A Struggle for the Identity of Puerto Rican Music

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As part of a series on Puerto Rico’s NPR’s economy and day-to-day life, Jasmine Garsd reports on the island’s music in an interview with host Michel Martin. She speaks about the past productivity and what she sees as the future trajectory of various genres—rap, reggaeton, salsa and rock—highlighting singers such as reggaeton singers Tego Calderón, Jamsha, Orchesta el Macabeo, and Dávila 666 (A.J. Dávila et al). Here are a few excerpts with a link to the full radio program below:

Garsd speaks about Tego Calderón’s sense of social responsibility and his pro-independence lyrics saying: “He’s an interesting character and he’s very, very vocal, and I think people love him because he’s not trying to appease anyone. He’s just saying what is on his mind.”

On reggaeton: You can map the course of reggaeton. It’s very similar to what happened to rap, actually. I mean it started off very underground, reporting on communities that were marginalized and what was happening in Puerto Rico. That’s in the ’90s and the late ’80s, and then it got very commercial. One famous phrase criticizing reggaeton is, you know, why are you wearing a fur coat on a tropical island? You know, it started becoming about the bling and about the hot women and less and less about what was happening in Puerto Rico.

On reggaeton singer Jamsha: One artist in Puerto Rico who’s reinventing reggaeton, really going back to those roots, is Jamsha.[. . .] He really represents this phenomena of a do-it-yourself sound. The last time I checked, he’s not associated with a record label.

On crossing-over: Well, I think Puerto Rico is such an interesting case because while it’s part of the U.S., and artists tend to prefer to crossover into the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, when it comes to Spanish-language music, has always been a powerhouse. They have consistently over the decades created some of the most influential Latin music out there.

On salsa: And I think salsa, what I described with reggaeton, happened to salsa as well. And I think maybe it’s Puerto Rico’s trap that they make such good music that eventually the music gets super hyper commercialized, over-polished, overproduced and then they have to reinvent it. Something similar happened with salsa. You have this amazing salsa explosion with Fania Records that happened in the ’70s, and then salsa right now, you could say is kind of stagnant and it’s a little bit to elevator music.

On the future of rock in Spanish (and PR’s A.J. Dávila): Well, yes. I mean I think Puerto Rico is always providing some of the biggest artists in Latin music. One of my favorite success stories is a garage rock band called Davila 666. And right now they’re doing their solo projects, but I love them because, you know, they toured the U.S. The CBGB and all these garage rock, punk rock kids would be in the audience and Davila would go up there and just be like (Spanish spoken) seis, seis, seis and start playing and never talk in English. And they were so good that everyone was like who are these kids? And now there’s singer A.J. Davila has a new single out from an upcoming record. It’s called “Animal.” And as far as indie rock and garage rock goes, oh, I think he could be really big.

For full article and program, see http://www.npr.org/2013/02/21/172593745/more-than-pretty-views-behind-puerto-ricos-music

Photo from http://www.brooklynvegan.com/archives/2011/04/davila_666_play.html

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