Proyecto Uno

So a belated follow-up/expansion of this blog’s greatest hit (los exitos de unfashionablylate) so far with some further thoughts on merengue de calle. Proyecto Uno was (is?) a Dominican group mixing merengue with hip hop and club dance back in the go-go ’90s. There’s something charming and cheesy about these weird little major label forays into niche-market hybridity, where house beats pop up everywhere — I get it from El General’s lesser ’90s work as well, not to mention some of the weaker 90s hip-house cuts, which seem to be the antecedent of this stuff. Definitely NOT authentic, to reference an earlier discussion, and often not very good either.

Though I must say, the boys at Proyecto Uno have something. Their biggest hit, “El Tiburon” still gets plays on La Calle (the “hurban” station here in Chicago, which has mercifully diversified from its all-reggaeton playlists of 2005). Their sound is a very self-conscious patching together of merengue, hip hop, and house – the seams show, although that’s not always a bad thing. And it makes sense, since these guys were based in NYC and almost certainly scarfing down the hot club sounds along with a healthy diet of more traditional Dominican sabrosos. 

I’m wondering how influential these guys were on merengue de calle, though it’s possible that they aren’t at all. Still, I hear more than a trace of what’s to come in “Pumpin.'” Yeah, it’s called that. What they lack in cool sophistication (and rapping ability), they make up in enthusiasm. If they didn’t inspire merengue de calle, they were plowing a similar furrow, but more synthetically/syncretically. 

I picked up their greatest hits in Bowling Green of all places. Perhaps the most interesting is the “Techno” mix of “Merengue Con Letra” (which also appears in its merengue version). Shamelessly cribbing the synth riff from Reel 2 Reel’s “I Like To Move It Move It”, it sounds a whole lot like that “Calabria” tune that’s as universal a hit as we’ve got these days. Has anyone mentioned that the sax riff in “Calabria” is basically a restrained, slightly interpolated version of the hook on Reel 2 Reel’s infamous party starter? No cheeky nu-rave DJs mashing it up? The melody’s already locked away in our brains, it just takes a Scandinavian producer to trigger those dormant neurons.

Anyway, to bring this back to my original topic and maybe digress somewhere else, I wonder how this 1990s stuff — El General, Proyecto Uno, Reel 2 Reel — fits into the global ghettotech nexus. It sounds cheesy to my ears in a way that a lot of contemporary stuff doesn’t, and it hasn’t made its way into hipster record crates. Perhaps it lacks the undercurrent of violence and menace that makes the Other authentic in the post-gangsta music-scape? Or maybe it’s just time: will flogging the 808 Volt riddim will sound passe in the next generation’s funk carioca (and for whom will it be passe)? The papers keep telling me those ’90s synth presets are retro-cool again, so maybe Proyecto Uno’s proyecto techno is due for a reappraisal. 

12 Responses to Proyecto Uno

  1. Birdseed says:

    Oooh, I like the cacophonic techno remix!

    Proyecto Uno were far from the only ones mixing hip-hop, house and merengue during the nineties, and considering how big it was for a while I would be surprised if there wasn’t a connection to the newer genre (nice post btw!). Two other huge bands of the “merenhouse” genre (the actual name, I’m not making it up) were Ilegales and Fulanito, both based out of the Dominican Republic itself. My personal favourite, slightly off towards the bass side of the genre, is probably DJ Laz out of Miami.

    My nearest latin record store, El Barrio, still has “Merengue Rap” as one of the genres on its sign (it was made 15 years ago). I asked the owner if they still had any and he just laughed. It’s a pity – I like the wonky edges of the genre, and it was a few years ahead of its time.

  2. Caro says:

    Gavin, there is a definite connection between “merehouse,” “merenrap” and “merengue de la calle” in how the earlier forms mixed in “club” music — island-based musicians and audiences didn’t distinguish much between house & hip hop in the early 90s. Proyecto Uno was HUGE here in NYC, and as you noted, you still hear “El Tiburon” and a few others. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but the domination of US-based merengue bands — Los Toros Band, Proyecto Uno, New York Band — was over by the late 90s. Now the NY-based popular groups are bachata — witness the R&B-ization of groups like Aventura.

    Yeah, I agree, the early 90s stuff sounds cheesy and not entirely baked, but even though it was not to my taste, when I first heard it, I thought it was the start of some interesting new hybrids.

    As for the sax riff, there are plenty of Dominican merengue sax riffs dating back to the 80s that sound almost the same as the Reel 2 Reel riff.

  3. Gavin says:

    Thanks for the responses. I am a fan of DJ Laz and some of the other Latin Bass artists coming out of Miami (I think Laz produced most of them).

    Caro, I would be interested in knowing the names of some of those songs with “Move It”-esque sax riffs!

  4. Birdseed says:

    See, I’ve been saying all along that Calabria was some sort of Merengue riff! I’ll be following this comments thread with interest.

