Reggaeton fever shakes up Cuba's culture

Mon Jun 29, 2009 5:11pm EDT
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By Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) - To record his next hit El Micha, one of the rising stars of Cuba's reggaeton music blending reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms, just has to knock on his neighbor's door.

A microphone plugged into an old computer in an apartment in Havana's working-class suburb of Reparto Electrico serves as the studio where some of Cuba's most successful reggaeton songs are recorded.

"Reggaeton is unstoppable because it is recorded at home. It is totally independent," says Michael "El Micha" Sierra, 27, a former basketball player whose bottom row of gold teeth flash when he gives one of his frequent broad smiles.

With little official support or air time on state-controlled radio, the songs Cuban reggaeton artists record in makeshift studios lined with egg cartons for sound insulation are mostly transmitted though homemade CDs and on computer flash memory sticks.

That is how the tropical fever of reggaeton is sweeping communist-ruled Cuba, captivating its youth and enraging a cultural establishment alarmed by the vulgarity of some of its lyrics, which include phrases like "Coge mi tubo" ("Grab my pipe") and "Metela" ("Stick it in").

"Cubans know about music and if they picked reggaeton they have to be respected. The people are the ones who decide," said Sierra.

Reggaeton, a cocktail of reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms, first emerged in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s and has

spread rapidly though Latin America. In Cuba, it is played on crowded buses, shakes neighborhood windows with its throbbing bass and packs discos night after night.   Continued...

<p>Women dance in a reggaeton competition during a beach event organized by Cuba's Union of Young Communists and the National Sports Institute in Havana in this July 23, 2006 file photo. Picture taken July 23, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files</p>