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Cuba’s campaign against reggaeton

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You have to be mindful of when and where you play your favorite song when you’re in Havana:

“At 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, the Mariana Grajales park in downtown Havana pulses with a thumping beat. Young men in drooping trousers and women in miniskirts dance, raise their hands in the air and grind pelvis to pelvis amid whooping, clapping and coarse jokes.

The risque dance style known as ‘perreo,’ which translates loosely as ‘dogging,’ is associated with reggaeton, an up-tempo mix of reggae, hip-hop and Latin rhythms that was popularized in Puerto Rico and has become a mainstay on Cuban TV and radio.

Now, the music finds itself squarely in the sights of critics who lament the genre’s notoriously suggestive lyrics, steamy videos and sometimes misogynistic stereotyping.

Cuban authorities recently announced restrictions reportedly declaring state-run recording studios and broadcasts off-limits to songs with questionable lyrics. They also prohibit such music in performance spaces subject to government control.”

Personally — and I know it approaches apostasy for me to say this as a Puerto Rican — but I don’t like reggaeton. In fact, I’ve never liked it. What’s more, I despise it.

Since the days reggaeton began catching steam in my sleepy Chicago suburb back around 2000, when people assumed I was a fan at the same moment they discovered I was boricua, I’ve viewed the music as degrading to both antillanas and antillanos alike. The lyrics, to my mind, are mostly about men with the adorable combination of shiny teeth and low IQs ordering rounds upon rounds of shots at the bar while they slap the fat asses of sun-kissed strumpets “wearing” booty shorts, bikini tops and wedge sandals.

The moral of the reggaeton story seems to be: drink till oblivion, spend inordinate amounts of money, and have sex whenever you’re not passed out. (Forgive me if my description is at all inaccurate.)

And yet, for all its depravity and moral bankruptcy — notice I couldn’t care less about the swear words — even more despicable is the government that would ban such music outright.

Now, to be clear, that’s not what the Communist Caesars in Cuba did. “Obviously everyone is free to listen in private to whatever music they want,” the president of the Cuban Music Institute told reporters. “But that freedom does not include the right to reproduce it and play it in state or private restaurants or cafeterias, public buses or public spaces in general.”

So it’s not a full ban per se.

Still the question remains as to whether the Cuban government has the authority to place such restrictions on music — and thus, art — and if so, whether the authority derives from the Cuban people themselves. The mighty Plato seemed to conclude that the leaders of an ideal state should regulate what kind of music their people listened to — although there’s some debate as to whether The Republic is actually a work of satire or not.

Many critics of reggaeton, including the Cuban Women’s Federation, have voiced their support for restrictions, and Americans seem to be having the very same debate. Depending on what radio station you listen to here in the States, DJs might censor the word overdose while letting the word bitch slide. (I’d love to sit in on a station’s monthly censorship meeting, if there is such a thing.)

In perfect honesty, I’m not sure where I stand on the subject of banning offensive music in the public sphere. I may deem much of today’s hip hop and reggaeton suitable for my commute to and from wherever, but that doesn’t mean everyone within earshot of my car window should be forced to take it in as well — not to mention the responsible parent dialing through their radio trying to get to something for the kids to listen to. Whenever I take the CTA and want to listen to something from, say, Weezy, I wear headphones and keep the volume no higher than necessary.

(I apologize if I’m coming off as a civilized and considerate human being. It’s in my nature.)

What makes the new Cuban law inherently wrong, however — and every Cuban law inherently wrong, for that matter — is that the island is governed by one party. That means there’s no alternative, no choice for the Cuban people. Were the new law passed democratically, what could Americans or anyone else say about it? If the Cuban people wanted to prohibit offensive lyrics from being played in public, then that’s their prerogative. (I’d even suggest that we follow in their example.)

But that’s not what happened. Cuba’s handlers have placed restrictions on degrading lyrics simply because they can do whatever they want without fear of reprisal.

In the end, the new restrictions on music are a much graver offense to the Cuban people than the music they aim to restrict.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007,, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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