Brief history of Cuban reggaeton (Part I)

Jan 5, 2020


The Cuban reggaeton appeared few years after its origins in Puerto Rico. But from the very beginning it found a different context.

Overlooking a knowledgeable audience and dance music lover, it had to incorporate Cuban musical genres to reach the big audience.

First things first: Origins of Cuban reggaeton

Before focusing on the reggaeton or Cuban reggaeton we should focus on the origin of this genre. Its origins are usually located in Puerto Rico or Panama. It evolved from the ragamuffin, a type of electronic music which was created from the fusion of reggae and hip hop.

Its distinctive rhythm, which is almost always the same, with little variation in its beat, comes from the military drum, and was used and popularized by Jamaican artist Shabba Ranks in 1991 with his song Dem Bow.

The title of that song appointed since that characteristic beat, and from there it “grew up” for 20 years, maintaining the same “Dem Bow” which is also used in the Cuban reggaeton.

The interesting thing is that the basis of the song is a riddim (instrumental version of another song) of “Poco Man jam”, from the actor Gregory Peck.

Like the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America music, this one grew among urban youth, especially in underground malls and slums. The first reggaeton artists achieving great fame and reaching an international public was Puerto Rican Daddy Yankee, Vico C, Nando Boom, Tego Calderon, Hector and Tito, Luny Tunes and Noriega, Wisin & Yandel, Don Omar, Nicky Jam, Calle 13, Plan B among others.

His first name in Puerto Rico was “under” in character, and “Dem Bow”. Between 1993 and 1994, at a nightclub called “The Noise” Vico C rapped Jamaican background music. From there it spread, emerging artists and above all by expanding to other countries such as Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama and later to Cuba.

Arrival in Cuba

The late appearance of this type of music in Cuba is associated with several factors. The first was the cultural censorship, filtering and prevents vulgar lyrics are broadcast in the media. Another one is the digital isolation of Cuba, which also leads to a natural delay in the arrival of foreign flows.

The latter is the tradition of Cuban dance music, and let’s say it was a blessing rather than hindrance. While in many parts of the World, electronic music dominates the dance floor, the absence of strong transnational and Cuban Salsa and Son tradition made more popular groups to continue performing live.

Since it’s arrival, the Cuban variant was more marked by Caribbean rhythms such as Soca, calypso kin and dance hall. Among the pioneers of Cuban reggaeton today is said to be the extinct group Carlos Manuel and his Clan.

Its producer, Pedro Camacho, saw the possibilities of the new rhythm and began to experiment with it. Perhaps the first Cuban reggaeton song was then the 1999 single “Agua Fría” (Cold Water).

To be continued…


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