Thursday, March 30, 2017



YOU CAN'T VISIT Cuba and not hear reggaetón. The eclectic mix of salsa,
hip-hop and electronica blasts from shops, cars and bike taxis. And
despite government censorship and limited internet access, the genre
exploded in popularity thanks to "el paquete," a grassroots distribution
system that relies on nothing more than hard drives, thumb drives, and
old-fashioned hand delivery.

"My neighbor has some kid who rides by on his bike and drops off this
hard drive," says Cuban-American photographer Lisette Poole, who lives
in Havana. "She copies whatever she wants, then he comes and picks it up
two hours later."

Poole celebrates this vibrant movement in Reggaetón. Her colorful,
energetic photos show superstar reggaetóneros like Jacob Forever and
Chacal y Yakarta in the studio, meeting fans, and singing for thousands
of people at county fairs and elite nightclubs. "Cubans love to express
themselves and have fun and really dance," Poole says. "The reggaetón
scene is part of that self-expression."

Reggaetón started in Panama in the 1970s, and spread to Cuba in the
early 2000s with the release of albums like Cubanito 20.02's Soy
Cubanito. The government found the entire genre, with its overtly sexual
lyrics, vulgar and demeaning and banned it in 2012. It eased up a bit in
the years since, but still prohibits reggaetón artists from appearing on
most state-run TV and radio or recording in state-run studios. El
Paquete ("the packet") became the only way for reggaetóneros to
reach adoring fans. "That's how this music has been able to gain such
popularity without having access to TV or radio," Poole says.

Or much access to the internet. Less than 30 percent of Cubans are
online, and those who are usually surf the web at public hotspots in
parks. They pay about $1.50 an hour—a hefty sum in a nation where most
people earn around $25 a month, and the government monitors online
activity. El paquete started in Havana in 2008. Each Saturday, one
terabyte of music, TV shows, and even commercials hits the street. A
network of 300 vendors pays $20 apiece to copy the data onto hard
drives. Couriers deliver the drives to hundreds of customers, who pay
anywhere from $5 to $15 to download the content, which they sell to
some three million people throughout the country.

Poole moved to Cuba in 2014 and noticed reggaetón's influence
everywhere. Young people sport similar haircuts (long on top, shaved on
the sides), tight pants, and oversized t-shirts just like their favorite
reggaetóneros. The music even infects the language. Lyrics like "hasta
se seque el malecon" ("until the seafront dries up"), from a hit song by
Jacob Forever, became a common expression on the street. "It kinda
means, 'This party goes all night,' or, 'This will go on forever,'"
Poole says. She began collecting songs from the packet and shooting
concerts in the spring of 2015. By fall, she was following reggaetón
bands on tour and visiting them in their homes and studios.

Her magnetic images capture the infectious energy and electricity of
reggaetón. Producers hole up in studios laying down the latest track. A
music video shoot fills a busy city street. Artists perform on stage,
half-illuminated by strobe lights and obscured in smoke while screaming
fans claw at their feet. Everyone is lost in the beat. Even Poole is
addicted. "Right now I like this new guy Harrison's song 'Onaonao,'" she
says. "You'd hear it and go, 'What the heck?' But it grows on you when
you've been here for a while."

Poole's short documentary film, Reggaetón Revolution: Cuba in the
Digital Era, is playing at the Norwegian Embassy in Havana March 31st.

UPDATE: 13:43 03/30/17: A caption originally stated it cost 10 Cuban
pesos for a concert. It is actually 10 Cuban convertible pesos. A quote
was also updated for clarification.

Source: How Reggaetón Exploded All Over Cuba Without the Internet |

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