Saturday, March 15, 2008

Guilty pleasures

For a while now, I've had this weird feeling that something is missing. A background noise, a smell perhaps, something. Until I realized what it is: reggaeton. In the rest of the Latin America there is no way to escape reggaeton - even the monkeys must be pumping it in the Venezuelan jungle - and in Brazil I haven't heard a single "boom-chi boom-chick"-beat. A continent divided by the two languages.

I didn't imagine missing reggaeton. It's not a sound that would hold a very high esteem in my native Finland, and I can't say I liked it that much either. Yet recently I've developed it into something of a guilty pleasure. Up north reggaeton usually gets dismissed as the cheesy Latin bastard-son of hip-hop and reggae. Language is again one obvious barrier, but it's a matter of cultural understanding too. I stumbled on this great blog, by the Hunter College researcher and journalist Raquel Z. Rivera, and reading such an in-depth analysis on the genre and it's background makes also the music much easier to grasp. And there are really great reggaeton artists that should appeal outside the Hispanic world too.

The greatest of them all, to me, is Tego Calderon. There is no match for his laidback flow, scarred voice, fat accent and the calm, super-cool style that would eat the aggressive boasting of youngsters for breakfast, without even breaking the sweat. And it doesn't hurt that Tego's beats include few of the most interesting fusions of various Caribbean and Latin American music styles. Seeing is believing: I witnessed Tego live at Buenos Aires, and there is no way to beat his charisma.

Rivera and Frances Negrón-Muntaner descibe the importance of Calderon in breaking the reggaeton into the main-stream of Puerto Rican culture in a highly interesting article Reggaeton Nation: "A turning point in gaining critical attention was the musically, poetically, and politically sophisticated 2003 debut album of Tego Calderón. His populist lyrics — which reminded many of salsa’s El Sonero Mayor, Ismael Rivera — together with his innovative musical fusions, use of world-renowned musicians in live shows, and charismatic yet humble demeanor appealed to the old-school salsa lovers and the intellectual left."

Allow me to introduce The Underdog. Here's a couple of my personal favourite songs. First two from the album The Underdog / El Subestimado and next two from the most recent album El Abayarde Contra Ataca. And to illustrate Tego's love for the salsa, the song Llora, Llora features the Venezuelan salsa-legend Oscar d'Leon.

Tego Calderon: Slow Mo (zShare)
Tego Calderon: Llora, Llora (feat. Oscar d'Leon) (zShare)
Tego Calderon: Ni Fu Ni Fa (zShare)
Tego Calderon: Los Mios (feat. Pirulo) (zShare)