juan flores
What’s All the Noise About?
My late friend Johnny Ramírez used to call it ‘‘racketón.’’ ‘‘Apaga ese racketón’’
(Turn o√ that racketon) he would shout as the thumping cars shattered the
peaceful quiet of his little house, campo adentro in the hills of Puerto Rico. For
him, music was El Trío Los Panchos, Ramito, a little salsa maybe, an occasional
tango, and a lot of boleros, Daniel Santos, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and
of course, Felipe Rodríguez, ‘‘La Voz.’’ Even after spending forty of his seventy
years in New York City, Johnny’s whole system was geared to ‘‘la música de
ayer,’’ the trusty old melodies and familiar cadences of yesteryear. The insistent
boom and incoherent vocal gibberish of reggaeton was a ‘‘racket,’’ nothing but
meaningless, ear-grating noise. It’s just not music.
Reggaeton is to this extent no di√erent than other new styles or modes of
popular music as they take hold among the young generation and conquer the
soundscape of its place and time. The history of emergent genres and practices
of music making illustrate time and again how the new language is greeted
with widespread disdain among those with a stake in perpetuating what’s been
accepted and taken for granted as ‘‘the real stu√.’’ Often what is at stake is social
privilege, the wealth and power of the tastemakers and gatekeepers. But in the
case of Johnny, who spent his whole life poor and uneducated, it’s obviously
not about privilege or wealth or power. His rants against ‘‘racketón’’ were
backed by another kind of power, the weight of tradition and generational
authority. Music is what music has ‘‘always’’ been. The rest is simply not music;
it’s noise, a racket.
Of course music is never just about music, and the social judgments it faces
are always about the people who create it and love it. Johnny’s responding not
only to the sounds he hears but to the wayward, good-for-nothing young
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