If Reggaeton’s what you want, go ahead!

Irina Echarry

Illustration: Carlos


HAVANA TIMES — Over the last couple of days, in sessions held by the National Assembly, our congressmen and congresswomen have “debated”, among other issues, the current state of our society and its immediate future. Many of them speak horrified about the the “loss of values” and the “vulgarization” that is headstrong at the moment, but I haven’t come across any thorough analysis of this up until now.

For quite some time now, it’s common to see in our media – written, on the radio and on the TV – intellectuals or people who are linked to culture in some way that touch upon this subject, the majority of the time they approach it with a whining and ethical tone, blaming the family. But I have another perspective.

I remember that there was a modest offensive launched against reggaeton in December 2012. It didn’t become a topic of national debate and it wasnt explored any further, it was just a few musicians, intellectuals and government culture officials who spoke out against its obscene and trivial lyrics.  Back then, a video that served as a scapegoat – which then made the singer who called himself “The Voice” even more popular – was banned from participating in the Lucas awards*; some other voices were raised showing their approval or disapproval of this cultural crusade; and that was the end of that.

Since then, what’s happened?

This musical rhythm has become even more popular. Cultural and recreational centers, both state-run and privately-owned, don’t stop playing it.

Reggaeton is heard at playgrounds, birthday parties, at the Book Fair; in cafes and private restaurants, in the 1950s US car collective taxis and on state-owned buses (even those that travel between provinces). It doesn’t have a time or a date on the calendar, like an old love song would say.

In spite of Danilo Sirio, president of the ICRT (The Cuban Institute of Radio and Television), saying that “It’s been decided that not one more vulgar song, not one more trivial tune, or songs or videos with offensive lyrics that threaten or denigrate women will be shown on national channels.” However, nothing’s changed and censorship is only applied to lyrics that question our reality.

A few months ago, on the day people celebrate the founding of the UJC and OPJM** in Cuba, a number of primary and secondary schools put out powerful speakers onto the street and shook the neighborhood with reggaeton’s contagious beat. I stopped for a moment at one of these celebrations to watch the erotic choreography that these young people dressed in their mustard colored uniforms were performing. In early days, this festive occasion used to be celebrated with music by Silvio Rodriguez; clearly, both teachers and students agree on the fact that it’s no longer the time for trova (folk) music.

With the way things are, we can’t talk about reggaeton in a strictly musical sense, it’s become a whole culture that we’ve been internalizing in a complex process that would need to be studied by more liberal sociologists and anthropologists.

The end of the academic year has coincided with a horrible heatwave and neighbors switch on their stereos (that’s what vacations are for after all) and go sit on benches in the afternoon, in order to cool down. The entire block is happy and little girls – even six or seven years old- move their hips, hold their heads in their hands, bite on their lower lip or stick out their tongues, bend down and get back up shaking their behinds to the beat of a voice who provokes: “come closer to my pants, come on…”. Mothers laugh satisfied, and with good reason too, their daughters have managed to capture the essence of the moment and their girls will know how to walk with them through this savage world, without having to correct them.

Children, once they get used to the beat of reggaeton, begin to take on the essence of reggaeton culture. Even though they might choose another musical genre later on in life, and even though they are good students, they would have grown up under its influence. Childhood is the best time to learn political apathy, indifference, the exaltation of beauty, macho values and gender stereotypes.

Reggaeton in itself isn’t responsible for the “setback” in Cuban society many people accuse it of. If intellectuals and artists were to examine reggaeton without prejudice, they would be able to recognize its positive attributes: a lack of inhibition, sincerity, spontaneity or the relationship it creates between people. You just have to get on a P11 bus to see this, everyone is humming to “Hasta que se seque el malecon and it doesn’t matter how old you are, what your financial status is, your sexual orientation or your skin color.

That’s the road we’re on at the moment, where young inhabitants on this reggaeton island don’t care about anything but the latest tune from Farruko or the hit video by Yomil and Danny. But, is there really anything more important? Ah, yes, soccer…

In my opinion, reggaeton culture has the “State’s stamp of quality”, that is to say, the government’s seal of approval. However much government officials or legislators rant, reggaeton will always be much better for the government than people shouting obscenities from their balcony or somebody shouting out in the middle of the street: down with the dictatorship!

If men and women join together in a noisy argument, even if there’s blood in the middle of the foray, in the government’s eyes this is much better than two or three crazy people demanding “Freedom!”

It’s better to show off our money and “talent” than remind the government of their duties to the people. Who’s going to stop and think about universal human rights when it feels so good to move your body about and grind up against another person? Why is there a huge garbage pile on the corner? Did prices in the agro-market go up? Is there another Special Period on the horizon? It doesn’t matter, let’s just get down and dirty like animals…

6 thoughts on “If Reggaeton’s what you want, go ahead!

  • Trying to blame the music genre for government’s leadership? Is this what journalism has come to now, deep down low, scraping the bits at the bottom to (unsuccessfully) write an article? Then when that pit has dried out, move on to parents and their way of raising their children, of course, again putting the blame on a music genre. Do you see señorita Irina how little sense this has when you sum up this article? And yes, reggaetón is what I and many more want. So you can keep on hating reggaetón but you surely can’t stop it.

  • I (being of a senior age) agree with your observations! Life is good … and this sort of change / revolution (of expression) is healthy in my opinion. Jim

  • Hahaha! Thanks. You’re right. It looks exactly the same and most Cubans (at least my circle) still say Planchao.

  • We old folks see a direct parallel between the current fuss in Cuba about reggaeton and the introduction of Rock and Roll in the US back in the ’50’s.

  • Actually, the Planchao brand name went away about 2 years ago. Everything sold now is T-U-M-B-A-O brand name but the boxes are the same. You can ask for a Planchao in any store and they know exactly what you want.

  • Fully agree. The Castros correctly understand that to keep the people distracted, it is wise to keep cheap rum cheap, and the reggueton loud. No where else on the planet have I seen rum (brand name: planchao) sold in those cardboard boxes typically associated with childrens juices and nowhere else on the planet is reggueton more popular.

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