linkthink re: hip-hop, reggae, the US, jamaica, and anything else wayne wants to wax on


dembow demo

NYC gente:

i'll be giving a "dembow demo" at hunter college this friday, may 5, as part of a symposium called, "a closer look at reggaeton," sponsored by the center for puerto rican studies and moderated by raquel rivera.

despite the title of the thing, i plan to focus more on listening than looking. specifically, i'll discuss and demonstrate (and DJ!) the dembow riddim: what it is (and how it's put together), where it comes from, how it relates to panamanian reggae en español, how it informs the emergence and coherence of the style known today as reggaeton, and how we can hear its presence and resonance - and thus reggae's presence and resonance - in contemporary productions.

should be a good conversation. despite some recent chatter about the music's decline, i don't think reggaeton's going anywhere any time soon, and it certainly has given us plenty to talk about already. the event starts at 6, and it's free of charge.


Blogger Vitriolix said...

ugh... i'm groaning at that first line in the ChiTri story...

9:25 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

yeah, it was an inevitable tag line, though, eh?

i think it may have ran in the LAtimes first. oddly, it seems to have run in a good number of papers. journalism is weird.

9:29 AM  
Blogger matt said...

I try not to put too much credence into anything the Trib says about music and the arts. I can't trust stodgy, middle-aged folk who's taste runs remarkably similar to my parents on what the 'current' trends in pop culture are. Usually by the time a story hits the papers these days it's been running around on the internet for a while. Or they're just now deciding to chime in on a topic they know they missed the boat on. And I definitely can't trust the Trib on what's hot in the streets. Just as many cars drive past my apartment blasting reggaeton this month as they did last month and the month before that. I'll trust my own anecdotal evidence over the LA Times and the Trib everyday of the week. It's as good of a measure as any.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Blackdown said...

wish i could reach this - the first time you published that Fruity shot was very useful for clarifying how that reggaeton pattern is built. thanks!

5:41 AM  
Blogger mateo said...

Hi Wayne, I am new to your blog. Just thought I'd let you know that I really enjoyed your presentation at Hunter College. One comment that I found especially interesting was your point about linking connections between communities through sounds, etc. I would really like to know more about the decline of reggae influences in reggaetón as of late and how that can be linked to larger developments. Do you think this has to do with commercialization...or something else? Anyways, thanks again for the presentation.

9:29 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thanks, mateo.

i have to admit that i'm only just getting my ears and my mind around these great, big questions you raise. but as i've been listening to more PR dembow / underground / reggaeton recordings from the 90s, i've noticed that they have a much stronger, more audible connection to contemporary JA dancehall reggae. everything from the explicit use of reggae riddims (especially the dem bow, bam bam, and drum song) to the jamaican-style flip-tongue flows and melodies lifted directly from buju banton and co. it's much more clearly a jamaican sound, which is significant, i think, if we consider what that would mean as a musical style for PR youth to adopt at that moment in time. (and i think the PR-NY-JA connection is crucial here.)

although we can still hear this engagement in contemporary (commercial) reggaeton, the influence is more muted. the same musical features i noted above appear as sonic vestiges--the snares changing every 4-8 bars just as the riddims used to, the flows still sing-songy and double-timey like reggae DJs, etc. but i'm not sure how audible this is to the average reggaeton enthusiast today - never mind to those largely unacquainted with the genre.

so i think there may be something interesting going on in terms of this shift in sound and style. it seems related to commercialism, but also, as i suggested, to questions of community as well. if the explicit engagement with reggae - which many (in PR, JA, the US, and the wider world) hear as black music, par excellence - has somehow declined, can reggaeton still signify the same sort of social critique? has race been lost somewhere in the stacks of slick synthesizers and vestigial snares?

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Alberto said...


I was also present for your presentation at Hunter College. I liked your presentation because it was the most tangible. Later, too many social issues were raised. The conversation could have continued for hours.

I was suprised by the way Puerto Ricans approached this topic. It all started with you showing us rhytmic patterns and it all ended up with huge concerns about identity & "race". I was specially surprised by the last speaker from the public who didn't want to share reggaeton with other countries.

5:05 AM  
Blogger mateo said...

Thanks for the response. I think this is a really interesting line of inquiry. I have been exploring the topic of reggaetón and its popular rise in the US and PR a bit and have been thinking about changes taking place mainly through lyrics--as in moving, say, from often grossly misogynist to more acceptable double entendres due to popular market demands. I have thought of sound changes as a more natural evolution. But I guess those can be thought of as a subtle 'whitening' process too? Thanks for your comments.

