Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reggaeton's Place in Modern Music

As discussed in my BLOG POST about REGGAETON, my surroundings have piqued my interest in this Latin America genre. I would still consider my research on the subject to be very superficial, but today I was reading about REGGAETON as compared to LATIN HIP-HOP, two genres which before I had considered to be synonymous with one another. The WIKIPEDIA article which I have been reading, though, begs to differ. REGGAETON has apparently garnered many comparisons to HIP-HOP and RAP music because the words are, in fact, rapped, and not sung. The article states that the only real difference between the two is that reggaeton beats are influenced by genres like REGGAE and DANCEHALL while true Latin hip-hop more resembles MAIN-STREAM HIP-HOP.

The idea that the only characteristic that keeps reggaeton from turning into hip-hop is the "DEM BOW" beat brings up the question of how this genre came to stand on its own in the first place. It seems as though reggaeton would just fall under the umbrella of LATIN AMERICAN HIP-HOP rather than be considered a completely different entity. I do not mean to question the artistic integrity of this genre, but only to inquire about the line that this music straddles and what actually has change to create an entirely new genre of music.

Let us consider two songs outside of the Latin pop world in which the vocal patterns are similar, but the instrumentation is obviously different: ever since hearing both of these songs I have considered BOB DYLAN's "LIKE A ROLLING STONE" and LOVE's "BUMMER IN THE SUMMER" to endorse very similar lyricism and intonation; not in subject matter, mind you, but simply in the way that ARTHUR LEE and DYLAN emphasize and sing the words. The music behind each song is obviously very different (I wish I could insert mp3s of each, but, alas, I do not know how). Sure, they both endorse the standard rock and roll set up of guitar, bass, drums and piano, but it would be very difficult to confuse the two if they were played as instrumental tracks. Now, I ask, would one really create different genres under which to categorize these songs? As another example: THE POLICE are noted for their influence of reggae, but does that really remove them from the genres of pop or rock and roll?

Let us view another example in the form of the DIWALI RIDDIM, a DANCEHALL rhythm that uses syncopated clapping and is named for its BOLLYWOOD influence. This RIDDIM is present in SEAN PAUL's 2003 single, "GET BUSY," a song that brought DANCEHALL to the attention of many. It was not long, though, before this RIDDIM showed up in other popular songs like LUMIDEE's "NEVER LEAVE YOU (UH OOOH, UH OOOH) and MISSY ELLIOT's "PASS THAT DUTCH".

As all of these artists continue to draw similar influences, the line becomes thinner among all of these urban styles that are indigenous to various regions of the world.

With all of these styles starting to share similar RIDDIMs and hip-hop artists continuing to collaborate with reggaeton artists like DADDY YANKEE, are Latin American hip-hop, main-stream hip-hop and reggaeton becoming increasingly similar and will they soon form one homogenous, all-encompassing melting pot (pictured) of a genre? I have often had trouble with the idea of categorizing everything into specific genres, and this question only gives rise to other ones. POPULAR MUSIC is a very broad way to discuss modern music and I realize that some differentiation is helpful, but this reggaeton and Latin American hip-hop classification is really making my head spin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fortuity Re-examined

In continuance with my post before last, I would like to further discuss this matter of FORTUITOUS HAPPENINGS that has been weighing on my mind as of late.

I have been HIGHLY ENAMORED with the idea of finding connections with individuals in a city as vast as CHICAGO, and as I continue to meet and chat with new people, they have only become more abundant. Much of the time not used to speculate about such occurrences has been spent reading, and I recently retrieved Milan Kundera's THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING from the CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY. The novel centers around the relationship of characters TOMAS and TEREZA, who one day met by chance at a cafe and proceeded to date shortly after. KUNDERA narrates the novel in THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT and, about fifty pages into the novel, reveals TEREZA's mental reasonings behind why she pursued TOMAS after serving him in the cafe. Her reasons rely largely on coincidence (Beethoven playing on the radio, the number six being significant to both parties, TOMAS' use of her favorite bench) and KUNDERA addresses the reader about the nature of such chance occurrences. He says that when reading a novel, people have a tendency to write off a story's coincidental happenings as "NOVELISTIC." To this, KUNDERA says

...I am willing to agree [that such events may seem 'novelistic'], but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as 'fictive,' 'fabricated,' and 'untrue to life' into the word 'novelistic.' Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.
His idea of the matter is that it would be even more outlandish to imagine a life without any fortuitous events like those I have previously addressed.

