January 17, 2017

By Gonzalo López Martí / Creative director, etc - LMMiami.com

  • The good news: urban music is coming of age.
  • Urban as in hip hop, reggaetón, etc.
  • One word: Hamilton.
  • The wildly successful Broadway musical penned and headlined by brilliant hyphenate, Pulitzer prize and Toni award-winner New Yoricua Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • Who also happens to be co-author of Disney’s latest global monster hit soundtrack, Moana.
  • Now that’s what I call a Renaissance man.
  • A masterpiece-cranking machine.
  • Kudos, Lin-Manuel.
  • This column loves and admires you profoundly.
  • I have a total man-crush on you.
  • You are a true genius who makes us all Latinos proud.
  • Now for the bad news.
  • After all these years, hip hop, its Caribbean cousin reggaettón et al still suffer from a bad case of serious vulgarity.
  • This being a publication for and by Latinos, let’s focus on our own.
  • Your average reggaettón song is a 3-minute long vomit of brain-dead “albures”.
  • Don’t know what the Spanish word “albur” means?
  • Depending on its context it can have multiple meanings, as is the case with most words in the language of Cervantes.
  • Today we’re gonna talk about the “albur” as double entendre or pun, usually with sexual connotations, used as a form of quick comeback or witty retort.
  • An albur is supposed to be an clever verbal flourish.
  • An exercise of rhetorical & mental gymnastics.
  • The ideal albur must be subtle enough to go unnoticed by the person in the receiving end, who usually is the butt of the joke.
  • “Alburear” is a widespread Mexican tradition & a national pastime.
  • The practice manifests itself in one way or another, albeit with different names, all across Latin America and Spain, particularly in Andalucía.
  • The ouvre of seminal Mexican hip rock band Molotov is chockfull of albures.
  • Pitbull, for instance, is a walking, breathing, bilingual albur-spouting machine.
  • Reggaettón is rife with albures.
  • Of the filthiest kind.
  • Very vulgar stuff indeed.
  • Exhibit A: Maluma.
  • A total hormone-crazed potty mouth.
  • His songs, such as Cuatro Babys, Sin contrato or Un polvo are, at best, odes to adolescent horndoggery, mischief and immature machismo.
  • Unfortunately, Maluma also has a penchant to celebrate dangerous misogyny, tasteless ostentation and, in some cases, outright criminal activity.
  • Plus, he blatantly rips off Canadian rapper Drake.
  • J Balvin, if we wanted to see the glass half full, tends to be a little more kosher.
  • He aims a little higher, artistically speaking.
  • But still.
  • Both the aforementioned reggaettoneros hail from the slums of Medellín, Colombia.
  • Or so they want us to believe.
  • Is this type of outré artistic attitude and socioeconomic background vital to top the charts?
  • Not necessarily.
  • Puerto Ricans Calle 13, were wildly successful for quite some time without resorting to vulgarity, despite their radical political stances*.
  • Cuban cult band Orishas, who have also been out of the picture for a while, gathered great acclaim with a brand of Latin-tinged hip hop that never needed misogyny or thuggish antics to call attention.
  • More so, and oddly enough, you will never see this type of crudeness in a song by Juanes, who as well as Maluma & J Balvin, hails from “Medalla” too.
  • Juanes’s lyrics are way more elevated and poetically ambitious.
  • And he is wildly successful.
  • If I were to play the linguist and Freudian anthropologist I’d say albures are a form of repressed insubordination.
  • A subtle provocation.
  • A contained defiance of authority.
  • The poor powerless worker making fun of “el patrón” in his very face.
  • The colonized mestizo, el cholo, verbally jousting with the white master.
  • A simmering, subdued revenge of impoverished, uneducated men demanding respect.
  • The underdog taking on the oppressor.
  • Sadly though, the albur is also a form of machismo, of exerting gender power, profusely used by insecure males to belittle females.
  • Aliteration and rhyme are quite common in albures.
  • Hence, albures lend themselves beautifully to use as lyrics of popular music.
  • Corridos, rancheras, cumbias, bachatas, vallenatos even tangos and boleros are full of albures.
  • Generally of the clever kind.
  • A good albur, a real witty one, uses puns and metaphors to defuse and dilute the vulgarity and the filth.
  • Not the case with reggaettoneros, whose lyrics tend to be coarse, blunt and uninspired.
  • Even pretty face Enrique Iglesias crosses the albur line profusely in his lyrics.
  • Duele el corazón (featuring Wisin) is full of albures which, once again, require a certain proficient command of the Spanish language to fully understand.
  • One of the verses in said song (“acabar en tu boca”) means “to ejaculate in your mouth”.
  • Now that’s classy.
  • In any case, brands don’t seem to care, to judge by these artists’ lucrative sponsorship & product placement deals.
  • Male artists can get away with these antics.
  • Women?
  • Nnnnno.**
  • Mind you, I have no beef with reggaetón as a musical genre.
  • Quite the contrary.
  • To be continued next week.

*Due to its controversial political positions, Puerto Ricans Calle 13 have had a bit of hard time obtaining airplay on US soil. Plus, they seem to have distanced themselves from reggaetón in recent years for “artistic integrity” reasons. Last week, one of the band’s founding members -René, aka Residente- unveiled the first music video of a solo project called “Somos anormales” that deliberately shuns the usual reggaetón trappings, both musically and esthetically, despite its explicit imagery and combative message. It will be interesting to see how it performs in the charts.

**A few years back I had the pleasure to work for Procter & Gamble’s Pantene account. At some point we were looking for a potential social media influencer slash brand endorser with traction among Latinas or various age ranges. I suggested Gloria Trevi, famous for her girl power antics and for her aptly named song “Pelo suelto”. Crickets. “I don’t think Gloria Trevi is the kind of woman we want to represent our brand” was the awkward response.

 

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