By Esteban Israel Esteban Israel – Mon Jun 29, 5:11 pm ET
HAVANA (Reuters) – To record his next hit El Micha, one of the rising
stars of Cuba's reggaeton music blending reggae, Latin and electronic
rhythms, just has to knock on his neighbor's door.
A microphone plugged into an old computer in an apartment in Havana's
working-class suburb of Reparto Electrico serves as the studio where
some of Cuba's most successful reggaeton songs are recorded.
"Reggaeton is unstoppable because it is recorded at home. It is totally
independent," says Michael "El Micha" Sierra, 27, a former basketball
player whose bottom row of gold teeth flash when he gives one of his
frequent broad smiles.
With little official support or air time on state-controlled radio, the
songs Cuban reggaeton artists record in makeshift studios lined with egg
cartons for sound insulation are mostly transmitted though homemade CDs
and on computer flash memory sticks.
That is how the tropical fever of reggaeton is sweeping communist-ruled
Cuba, captivating its youth and enraging a cultural establishment
alarmed by the vulgarity of some of its lyrics, which include phrases
like "Coge mi tubo" ("Grab my pipe") and "Metela" ("Stick it in").
"Cubans know about music and if they picked reggaeton they have to be
respected. The people are the ones who decide," said Sierra.
Reggaeton, a cocktail of reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms, first
emerged in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s and has
spread rapidly though Latin America. In Cuba, it is played on crowded
buses, shakes neighborhood windows with its throbbing bass and packs
discos night after night.
Its vibrations even seem to be shaking Cuba's cultural establishment,
decades after the island shook the entertainment music world with its
native-born mambo and cha cha cha.
Like hip hop, its relative, reggaeton chronicles real life in the
streets. But its popularity stems from a catchy, sensual rhythm that is
perfectly suited for dance-crazy Cubans.
OFFICIAL ALARM OVER "NEOLIBERAL" MUSIC
"Teachers and family cannot be naive regarding this matter," warned
state-controlled TV as it showed 6-year-olds doing covers of Puerto
Rican reggaeton megastar Daddy Yankee.
That was the latest sign of official alarm over what the authorities see
as a vulgarization of Cuban culture.
The official daily Juventud Rebelde called reggaeton a reflection of
"neoliberal thinking" and Culture Minister Abel Prieto said it should be
"In the cultural world there is concern about the excessive popularity
of reggaeton," Julian Gonzalez, president of the National Council for
Visual Arts, told Reuters.
But at a disco in Guanabo, a beach resort just east of Havana where El
Micha played on a recent Sunday, 28-year-old kindergarten teacher Selene
showed little sign of concern, however, shaking her hips frenetically to
"It is true, reggaeton can sometimes have vulgar lyrics. But I like it
and dance it," she said. "Come on. Do they want young people to dance
Some Cuban officials have suggested promoting more traditional Cuban
dance rhythms like danzon, son and casino to counter the reggaeton
"Declaring war on reggaeton would be a mistake. These are not times for
that kind of response," said Gonzalez.
He may be right, says Puerto Rican researcher Raquel Z. Rivera,
co-editor of "Reggaeton," a book recently published by Duke University
Press. An attempt to ban it in Puerto Rico only made it more popular.
"Cuban authorities are wary for the same reason as authorities in other
countries -- reggaeton tends to be hyper sexual and to glorify
consumerism and fashion," she said.
PREJUDICES AND PIRACY
Cuban reggaeton musicians say prejudices keep them off the recording
labels and radio airwaves. Their music cannot be found in stores. Fans
simply burn their own CDs.
"In Cuba, reggaeton moves thanks to piracy," said El Micha.
A beginner typically records at a makeshift studio for $2 an hour, burns
as many CDs as he can afford to and spreads them around. Some became
famous giving free CDs to taxi drivers.
A few have achieved local success like Gente De Zona, Baby Lores or Kola
Loka, and some even dream of breaking into the U.S. market including
Elvis Manuel, a 19-year-old reggaeton star who disappeared last year
while trying to cross the Florida Straits to the United States.
But most just fly under the radar only to emerge at weekends for
concerts at state-owned discos.
"Reggaeton is treading a fine line between official and
unofficial/independent worlds," said Geoff Baker, a lecturer at the
University of London's Royal Holloway College who has researched the
topic in Cuba.
Cuban reggaeton has a distinctive rhythm from its Puerto Rican roots,
local musicians say. It is also less violent in its lyrics than the
"My lyrics talk about what young people live without getting into
politics, because I don't really care about that. Reggaeton is music for
people's pleasure," said El Micha as he got ready to go on stage.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman)
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Reggaeton fever shakes up Cuba's culture - Yahoo! News (29 June 2009)