    DJ Laz was Cuban, apparently, but you wouldn’t know it by how well he segues in Merengue with bass. Merengue in general seems very well suited for some sort of hip-hop crossover, it almost always turns out decent whichever way it goes. I guess perhaps that’s why the merenhouse genre contained representatives from both sides of the diaspora.

  5. Gavin says:

    I have a decent collection of Latin bass tracks. Maybe I’ll do a post on it.

  6. w&w says:

    I think one big difference between merenrap/house and today’s “de la calle” stuff is that this earlier moment in merengue/club fusion seems a little more calculated, more industry-centered, and in its way, then, less grassroots than “mambo violente.” Now, don’t get me wrong, merenhouse (and of course freestyle) have their share of downhome/DIY projects, but I think it also has to do with a different techno-industrial moment. I am surprised that Proyecto Uno, etc., haven’t yet had their day in the nu-retro fashions of the last couple years.

    As far as “global ghettotech,” a lot of the circulation I describe with that term tends to be more focused on contemporary stuff. Why bother with old, cheesy Latin-club music when you can find all the new, cheesy Latin-club music you want? I think it also has to do with production aesthetics: a lot of the stuff you’re describing here sounds pretty “clean” timbrally speaking — high-gloss studio productions, and hence, it doesn’t quite tickly the low-fi yearnings. But this is a lot of speculation.

    Regarding these riffs, I think, if we like, we can talk about certain structural similarities between them all (as discussed re: Calabria back here), though I’d still love to hear a few merengue examples that sound especially close to these.

    Also, fwiw, that Reel to Reel riff was turning up in reggaeton tracks like mad ca. 2000 — long before the Lion King made it cool again ;)

  7. Caro says:

    I’ll dig through my virtual crates for examples, guys, just let me get through the stack of 150 papers I have to grade.

  8. alphastsrt says:

    hello, i don’t know maybe i’m late but i received the following message when trying to dwnld…”Sorry, this account has not been confirmed.
    The user who uploaded this file has not confirmed his or her e-mail address, so this file is temporarily unavailable. When the user’s account is confirmed, you’ll be able to download it again”

  9. Nina says:

    I didn’t like Proyecto Uno as much as I like Fulanito. I also liked DJ Laz.

    I am not sure how influential they were though. Perhaps in inspiring the Toby Loves and Aventuras to try to do something similar with bachata?

  10. Wizardry says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Wizardry

  11. […] and it wasn’t long before I heard what I wanted. The CD started with a bewildering montage of Proyecto Uno hits before moving into terrain just as manic.”Latino Mix” was the […]

  12. Miami, Florida, July 11, 2010 – (Media Force Communications) On June 18,
    2010 a request to cease and desist was filed (Cease and Desist) addressed to
    Donnie Linton, former manager of the renowned group Proyecto Uno this on
    grounds of trademark rights and previous expired contracts.
    Jon D. Jekielek, a lawyer for Nelson Zapata, current owner of the name of the
    group, was given the task of carrying legally through a legal letter demanding Mr.
    Linton and Hogland Records to stop using the name Proyecto Uno for
    commercial purposes of any nature. According to Rafael Zapata, brother of
    Nelson Zapata, Mr. Linton waited for the name “Project One” to expire in the
    trademark department of the United States, and without any warning proceeded
    to request the name of the group. Members of the group were aware of what
    was happening and kept it hidden from Nelson.
    The reason Nelson Zapata, the owner of the trademark Proyecto Uno for more
    than 25 years and Rafael Zapata, brother of the same, decided to proceed legally
    is because the group’s latest album will be released in the coming months. “Our
    concern is that two products go to the market with the same name, and this might
    confuse our supporters, also the name Proyecto Uno belongs to my brother since
    the year 1989,” said Rafael Zapata. Some of the accusations against the former
    manager include misrepresentation, illegal and fraudulent registration of the
    mark, and other claims that will be announced later.
    During this process, Rafael Zapata makes a point to clarify that Nelson Zapata,
    the current leader and member of the group, has not abandoned the group and
    never had any intention of leaving his band. “In conversations between the two
    parties, Nelson informed the group’s management that our father was going to
    have heart surgery and he would be in New York to assist with our father’s
    recuperation “, said Rafael. During this time, Nelson as a member was removed
    from Proyecto Uno’s websites, giving fans the impression of neglect and
    that Nelson had left the group.
    Despite the delicate situation, Proyecto Uno promises an explosive return full of
    surprises, which undoubtedly will captivate its fans. “What we are experiencing is
    just a bump in the road, but we have the necessary legal representation and are
    focused on giving the best to our fans, “said Nelson Zapata, confident in the
    success of the process in question.
    Nelson soon will announce the new members of Proyecto Uno, since the rest of
    the members have decided to work with the former manager.
    For information about the trajectory of Proyecto Uno, go the official website.
    Mel Diaz
    Force Media Communications
    9055 SW 73rd CT
    Miami, Florida 33 156
    Phone: (786) 271-0313
    # #

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