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Spanish Perreo: It’s a way of life

Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp explores the origins of perreo and its journey to becoming a dominant sound in Spain

Spanish Perreo: It’s a way of life
Ballantines True Music Chica Gang

In the music business there is a certain type of sound that has slowly but steadily taken over the airwaves in recent years. It’s not just a music style, but a way of understanding life and rhythms that has gone beyond the local scenes. Now, these infectious beats are dominating pop culture, crossing over genres and blurring the limits that once existed between them. Those rhythms have something in common: their Latin American influence.

FROM SAN JUAN TO MADRID: HOW PERREO CAME TO SPAIN?

First we have to define what Perreo is. Contrary to the belief extended outside the Latin world, Perreo is not a style of music, but a way of dancing and understanding life. And although Perreo is mostly associated with reggaetón and their history tightly connected, it is actually how you dance to certain kinds of Latin-infused sounds that makes both men and women be more sensual and provocative when moving their bodies (and booty) on the dancefloor. It is a way of expressing one’s sexuality and hedonism through dance moves, that comes from the influence that Jamaican ragga and dancehall had initially in reggaetón.

There is an ongoing debate about whether reggaetón was born in Puerto Rico or Panamá. But it is certain that it was in Puerto Rico where it became most popular. The origins of the genre come from a mixture of influences from various Latin music styles (merengue, salsa, bachata, cumbia and more), local rap and hip-hop, and the syncopated, broken beats from Jamaican reggae and dancehall (with a profound influence from African music and dances). But, how and when did it cross the pond reaching Europe and Spain? The answer is: as music used to travel when the internet wasn’t what it is today. Through immigration.

Although reggaetón was born in the early to mid 90s, it didn’t reach Europe until the early 2000s, when a big wave of immigrants, predominantly from countries as Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Venezuela and more started to travel to Spain, seeking better opportunities in life. They were looking for a country in which they could have a common history and a language to share.

One of the main recipients of Latin immigration in Spain were the Canary Isles. Mainly because these islands were the home of thousands of people that fled Spain during the 40 year-old dictatorship (1939-1975) of Francisco Franco. Those people emigrated to all corners of Latin America, creating strong established communities in all the continent, creating a reference point for them.

In the early 2000s, the migration was the other way around, and all those people from Dominican Republic, Colombia or Ecuador wanted to go where they felt closer to home, and welcomed. And that place was the Canary Isles, because of the weather, the food and the people. Many also moved to Madrid, Barcelona, Andalusia and many other regions across Spain, creating communities that tried as much as they could to maintain their values, customs and of course, their music.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF PERREO

Those immigrants were mainly families young enough to like the reggaetón sound that had been spreading through the South American continent for a decade. They heard songs from widely regarded reggaetón pioneers as El General (‘Muevelo’, 1991), Vico C, Ivy Queen (‘Como Mujer’, 1997), El Chombo (‘El Gato Volador, 1998), Don Omar (‘Pobre Diabla’, 2003), or huge names in the genre such as Lorna (‘Papichulo’, 2002), Tego Calderón (‘Guasa Guasa’, 2003), Daddy Yankee (‘Gasolina’, 2004) and many more. And they took that music from their homes to the streets, and to newly founded Latin discos in Spain, where these young communities gathered to spend leisure time.

In the early days there were just a handful of radio/TV stations that paid attention to the “perreo” mixture, Los 40 Latino being one of the few and the most important of them, continuing today. Here is where reggaetón and Latin culture started to merge with Spanish locals.

Many went to the Latin discos, but it was the children from Latin and Spanish families the ones that had a bigger exchange (as they cohabited in schools, were in the same groups of friends, etc.). Those children became teenagers that grew without the prejudice towards Latin music that some of their parents had, and when they started to go out to the “Light discos” (alcohol-free discotheques that opened in the afternoon until 10 or 11pm), they demanded to hear reggaetón and new sounds, different from the established popish, rock music from the mid 2000s.

