The 2000s will be remembered as a time of openness. Despite the shock endured with the horror of 9/11, the hope for a better world was still vibrant. With the emergence of technology and accessibility to the Internet for the youth (or modern-day millennials of all ages), the Latin community, thanks to music, was also becoming more and more visible. If white Cubans such as Gloria Estefan did have their success in the 1980s and left their legacy in the industry, the other Latin acts which became popular in the 1980s and 1990s marked the history of the freestyle music genre, but they were often overshadowed by the black American creators too. Indeed, in the brutal racial US hierarchy, no one really knew where to place them.
Lisa Lisa and the Jam, Afro-Cuban Nayobe, or the Exposé girls originally from Miami did illustrate this reality. Though their sound left an impact in both pop music and freestyle, they were absorbed and overshadowed as quickly as freestyle popularity decreased.
By the end of the 1990s, colorist black male producers greatly contributed to the erasure of unambiguous dark skin black American female singers to replace them with exotical and racially ambiguous musicians. This racial ambiguity went hand in hand with the emergence of the then first phase of world globalism. Americans were looking at the outside, and as Western Europe was abolishing its frontiers, while enjoying the dream of creating one currency (Euro), black women were no longer deemed marketable. Their black features were not exotical enough and appealing to the global music scene. As a consequence, both the colorist black male producers and the white American music executives chose to replace the black women with their mixed-race counterparts, especially following the death of Aaliyah, but also with Latinas. Jennifer Lopez, a talentless industry plant and gimmick, was crafted after the image of Mariah Carey in the late 1990s, (minus the vocal and songwriting talents), and pushed to both the Latin and black markets. Unable to sing her own songs due to her weak vocals, Lopez, also a mediocre actress, exploited the voices of her black vocal backup singers.
The idea of musical openness during the 2000s was synonymous with Latin sounds and Latin women. Yet, a difference should be noted. The mainstream promoted white Latinos, such as Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, or Gloria Estefan who had been there since the 1980s, but these singers performed a whitewashed Latin sound to please the white American audience. On the contrary, an underground black and brown Latin movement was taking place in hip-hop, where the phenotypes rejected by the mainstream industry could be seen on TV and heard in the radio.
The first initiator of this underground black and brown Latin movement (understand Afro-Indigenous) was Big Pun. Born Christopher Lee Rios, Pun was the first Latin rapper to follow the Mexican movement in proudly claiming his Boricua heritage. Indeed, in the West Coast, as early as the late 80s, the Mexican rappers placed their roots at the center and refused to hide it. In the West, the Latin Caribbean rappers were much more African-Americanized. In a 2021 interview, Tony Sunshine, former singer with Terror Squad, and also Boricua, recalled how the song 100% by Big Pun was initially not well received by Fat Joe who feared that the Latin sound was too much. But they finally launched it and the song became a classic.
Big Pun was not only the first Afro-Indigenous rapper to place both the black and brown bodies at the center of it all, but he also was the father of the Latin pride movement which took place throughout the late 90s until the late 2000s. He unified the Boricuas, but also the Dominicans, Cubans and Mexicans around his music. The 2000s thus saw plenty of Caribbean bands emerge. Often, these groups reproduced the Big Pun formula by using the “Boricua Morena” chant in order to not only claim their roots but also stand unified. Thanks to Big Pun, many Latin Caribbean rappers who had mimicked the black Americans finally came out the closet and claimed their roots with pride after Pun.
The Latin Caribbean emergence from the late 90s and 2000s was led by Afro and Indigenous descendants who originally came from the projects of the East coast. These musical acts never separated themselves from the black Americans, it is true, but their Latin pride was rooted in a Caribbean movement which incorporated English speaking, French speaking or Dutch speaking Caribbeans.
Indeed, the 2000s saw the rise of various Caribbean sounds around the world. If the East coast, thanks to the Barbadian and Jamaican diasporas of New-York, influenced the development of sound systems and was a place where the evolution of ragga muffin was also present, the Latin identity was only reduced to salsa and merengue, and when the Latin Caribbean rappers performed, they used to make their sound more black to hide their background and fit in the world of hip-hop. With the international rise of soca, merengue, bachata, dancehall in the 2000s, it was the Caribbean identity which left a mark on worldwide music.
Born Kathleen Emperatriz DeLuna in November 1987, Kat DeLuna grew up between the Bronx and the Dominican Republic. Involved in the music industry since 2006, it was with Whine Up that she exploded internationally. The sound was specific of that Caribbean global era where soca, dancehall, reggaeton intermingled. If Kat Deluna was wrongly described as a one-hit wonder, Whine Up was the last Afro-Latin Caribbean anthem we had.
A Dominican from the Bronx, DeLuna performed the song with Elephant Man in this continuity of Afro-Latin unity, but it also paid tribute to the various facets of Caribbean culture as well. In the video, DeLuna and her dancers dance surrounded by flags from all over the Caribbean: Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto-Rico, Jamaica, Barbados among many others. Black, Afro-Latin, and Afro-Caribbean people dance together to the beat.
Yet, unfortunately, as the black and brown movement of the 2000s was taking over, the music industry moguls, both white Latin and white American joined their forces to put an end to it through the whitewashing of the movement. The main musical figure which was chosen to reproduce its codes was Shakira in the mid-2000s. Originally a pop-rock singer in Colombia where she was born, Shakira crossed over in the very early 2000s with the single Whenever, Wherever. From there, the industry elected her as the new face of globalism. She was crafted to reach the Arab audiences through her dance and roots, but also became the white face of a genre created by African descendants which is reggaeton, a style she never sang before for being a pop-rock musician initially. Her 2005 duet with Alejandro Sanz (another white Colombian), La Tortura had enough reggaeton elements to rival with the black and brown underground movement which was also making it to the mainstream industry.
In another strategy, local Dominican or Cuban artists would perform with the white Latin artists promoted by the industry in order to maintain the whitewashing which was also covered up by the propaganda of Latinidad. Therefore, when exposing this whitewashing issue at the time, the few critics were automatically called divisive, even by the Afro-Indigenous group.
With the release of Hips Don’t Lie which featured Haitian legend Wyclef Jean who had been a bridge between the Black Americans and Latinos, the industry had cemented, excluded the black and brown originators for good. Whine Up was the last display of this Afro-Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean celebration.
By the early 2010s, most popular Afro-Indigenous acts from the late 90s and 2000s were evicted from the mainstream industry and the Latin sound went white again. By the late 2010s, the shade of Cardi B was the only facet of Afrolatinidad tolerated in the music Latin world, especially when white colonial musical agents such as Rosalia, have become the faces of a genre which was always originally black.
By Victoria “VKY” Kabeya, All Rights Reserved 2023
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