How reggaeton is a threat to the revolution
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Dec. 07 2012, 7:25 PM EST
This week, the Cuban government moved to squelch a new threat to the
A fusion of dancehall reggae, tropical salsa and American hip hop,
reggaeton emerged in the late 1970s in Panama, where it was initially
popular with Jamaican immigrants. From there, it spread across the
Caribbean and into the United States until, thanks to hits such as Daddy
Yankee's 2004 global smash Gasolina, it became the dominant form of
popular music for much of North America's Spanish-speaking population.
Like both hip hop and dancehall, the lyrics in reggaeton can be crudely
direct in their appreciation of sex and feminine allure, and this was
the impetus behind the Cuban crackdown. Orlando Vistel Columbie,
president of the Cuban Institute of Music, complained to Granma, the
government's official newspaper, that reggaeton's "aggressive, sexually
obscene lyrics … deform the innate sensuality of Cuban women."
This is not Mr. Vistel's first go-round with reggaeton. In 2011, both he
and Abel Prieto, then minister of culture, denounced the Osmania Garcia
hit Chupi Chupi, a catchy, accordion-fuelled dance tune that uses
lollipops as a sexual metaphor. Mr. Prieto raged that the song "put the
soul of the nation in the balance," and Chupi Chupi
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywoC2damVmU) was pulled from Cuba's
national music video awards show.
Cuba's post-revolutionary governments have long had an uneasy
relationship with imported pop styles. Che Guevara had the government
outlaw rock and roll, and initiated a crackdown on jazz that banned
performances and put some musicians in prison.
But Cuba is actually late to the party in its opposition to reggaeton.
Alarmed by the music's lyrical vulgarity, officials in Puerto Rico
launched a crackdown in 1995, seizing cassettes and CDs and fining
retailers for violating obscenity statutes. Seven years later, hearings
were held to consider regulating reggaeton because of what then senator
Velda Gonzalez described as the music's "slackness."
In 2006, reggaetoneros such as Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee were
banned from performing in the Dominican Republic because of their
lyrics, and their recordings were pulled off the radio. Last year in
Colombia, lawyer Joaquin Torres filed a class-action suit requesting a
ban on the sale and distribution of reggaeton recordings, arguing that
they contained "subliminal messages" encouraging drug use.
Still, banning reggaeton remains one of world's milder forms of musical
repression. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took Western and
"indecent" music off state-run radio and television in 2005, a move that
silenced such threats to the state as Eric Clapton and Kenny G. Two
years ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa proclaiming that,
although music was halal, "promoting or teaching music is not compatible
with the highest values of the Islamic Republic."
More recently, the Islamic rebels who control the north of Mali have
implemented a complete ban on music, destroying instruments and jailing
or executing musicians. "Instead of singing, why don't they read the
Koran," Oumar Ould Hamar, the military leader for the Movement of
Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, told The Washington Post. "We are not
only against the musicians in Mali. We are in a struggle against all the
musicians of the world."