However, that fusion had to overcome three major obstacles that the style also had to face in Latin America, but on a different level. First, racism. Even though Spain is not a country with a big racist component, by the early 2000s the Spanish locals did have some mistrust towards the Latin immigration, mainly because of the history of Colonialism that exists between Spain and South America. That was partially fueled by the arrival of Latin gangs and the rise at the time of the neo-Nazi movement.

Second, classism. Latin American immigrants were seen as second-class citizens (many dedicated to less technical jobs as caretakers, housekeepers, construction workers, farmers, etc.), and their music – specifically reggaetón – was seen as uneducated and made for promiscuous people (due to the strongly sexual and explicit lyrics of the music at the time) (this was also a prejudice in Latin America itself). That also made urban and hip-hop artists look down on their reggaetón counterparts, as for them lyrics had to be complex and urban music was not meant to be danced.

Third, Anglophilia. It wasn’t until the USA started to discover and embrace reggaetón and perreo, that Spain saw the style as something worthy of attention. Now, major labels even encourage and sign artists that present variations and innovations inside the “perreo” movement, as both labels and artists realized its potential and the need of a softer, less sexualized, more romantic and feminine music.

In Spain, before that realization, in the mid 2000s, it was the time when pioneering artists such as duo K-Narias (from the Canary Isles) hit the charts with their ‘No Te Vistas Que No Vas’ or ‘Salsa Con Reggaetón’. Meanwhile, in mainland Spain, in Barcelona, Ecuadorian rapper El Dilema and record label Rico Entertainment started to introduce the Latin infused sounds in the scene. “El Dilema released ‘El Himno De Las Calles’ in that time and it hit hard in the Barcelona scene”, tells us Madjody, director of leading Spanish urban music media ElBloque. “In Madrid, for instance, there was people like Dakaneh fusing rap with Latin music, creating the first mixtures before reggaetón or perreo were fully accepted music genres in Spain”, he says.

THE CURRENT STARS OF THE MOVEMENT

Right now things are totally different. Especially after 2017, where there was a turning point for Perreo and Latin music in general. But before we talk about that, as Madjody states, in Spain there were already collectives of artists embracing it and taking the risk of developing their own sound. “It’s the case of Pxxr Gang (read Poor Gang), that started as Kefta Boys and D Gomez, who eventually developed their alter ego, Mafia del Amor (Love Mafia)”, he recalls. Around 2013, their components (Yung Beef, Khaled, Kaydy Cain and Steve Lean) were the ones pushing the boundaries and breaking prejudices and stereotypes in the hip-hop community, normalizing the use of reggaetón in trap and rap records.

He also quotes artists such as Dellafuente, Maka or Soto Asa as the ones that started pushing reggaetón and Perreo into urban culture, before the genre went mainstream. Then, in 2016, many new interesting young artists exploded, such as La Zowi, Bad Gyal, Ms Nina, or C. Tangana among others. Check out our Spanish Perreo curated playlist to discover more artists in this genre.

Then 2017 came, when the turning point we mentioned before occurred: The release of ‘Despacito’, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. This track was especially important as it softened the opinion of people about the genre, as it was less sexualized and yet had the main infectious components:

Currently, Perreo goes beyond just reggaetón, infusing genres such as trap, hip-hop and R&B, inside and outside Spain. There is also an important movement inside reggaetón and Perreo, that is trying to make it less misogynist and more empowering for women and queer collectives. In Spain this is led by Chica Gang (Flaca Bang, rocio.rocio.rocio.rocio, and Alba Loughlin), a group of women trying to create safe spaces for women and queer people in the scene. Also by Argentinian-Spanish artist Ms Nina, Andrea Vandall or Bea Pelea, who are all stalwarts of this feminist take on Perreo in Spain. They are carrying the torch of feminist champion and pioneering artists of the genre, Puerto Rican star Ivy Queen. You can see their story in the Boiler Room x Ballantine’s Stay True documentary about Spanish Perreo, in 2019.

As Perreo has become a social and global phenomenon, the artists embracing it in Spain have turned from almost being misfits, to have the recognition of the scene and millions of streams in all platforms. Besides, they are sought after by the big names in the international scene to collaborate. That proves that Spain is actually becoming a powerhouse in the urban music scene that will take over the airwaves in the years to come.

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