Upon my intial reading of this passage I did not really think too much of it (maybe because I wanted my life to have some incredible string of interconnected events that would provide me with some larger message), but after a second reading and consideration, I think KUNDERA is on to something. In the same passage he explains that fortuities probably happen much more than we even notice and that the novel should not be chided for utilizing them, but " is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives himself of a dimension of beauty."

Then it hit me: the fact that I am even reading these words at such a CRUCIAL POINT IN MY LIFE is a coincidence (when I was very close to picking up Zadie Smith's WHITE TEETH in this book's stead) that I almost missed! I am part of the problem!

KUNDERA states that
Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurence... into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life.
So, the AFOREMENTIONED FORTUITOUS OCCURRENCES and the ones to come need to just be observed and taken for what they are and the fact that I am even noticing them is a good sign. Thankyou, Mr. Kundera, for putting these AMBIGUOUS EVENTS into perspective for me.

In other news: DENNIS WILSON's reissued PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE finally came out today and when I went to the record store to pick it up, I was smacked in the face with a $30 price tag! What kind of person takes a highly sought-after album, waits until it is almost impossible to find, reissues it and adds so much bonus material that it costs an arm and a leg to obtain??? More information on this EVIL SCHEME soon.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

My Introduction to Reggaeton

The area in which I live in CHICAGO is called the UKRAINIAN VILLAGE and is, as its name suggests, heavily populated by people from UKRAINE. A simple turn of a corner, though, and one steps from the border of the eastern European country right into SAN JUAN as the area on W DIVISION STREET around HUMBOLDT PARK is heavily populated with people of the ASSOCIATED FREE STATE OF PUERTO RICO. This living situation has introduced me, WALKER and WEST to a few different cultural experiences as we balance our grocery shopping between the Puerto Rican and Ukrainian-owned stores and observe people carrying out their everyday activities just as they would in their native countries.

This CROSS-CULTURAL IMMERSION has brought to my attention a few things, but one that I notice literally every day is the loud music protruding from cars on the Puerto Rican side of the neighborhood. It is not just any loud music, though; upon first listen I thought every single young person in the area was listening to DADDY YANKEE's 2004 smash hit, "Gasolina" (which it is, some of the time), but after repeat listenings, the songs are noticeably different. I briefly discussed the mystery songs with WALKER and decided to look into this music that is obviously popular with the Puerto Ricans in my neighborhood. Now, I am not one who is at all well-versed in REGGAETON, but after some investigation I have learned that this is the music the resonates so often from the passing, Puerto-Rican-helmed cars.

Through my (at this point very superficial) research I have learned that the reason the songs sound very much alike is because most modern REGGAETON music utilizes a beat called "DEM BOW," which is characterized by heavy reliance on the snare drum. This RIDDIM was first pioneered by BOBBY "DIGITAL" DIXON and became popular through the dancehall artist, SHABBA RANKS' 1991 song "DEM BOW." The beat was not originally characterized as REGGAETON, but was quickly adapted as a staple in the burgeoning genre.

What interests me the most is the above-observed fact that this "DEM BOW" RIDDIM started as a Jamaican dancehall song and was then adapted to basically form and ENTIRE GENRE OF MUSIC. Maybe I am misunderstanding this whole Latin American pop phenomenon, but it has definitely peaked my interest and when I finally begin my job and make some money, I plan to delve into this musical style more in-depth than simply hearing DOPPLER-EFFECT-TINGED snippets from passing cars.

Hopefully there is more to come on my venture into the world of Puerto Rican pop culture.