Dancehall vs. reggaetón: which is more dope?

Summer workers from the Caribbean battle over offshoots of reggae

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

A long with the tourists in summer come the people making a living off the tourists. In case you hadn't noticed, much of downtown from the tram base to the Marine View apartments has been bought up by jewelry merchants. The buildings that once housed Filipino and Tex-Mex restaurants, local curios and bars have been bought by Armenians, Russians, Indians from India, Israelis and other international investors.

But that's another subject.

Since I work downtown, I tend to run into the international workers when they're off work and relaxing. The downtown bars at night are filled with people from lots of different countries and cultures dancing to the rhythms laid down by DJs. Reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, reggaetón, salsa, merengue and Latin pop are some of the styles you hear through the doors in summer.

I met up with a few jeweler friends from Royal Jewelers this week and we discussed, over a beer, some of the contemporary music in the Caribbean. The conversation got really heated when the topic moved to some of the reggae offshoots, specifically Jamaican dancehall music and reggaetón.

Dancehall, also known as bashment, developed in the 1970s in Jamaica. The style features a DJ rapping over raw, danceable reggae beats, called "riddims" (slang for rhythms). One of the differences between dancehall and reggae is that dancehall is faster and more danceable, but still has that classic reggae emphasis on the upbeat. Also, dancehall uses a lot more electronic instruments.

Dancehall musicians include Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Sizzla, Capleton and Sean Paul.

Reggaetón is a blend of reggae and hip-hop with strong Latin influences (horns, percussion and Latin rhythms), including some of the rhythmic elements of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries. One strong characteristic of reggaetón is its use of repetitive minimalist beats, mostly in loops. It's usually sung in Spanish.

Reggaetón musicians include Daddy Yankee, Luny Tunes and Pitbull.

Amber, whose family is from Belize, said reggae music is really slow, really chill, but dancehall is for dancing.

"It's a roots-culture type of thing," her brother Roman said. "Dancehall was the unwanted child of reggae, in a sense, because when it came out it became a little more raunchy."

"MCs are very popular in dancehall and they're like the hype men, they hype it up. Reggaetón, they don't do that," Roman said. "In dancehall reggae you have different artists flowing over the same track, rapping over the same track. They do the same thing with the reggaetón, but they're flowing over the same dumb track."

Erik, from Puerto Rico, argued that reggaetón has a larger following and appears in more places in the Caribbean islands and coastal mainland countries.

Roman and Amber wouldn't hear it. They said dancehall is purer and more authentic.

Erik said reggaetón is raunchy and stood up to demonstrate some of the nastier moves people use to dance to it.

"Puerto Ricans, they love the reggaetón," said Roman with a sideways smile.

In the end, Rene, originally from Nicaragua, offered the concluding thought - that both styles are the stepchildren of the original master, reggae. Both are valuable and regional, and expressive of individual cultures.

• Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She hosts "Global Edge" a world music radio show on KRNN 102.7 FM, Sunday nights,10 p.m. to midnight.

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