Genealogies: Back Again

Yo sé que a ti te gusta el pop-rock latino
Pero este reguetón se te mete por los intestinos
Por debajo de la falda como un submarino
Y te saca lo de indio taíno

No importa si eres rapera o eres hippie
Si eres de Bayamón o de Guaynabo City
Conmigo no te pongas picky
Esto es hasta abajo, cójele el triqui
Esto es fácil, esto es un mamey
¿Qué importa si te gusta Green Day?
¿Qué importa si te gusta Coldplay?
Esto es directo sin parar, one way
“Atrevete-te-te,” Calle 13

Back in 2005, when Calle 13’s “Atrévete-te-te” came out, the song was an instant sensation, reverberating through both the Spanish language and English language worlds. After all, the song is, as the kids say, a bop. Musically, the track seems to be composed of various Latin American musical genres, such as salsa and cumbia (notably music to dance to), and is sung, or rather rapped/spoken, in Spanish. While both the music and style of rapping blend well together, even lyrically, there is no question that the rhythm in which the letters are sung/rapped recall hip hop. Moreover, the playfulness of the lyrics is reminiscent of many 80s and 90s hip hop tracks. Though Calle 13’s musical evolution after 2005 resists the reggaetón label, the song can be properly classified as reggaetón, though it does not use the Reggae rhythms and word play that was most popular in reggaetón of that era.

No one who listens to or dances to reggaetón, never mind those who make it, is ignorant of the genre’s constitutive mixture of both American hip hop and Latin American or, more specifically, Caribbean musical forms. The mixture is in evidence both in the music and the language, by which I literally mean the use of Spanish, English, Spanglish, or a combination of all three. But “Atrévete-te-te” seems to be keenly aware if not of its own remixed origins then certainly of the plurality of musical forms that its audience, ostensibly a Puerto Rican audience either on the island or the United States, listens to. The song doesn’t care about your personal style or identity (“No importa si eres rapera o eres hippie”), about where you’re from (“Si eres de Bayamón o de Guaynabo city”)–though importantly these are Puerto Rican places, nor does the song care whether you like Green Day or Cold Play. What matters is that “este reggaetón se te mete por los intestinos…y te saca lo de indio/this reggaeton gets into your guts…and brings forth the Indian, the Taíno.” Notwithstanding, as in the Dominican Republic, the national narrative of “Indianness” (which has a fraught and problematic history and present), the lyrics are telling you (specifically, a Puerto Rican woman) that this reggaetón will bring out your true, authentic self.

Authenticity is often regarded as being true to oneself or one’s community. That is, authenticity seems to be apparent when there is a great deal of (or complete) coincidence between your true, inner self and your outer, social self. And yes, let’s point out that the entire “definition” as well as its terms are if not dubious, then rather unstable or mobile. After all, what is your true inner self? And even if you know, how can someone else know what that is, even if you try to tell them? Likewise, what is your outer, social self or persona? Doesn’t that change given the context? Not to mention that the idea of the self as stable or unchanging, well, seems to be an unfortunate myth.

Why add authenticity into this mix? Because mixture or combining are often seen as adulterating a substance–or a culture, even when identity is articulated as mixture as in, for example, the national mestizajes of most Latin American countries, where a “mestizo” nation is lauded but hispanophile or European culture is regarded as superior or normal and indigenous, as well Afro-Latin and mixed, cultures are ignored or denigrated–along with the communities and peoples who fit this category.

In many ways, “Atrevete-te-te’s” offhand remark of helping your true self come out seems to rely on a peculiar kind of mestizaje found in Puerto Rico (as well as the Dominican Republic). Tapping into a discourse that, historically, in celebrating mixture seems to also erase real social differences seem suspect. But I wonder how this 21st century claim to musical mixture, a mixture that has as much to do with musical creation and innovation as it does with flows of capital in the musical industry as well as Latin America’s status under the ever-watchful eye of U.S. imperialism in all its manifestations (i.e., military, political, economic, and cultural), is revelatory of how these artists, and their audiences, position themselves in relation to the hegemonic musical genres of the record industry.

What I am setting out to do–in a very, very modest way–is a first step in documenting the interrelationship between genres of music and how they have come to be mixed in the musical laboratories of Latin America, specifically the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (for my purposes here, I am thinking of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean as the traditional three island nations, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, as well as south Florida and northern Colombia). Bringing to bear computational methods to examine the metadata of tracks as well as the tracks themselves (if possible), I am looking to document the musical genealogies that have led to the creation of new musical forms that have brought together U.S. musical genres such as hip-hop, R&B, and Rock with Spanish Caribbean musical genres such as salsa, bachata, son, rumba, etc.

My starting point will be to create a dataset of tracks that will serve as proxies for musicians, bands, or singers that are connected to the Spanish Caribbean either by birth or heritage that revel in generating a new expressive medium in order to vocalize their experience in the 21st century. My aim is to focus on tracks from musicians (e.g., Calle 13, Orishas, Bad Bunny, Karol G, Natti Natasha, Camilo, etc.) with critical and economic success (because they both bring together different forms but also collaborate with each other and other artists and serve as conduits for new innovation) and work backwards by identifying their musical ancestors. My hypothesis is that the metadata in the songs or albums will contain credited music samples that will reach backward in time (if I can figure out a way to identify rhythms in tracks that can be found in others and work backward, that would provide a more comprehensive view). This would allow me to visualize this information as a network, that right now I am imagining as a genealogical web of sorts that would connect artists diachronically and synchronically (the image came to me, of all things, through the book burning scene in Don Quijote). While this analysis is unlikely to be able to tell change in meaning over time or account for how a form or sample has been recontextualized for new meanings, the visualizations may help discover relationships (edges) that would merit further studies.

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