Could reggaeton bridge the gap between Latino and Brazilian culture?
More often than not, you’ll hear Brazilians use the term ‘Latino’ when referencing their continental neighbours, but dissociating themselves from it. The nebulous boundaries that define and link notions of Brazilian-ness to Latino-ness can be seen in the context of music, in which a style called reggaeton is currently mashing things up.
In most of Latin America, reggaeton is the dominant pop genre. This style originated in Puerto Rico in the ’90s –– Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina was one of the genre’s first world hits –– known for its repetitive beat and sexist lyrics. The style travelled south to Argentina, influencing music in other South American countries, but never really made it to Brazil until the beginning of 2016.
There are four main reasons it’s taken time for reggaeton to reach Brazil.
1. South American geography doesn’t favour cultural connection with Brazil
Major Brazilian cities are set by the Atlantic Ocean, far from western South American countries. Media headquarters in cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, from where mass contemporary culture reverberates to the rest of the country, are physically distant and disconnected from ‘Latin America’. Bogotá, for instance, is a six-hour flight from São Paulo on the other side of a vast expanse of Amazonian rainforest. These physical barriers affect cultural exchanges between Brazil and other countries.
2. Same continent, different languages
The fact that Brazil is the only country in South America where Spanish is not the official language (apart from a few more recently independent European colonies) creates a communication divide in the continent, making it difficult for content (including music) to be more pervasive.
3. Brazil is musically self-sufficient
The plurality of music styles created in Brazil derived from the influence of European settlers, African heritage and native indigenous cultures is extremely rich and continuously generates new possibilities and combinations. The vast spectrum and mix of instruments, sounds and vocals each region of the country offers sustains the local music industry, making it plural enough that it does not have to depend on imported genres.
Sertanejo – a current Brazilian pop genre rooted in country music – and its variants, are so strong in Brazil that the first international hit to feature in the 'Billboard Hot 100 Brazil' was Bruno Mars’ ‘24k Magic’, which reached 53rdplace in mid-November. International tracks rank as high as third and first in countries such as France and Germany, very different from what happens in Brazil.
4. Overlapping themes
Brazilian Funk music (no connection to American Funk) saw its genesis in Brazilian favelas, where there was a taste for ’80s Miami Bass. The local inventiveness of Brazilian DJs generated a unique Funk genre, with lyrics that normally speak of the overlooked daily life in these ghettos and makes references to explicit sexual behaviour— as does Reggaeton.
Brazilians didn’t purposefully reject reggaeton; there’s just been little local awareness of its existence until recently. Now, it’s finally reaching Brazilian (and perhaps, global) audiences.
Anitta, a leading pop artist in Brazil, partnered with J. Balvin and Maluma (Colombian reggaeton artists) on two tracks that have placed Latino music in Brazilian hit parades. By featuring in J Balvin’s 2015 hit Ginza and inviting Maluma to take part in the track Sim ou Não, Anitta has helped filter elements of Latino music culture into Brazilian contemporary music culture. Now, Brazilians are listening to and making music in the same language as their neighbours.
The reggaeton wave in Brazil has been so intense this year that producers in São Paulo have infused São Paulo nightlife with it, albeit neglecting its cultural origin. ‘Tô Muerto’, a Halloween party organised this October (with strong references to Mexican Day of the Dead iconography) claimed to be the first reggaeton party in the country, despite the fact that reggaeton is originally Puerto Rican.
Reggaeton is also carving a space for itself in the global music scene: J Balvin and Pharell Williams launched Safari, a track with reggaeton beats, and Maluma has partnered with Ricky Martin in Vente pa’ca. Even Simon Cowell, the man behind Pop Idol, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, spotted the potential of the genre: CNCO is a Miami Reggaeton boy band, masterminded by Simon and Ricky Martin.
It feels like the traction reggaeton has gained in Brazil may be part of a wider global commercial effort to generate awareness of the genre, and that this has helped overcome the barriers that previously prevented its penetration into Brazilian music culture. Only time will tell whether it'll have been a temporary fad or if it’ll create deeper roots and bring Latinos and Brazilians closer, but it's hot right now and influencing contemporary culture.
Image source: GShow
- Article by Chris Michelassi