Reggaeton is not just “urban music” (as now hybrids are called). In Cuba it’s also rural music. It has been around in Oriente for about fifteen years, partly thanks to the dancehall and merengue radio stations of Jamaica and Dominican Republic respectively. I remember when Candyman (from Santiago) played in Havana in the late 1990s for a public made out of Palestino immigrants.
One of my favorite contemporary groups is Cola Loca, a group originally from Santiago and Guántanamo. They are natural-born guajiros (and cultivate the guajiro look). In improv controversias (over a reggaeton beat) they are invincible. Watch HERE a reggaeton controversia, where Kola Loka’s Robinson comes up with a rhyming commentary on the rationing card regimen: “Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / El que coge azúcar blanca / no coge azúcar prieta…. Esta es la ley de la nueva libreta / el que coge leche en polvo no coge la de dieta…” Their lyrics tell stories and make fun of daily life. Those looking for the sophisticated polirhythm and chord progressions of timba music will not find it here, yet there are elements of son and changüí to be found in some of the tracks. (Debbie Pacini tells me that there are also background bachata guitar-based sonorities)
Below see videoclips for two of their recent hits. One depicts a generational clash, in a rural area of Oriente, between a conservative machete-bearing guajiro father and his teenage daughter (which ends up with the father “converting” to the new rhythm). The other one, La Estafa del Babalawo, mocks the commercialization of santeria and the babalawos who try to take advantage of their ahijados by charging outrageous sums (in kind) for their services. (sorry no subtitles)
NO ME DA MI GANA AMERICANA (I don’t feel like it)
LA ESTAFA DEL BABALAWO (The Babalawo’ Scam)
* For more on reggaeton, see the edited volume by Rivera, Marshall and Pacini Hernandez, Reggaeton (Duke University Press 2009). It includes a piece on reggaeton in Cuba by Geoff Baker, an ethnomusicologist at the University of London.
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