reggaeton

  • On August 10-17 Black August will return after several yrs absence..We look forward to it.. Those who can remember can testify to the birth of Reggaeton and will have to admit that polarization or not, bringing talent to Cuba, and sharig culture has long been our tradition…I faithfully scheduled my vacation arounf BA yrly and like a faithful supporter i will do it again…because now i can return at will. This i will thank Pres Obama for.

    Reply
  • THIS WAS THE FIRST BLACK AUGUST 1998

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  • The Black August Hip Hop Collective Statement of Purpose
    The Black August Hip Hop Collective strives to support the global development of hip hop culture by facilitating exchanges between international communities where hip hop is a vital part of youth culture, and by promoting awareness about the social and political issues that effect these youth communities. Our goal is to bring culture and politics together and to allow them to naturally evolve into a unique hip hop consciousness that…

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  • This piece is so cogent. i could substitute the word ‘dancehall’ for ‘Reggaeton’ and much of what you say could be true of Jamaica too. Thanks for this telescopic view into the soundscape of Cuba/havana…

    Reply
  • Speaking as someone who appreciates what the bolsheviki attempted to do — and then, who does not appreciate loud music thumping from passing cars, etc., at all hours of the day — I also understand that it is counter-productive for the state to use any force of coercion on people who are nonetheless slaves to imperialist culture, simply because they are ignorant — but also infringing on the rights of others to expect peace and quiet in their collective surroundings. But I do consider an…

    Reply
  • I have listened to reggaeton a lot. I don’t understand to much, due to limited spanish knowledge. I liked the part you wrote about Reggaeton refers to the here and now. I’ve been doing rap for 20 years, just came to realize that most of the lyrics I’ve written have been in the old songwriting tradtion, writing about a constructed relationship between guy and girl etc, or on the other hand ordering people to start moving on the dance floor. Through your article I found that what I need to do, is to write more about the here and now, what I experience, my views on what’s going on in the world now, sort of like a social commentary. Thanks a lot.

    Reply

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