The following article was originally published in Varsity, the independent newspaper of the University of Cambridge and republished here with permission of the author, Inés Cropper de Andres.
Blasting from any Hispanic shop, restaurant or bar, you are sure to meet the bewitching rhythms of Reggaeton. Once singing of violence and gang life, with lyrics describing graphic sexual acts and music videos featuring scantily clad models (hello Pitbull), Reggaeton has moved far from the underground, anti-colonial movement from which it started. Inspired by the Argentinian pro-choice “Ni Una Menos” movement, the reclamation of Reggaeton by Latinx feminist groups in the past 5 years has come as a surprise to many. Even mainstream Reggaeton artists are now joining the trend, with Bad Bunny (net worth $16 million) pushing the musical movement from underground Soundcloud demos into stratospheric Hollywood heights with his song ‘Yo Perrero Sola’. Being photographed in skirts and publicly criticising machismo culture, he is the first big male artist to join the movement. In light of the recent lift on abortion in Argentina, what does it mean to be a feminist Reggaeton artist? Can Reggaeton return to its political roots? How is Reggaeton being used to bring women together intersectionally?
“To be on the dance-floor as a gay woman, to have fun, to exist in spaces that heterosexual men have traditionally ruled, is political.”
Sporting mullets and brightly dyed hair, Kumbia Queers are not your average Cumbia band. With an impressive discography spanning the past decade, this Argentine six-piece, self-proclaimed tropical punk band combines the island sounds of Cumbia and Reggaeton with punk rock, anarchist philosophy and queercore. Their music sings of freedom and liberation and is ultimately a rally for women to get up and dance. Their most catchy song, ‘Puesta’, is a tongue-in-cheek dance track, the kind that urges you back on the dance-floor and away from your drunken (and probably dissatisfying) Cindies hookup. Classically carnival, the claxon opening hints of the fun that is infused throughout. “I wanted to write a protest song but to be honest I’m too high” repeats the chorus.
Closing your eyes to the looped rhythmic backing track, you’re transported to a beach party, dizzy after one too many tokes, with glitter smudged across your cheeks. In countries where homophobic slurs are a part of everyday vocabulary and being openly gay is frequently met with hostility, existence is resistance. To be on the dance-floor as a gay woman, to have fun, to exist in spaces that heterosexual men have traditionally ruled, is political. The irony in Cumbia being a traditional heterosexual love dance, and its fusion with Reggaeton as the site of female exploitation, uses the genres to situate queer women in positions of power.
Don’t be fooled. This is not an exclusionary political movement. Like the riot grrrl movements of the 90s, this new feminist Reggaeton is a safe space for all women-identifying and gender-queer individuals.
Take Krudas Qumbensi, an afro-Latinx hip-hop duo from Cuba who represent “Womyn, Immigrants, Queers, and People of Color”. Their early albums with songs like ‘Horizontalidad’ push a pro-socialist message, but it is in their 2014 album Poderosxs that they begin using their lived experiences to craft their message.
“Whose bodies? Our bodies” they cry in their hit single ‘Mi Cuerpo es Mio’, an exploration of the intertwining of Church and State. The music video features the duo dancing, superimposed onto protest photos. If the electro-soul synth backing hadn’t already made it clear, the message is obvious. Their revolution will be danced. The track is in Spanglish, calling in their American Diaspora. This is not a battle that can be fought by them alone, it requires unity.
Sisterhood is recurring on this album, with the spoken word track of ‘Vamos Juntas’, an ode to solidarity through subverting the traditional forms of the Catholic hymn. “Destroy what hurts us, solidify what unites us”. Is this a prayer or a battle-cry set to lo-fi? The listener is left to decide.
Sisterhood and solidarity become the focus of their latest release, their 2019 album LNL. These themes are the foundations of their exploration of afro-liberation, gender liberation, and queer liberation. Relying more on spoken word, beat-boxing and acapella than on heavy production, this album is musically complex while remaining emotionally raw. The human cry heard in the background of ‘Un Dia’, a lament to lack of safe abortions, is overlaid with ominous humming. Is it a woman crying? Who is she? Remaining nameless, she could be anyone. She could be you. Naked. Harrowing. Intimate. “Who looks after us?” questions the album, and the answer never comes. This is a worldwide system failure. If we don’t care about each other as sisters, who will?
“One thing is clear: the revolution may not be televised, but it can definitely be danced.”
In a world where women are divided through issues as banal as whether they’re a hi girl or a bruh girl (Buzzfeed has multiple quizzes addressing this clearly important matter), music is a cultural force to be reckoned with. Asserting themselves as non-conforming, queer women of colour, bands like Krudas Qumbensi and Kumbia Queers are entering, reimagining, and restructuring the space that was built upon actively excluding them. The call to arms for sisterhood, not one based on patriarchy, but one based on a recognition of intersectionality, is an act of defiance against a structure that profits from female competition. Female and queer existence is resistance; how better to showcase that than through taking control of the music? One thing is clear: the revolution may not be televised, but it can definitely be danced.
Cover photo credits: Montecruz Photo
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