Arts & Entertainment

Reggaeton’s global popularity soars while preserving Spanish-language roots

By Jorge J. Muñiz Ortiz

San Juan, Jul 15 (EFE).- Reggaeton, currently one of the world’s most popular musical genres, initially flourished on the small, Spanish-speaking Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and has achieved impressive international reach without the need to resort to English lyrics.

A prime example of this phenomenon is Puerto Rican recording artist Bad Bunny (born Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio), who despite singing exclusively in Spanish has been Spotify’s most-streamed artist worldwide for the past two years.

In May, Bad Bunny’s latest studio release “Un verano sin ti” became Spotify’s most-streamed album of the year.

He also rode that album’s phenomenal success to become the most-streamed artist globally in one day with 183 million streams, surpassing Canadian rapper Drake’s previous record of 176.8 million streams.

On one of the album’s tracks, “El Apagon,” the artist extols the virtues of Puerto Rico and its blazing hot weather, calls it the “capital del perreo” (the twerking capital) and says “ahora todos quieren ser latinos” (everyone wants to be Latino now).

Puerto Rican music producer Mr. NaisGai echoes those sentiments.

“Our work as Latinos is to stay close to our roots, and even more if you work with someone from the United States, from the United Kingdom or Africa,” he told Efe.

The ubiquitousness of Spanish in the reggaeton genre is even more surprising considering that Puerto Rico has been a US territory since Spain ceded sovereignty over the island in 1898, following the end of the Spanish-American War.

Yet despite being under American influence for nearly 125 years, Spanish remains Puerto Rico’s primary language and a key component of the Puerto Rican identity.

So then, would reggaeton not even exist without Spanish?

“That’s correct,” Javier “Cholongo” Gomez, one of the promoters of that urban music genre when it was first taking off in the early 1990s and former manager of Hector “El Father,” a reggaeton legend, said in an interview with Efe.

“Reggaeton emerged organically from the impassioned voice of marginalized youth, who found in it a way of expressing themselves that was and is cultural,” Gomez said of the genre’s Spanish lyrics.

Some of the founders of that genre include Puerto Rican recording artists DJ Negro, DJ Playero and DJ Nelson, the latter being credited with coining the term in 1995 on an album of his titled “Reggaeton Vol. 1.”

“Reggaeton and Spanish are a perfect blend,” DJ Nelson (born Nelson Diaz), a producer who helped launch the careers of acclaimed artists such as Jay Wheeler, told Efe.

The genre developed in Puerto Rico as artists fused Jamaican dancehall and reggae with hip-hop, house, salsa, merengue, bachata and Puerto Rican bomba and plena.

Colombian music producer Ovy on the Drums, who has helped craft the songs of Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, Karol G and Becky G, told Efe that reggaeton’s success is partly due to the ease with which it can be fused with other genres.

“Reggaeton is one of those genres that’s here to stay. People have merged it with almost all the genres out there, and that’s why it’s positioned itself as one of the most popular worldwide,” Ovy said.

Alvaro Diaz, a member of a new generation of reggaeton artists, said that even though he is a fan of American music legends such as Michael Jackson and Kanye West his focus was always on “doing something ‘cool’ in Spanish.”

Wheeler (a Puerto Rico native whose real name is Jose Angel Lopez Martinez), by contrast, is one of the few to have made the leap to English, saying he is almost finished with an album completely sung in the planet’s most-spoken language.

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