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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005, 13:34 GMT
Puerto Rico shakes to a new beat
By Matt Wells
BBC News, Puerto Rico

Girls dance at a reggaeton club in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Reggaeton has spawned a hip-grinding dance called perreo

The Caribbean is a traditional laboratory for new music and dance styles. Salsa, merengue, and reggae were all brought to life somewhere within its shores.

But what happens when you combine them, throw in a hypnotic drum track, and put earthy and often sexually explicit rap lyrics over the top in street-Spanish?

The answer is - reggaeton. Although currently little-known outside the Latin music world, reggaeton is being hyped by many as the next big thing in dance music.

Its commercial heart beats in Puerto Rico, whose citizens hold US passports even though the island territory is self-governing.

Reggaeton stars like Tego Calderon, Daddy Yankee, Don Omar and Ivy Queen played to thousands of fans at New York's Madison Square Garden last October, highlighting reggaeton's growing international appeal and potential commercial power.

Puerto Rican obsession

Reggae is said first to have arrived in Latin America with Jamaican labourers who came to help build the Panama Canal in the early 20th Century.

Production of reggae began in earnest in Panama the 1970s, and the scene flourished in the 1990s, as the music bred with other genres to become a local form of reggaeton.

Meanwhile, in the same decade Jamaican ragga burst onto the scene in Puerto Rico, and mixed with local Latin beats to create another form of reggaeton - now the dominant reggaeton style.

Reggaeton DJ Richie Rich
Here, it's hot, man, hot - we are a hot people
Reggaeton DJ Richie Rich
In Puerto Rico, reggaeton has now become something of a national obsession.

The tell-tale beat hangs in the humid air on virtually every corner of the capital, San Juan. A television channel is devoted to stars' raunchy videos, and every car radio seems to play it non-stop.

The macho lyrics are complemented by a hip-grinding dance style known as "perreo" - "doggie" in Puerto Rican slang - which leaves little to the imagination.

Outside one of the capital's top reggaeton nightclubs, two young women admit the music might be frowned upon by their parents.

"Some of the songs have words that are maybe not moralistic, but some talk about what life is really about," says one, with a toothy smile.

It's very insulting, and it doesn't do our image much good at all
Linette Rivera, barmaid
One of the island's well-known DJs, Richie Rich, met me at the suburban studios of the most popular reggaeton radio station.

In almost messianic tones, he said reggaeton music had a growing legion of fans.

"Everything [we] do is reggaeton - everything. Reggaeton is like the inspiration for young people," he said.

I asked him what makes it different from mainstream hip-hop on the American mainland, and he broke into a laugh.

"They is a cold people, because it's a cold place. Here, it's hot, man, hot. We are a hot people," he replied.


But not everyone in Puerto Rico is delighted by the rise of reggaeton culture.

In a bar down the street from the radio station, Linette Rivera, 28, serves cold beers to early evening customers.

She says that she is sick of the blatant portrayal of women as sex objects in reggaeton, and resents the degree to which it has taken over youth culture on the island.

"It's very insulting, and it doesn't do our image much good at all," she said.

"I'm very worried about the kids because it's all they're listening to. I think we can do better than this."

Whatever the concerns, the undeniable fact is that reggaeton is big business now in Puerto Rico, and looks set to grow abroad.

The island's Sales and Marketing Executives' Association held a day-long conference to discuss reggaeton's potential a few weeks ago.

The conservatively dressed president of the association, Andres Claudio, would look like a fish out of water on a reggaeton dance floor, but he is excited about the profits the new style is generating.

"It's growing and making millions of dollars in sales - that's why people in sales and marketing want to get to understand more on how we can capitalise and maximise this opportunity," said Mr Claudio.

He warns that musicians may have to tone down some of the lyrics if they want to see reggaeton promoted to the musical mainstream - though he concedes that, like gangsta rap, part of the music's appeal is based on its ability to shock.

Reggaeton isn't yet posing a challenge to salsa in the popularity stakes. But it looks set to become a fixture on the world dance scene by the end of this year.

Puerto Rico's Viagra town
17 Feb 05 |  Americas
Regions and territories: Puerto Rico
07 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Puerto Rico
29 Dec 04 |  Country profiles


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