I’m blogging at hist525.wordpress.com as part of a class I’m taking in transnational popular music. I thought I’d cross-post this, since it’s relevant to posts I’ve made on merengue de calle. The original post is a response to Paul Austerlitz’s book on merengue, which is quite good.
This concept definitely caught my attention. On page 93:
Many bands practiced what was called fusilamiento (shooting, assassination), basing merengue arrangements on foreign hits.
In Austerlitz’s account, merengue is a very, shall we say promiscuous style, able to adapt to many forms, which is the key to its popularity across Latin America. Of course, covering hits to get attention is nothing new and certainly not limited to merengue, but that there is an entire concept built into the culture is certainly interesting! In my limited exposure to merengue, I’ve definitely come across many versions of popular songs, including Western pop covers. I like this video because I also had the experience of hearing the merengue version of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” in a cab in the DR. I’ve also heard it on Spanish-language radio in DC.
Side note: I visited the DR for a long weekend a couple years ago. My driver was also a cop (remember, Austerlitz says they make very little money — tourism is the only way to get paid), middle aged and conservative in composure. We didn’t listen to much merengue or bachata in the car — his favorite station played 80s soft pop — think grocery store music. He did like Aventura, but who doesn’t?
Here’s an example of fusilamiento at work. The first song is a classic by the Spanish singer Camilo Sesto. I first heard this on the Mexican oldies station in Chicago, called “Recuerdos” (Memories).
Here’s a merengue version I found on YouTube. I have an mp3-CD from Guatemala with a similar merengue version, but with some drum machines and a few other electronic effects added.
Another merengue style (though it’s classified as “mambo,” which in the DR is an urban style of merengue).
Here’s a bachata version for good measure. I’ve also heard other bachata versions of this song.
But the fusilamiento concept permeates lots of Latin genres. Here’s a cumbia version.
I’d like to explore this concept further: does it originate in merengue? Do other genres have names for it? And how does it relate to more contemporary music practices such as remixes and mashups? Here are some recent “assassinations” of Michael Jackson songs done in the mambo/merengue de calle style. There are dozens of these on YouTube.
also doing a party with the Sofrito label guy soon… if we had a big enough budget we’d fly you out to do a set of this tropical stuff you been into…
This is super interesting!
I like especially the name. In Jamaica you might call it an “Answer tune” I think? Do you think they tend to be more like covers or remixes? Do the lyrics stay the same as the originals? (I’m on a slow connection right now so I can’t load it)
I just gave a few presentations about the tradition of answer tunes in Jamaican music. This seems a parallel, but I have lots more questions about how it works. Of course, I wonder about the licensing (or lack) involved, interesting that you heard it in DC as well, often US labels haven’t bothered unless music is played or sold in the US.
Hey, thanks for the comments. And Zhao, big ups for the links, especially the DJ Cleo!
Larisa, it did call to mind “versioning” records in Jamaica. The older stuff is more along the lines of covers, and sometimes they change the lyrics — it’s the melody that’s key. What struck me is Austerlitz’s description of it as a conscious strategy of both (a) indigenizing foreign pop, making it Dominican [the DR has an interesting relationship to US imperialism] and (b) capturing greater market share. As the music goes more electronic and more digital (in production and distribution) you see more remixes popping up, and the wealth of recent Michael Jackson remixes seems to indicate that the motive is to kind of ride a bigger song to more attention, the (b) strategy. One thing I don’t know about mambo/merengue de calle is how DJ-centric it is. Omega is more of a live band, but other acts are more electronic. In Latin/Caribbean genres the line (really, all lines) are less clear.
Don’t know anything about the intellectual property issues, though I imagine this is too small potatoes for major labels. There’s actually an interesting story about the radio station though. It’s at 87.7 FM, which is a frequency the FCC usually restricts because it bleeds into TV frequencies. With the digital conversion of broadcast signals, that frequency (which some car radios aren’t even designed to pick up) has become something of a black hole, and this little Latin/tropical format entered into it. They were going to license the freq to a commercial corporation, but thanks to the financial situation of media companies, that’s on hold (may it ever be thus). There’s some speculation that 87.7 could become a pirate radio frequency across the country (fingers crossed).
The financial crisis + the already-overextended media conglomerates have me really hopeful for a revitalized terrestrial radio.
great post gavin!
[…] The compilation closes with a timely remix of MJ’s “Remember the Time” (labeled presumptuously “Omega FT Michael Jackson”). I noted the explosion of mambo remixes of Michael Jackson acá. […]