5:19 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

i guess one reason i like thinking about, talking about, and playing music is that it gives us such a seemingly tangible, audible thing to discuss. at the same time, i usually see it as a wonderful way into some of these abstract, complex, and often contested ideas about who we are and how we draw the lines of community. i can sympathize with your reaction, alberto, but i think perhaps part of the problem in certain discussions about identity and race is that - in addition to the sometimes intense emotional character of such conversations - they too often stay at the level of vague, commonsense notions, mobilizing myth against myth. this is why i think it is essential to be quite specific in articulating what we mean when we conjure identity and race in public discussions. i'm afraid that the conversation on friday night at times opened into some big questions and big problems without really taking stock of what is at stake - e.g., as when we consider the difference between hearing reggaeton as a puerto rican thing, a pan-latino thing, a black thing, a young thing, etc.

this relates directly to mateo's point above as well as my own attempts to link the musical lines i was drawing to the community lines that such sounds can draw. music is never just music, never simply entertainment or sound that exists outside of the social. part of its power is that it can open up into truly feelingful experiences of self and community, so for me it's always worth interrogating the ways we think about music and what it signifies to us - as specifically as we can say - in certain contexts.

along those lines, i'm not sure i ever believe that musical changes are part of a "natural evolution," unless we understand that term to include such things as the ideologies and discourses and political-economic structures and such that make it more or less appealing (on the part of artists and audiences alike) to advance a certain type of style or sound or critique in a particular context. in this light, it's fascinating to note what we might hear as a "whitening" process in reggaeton's lyrics and sonic structures. interesting point, mateo, i'll have to listen for that in the lyrics more closely. have you written anything on the topic?

6:04 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

and i think "the last speaker from the public who didn't want to share reggaeton with other countries" is doomed to disappointment. despite the still audible (and visible) PR influence on reggaeton, the music has found adherents and enthusiasts beyond the PR community. we'll surely be hearing differently accented versions for some time now. and though it is important to consider what might be "lost" for PR in that kind of movement, we might also think about what is gained.

of course, it's utterly ironic that such a hybrid style as reggaeton - as i attempted to show in my presentation - could be so easily claimed for a narrow nationalism. as i mentioned in my response to the last speaker, i'm sure a number of panamanians - never mind jamaicans (or dominicans?) - would disagree with her claim in the first place.

6:09 AM  
Blogger mateo said...

It was your comment that made me think of the ‘whitening’ through sound actually.

So, I have not exactly thought this entirely through, but I was reading Billboard magazine not long ago and came across an article that speaks in part to the process of commercialization that reggaetón has undergone. DJ Kazzanova, who (I am pretty sure) is a disc jockey on the radio station “La Kalle” in New York, said in 2003: "In Puerto Rico, the people who buy albums are women. And these rappers were only appealing to guys. So they started doing softer raps, about dancing ... and the ladies started buying." In the same article, the GM of VI Music, a Puerto Rican record label that sold its distributing rights to Universal Music in 2002, said: "In the six years we've been around, we've stressed to our artists the importance of not only changing the violent content of the lyrics but also having content all Hispanics can understand […] Our products have 95% clean lyrics. There's no need to be violent or aggressive toward women."

Though this explicitly says nothing about ‘whitening’ it does say much about the attempt to cater to the explicit and implicit desires of the genre’s audience. In light of both your comments about the evolution of musical forms and also the racial and nationalist ideologies prevalent in Puerto Rico, it does not seem too far off to think that there was an active attempt to distinguish the sound from that of 'black' Jamaican dancehall—-consciously perhaps only to make the genre unique but also having the effect of making it less black--satisfying the desires of many fans in Puerto Rico and the larger ‘Hispanic’ market.

Thanks a lot. This exchange has been helpful for me, as I am in the process of trying to write something on reggaetón.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Clarisel said...

Thanks again for talking to PRSUN TV at the Hunter event. FYI: The show will air in the Bronx in June.

11:53 AM  
Blogger wayne&wax said...

thank you, clarisel. it was a pleasure to talk to you. i may have to pay a visit to the bronx sometime in june to check it out!

mateo - i'd love to read anything you write on this subject. please feel free to be in touch with me at wayneandwax - at - gmail.

3:07 PM  

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