Artist: Concert ReviewTitle: AmsterJam (Concert)Rating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Makeda Voletta and J. Alise
The performances of both Tego Calderon and LL Cool J at the AmsterJam concert on Saturday August 19th at Randalls Island, New York both represented the continuing fusion between Afro-Caribbean culture and Hip-Hop. Both performers are of African descent; Tego Calderon was born in Puerto Rico while LL Cool J was born and raised in New York City. Even though Tego grew up speaking Spanish and LL grew up with English as his first language, the cultural exchange between Puerto Rico and Afro American populations has been going on for years. Not only does the music express this but also the relative dance styles. The performance had the heart of New York pulsing in it.
Let’s pause for a history lesson. A collaboration between Afro Cuban musician Mario Bauza and Afro American musician Dizzy Gilespie in the 1940’s sparked the artistic interaction between Black Americans and Afro Latino populations. In the 1950’s and 1960’s artistic collaboration between Nuyorican’s (Nuyorican is a term given to individuals born and raised in New York City but of Puerto Rican decent) and Black Americans became quite popular with the Mambo, Latin Jazz, Boogaloo and Salsa. In the late 1970’s Hip-Hop was fertilized and began to grow and develop amongst Nuyorican and Afro American populations in the South Bronx and Harlem aka “Uptown”. In the beginning, Hip-Hop mainly derived its nourishment from the creative minds and bodies of these two populations. Spanish Harlem, the LES (Lower East Side), the South Bronx and Castle Hill are all neighborhoods with a heavy mix of Nuyoricans and black Americans. Northwest Harlem and Washington Heights have a high Dominican population, many who were native Dominicans. It is not uncommon to see Uptown Black people dancing on the street to salsa and meringue or a little Dominican or Nuyorican kid dancing to the latest Hip-Hop songs. Nuyoricans were embedded in the foundation of breaking, rhyming and graffiti art right along with American born blacks.
The Nuyorican presence in Hip-Hop has been around since Hip-Hop’s inception. In New York, Nuyoricans and Black Americans are much of the same culture. Often times Nuyoricans are 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Americans; many do not speak Spanish and some speak Spanglish. Nuyoricans held onto much of the food, culture and music from Puerto Rico. Most Nuyricans under the age of 35 listen to more Hip-Hop than Puerto Rican salsa (or other Latin American music forms). J.Lo, Big Pun, Fat Joe and the Beatnuts are all examples of Nuyoricans who are a definite part of the Hip-Hop generation.
When interviewed, most Reggaeton artists say that Reggaeton is Hip-Hop from Puerto Rico. Despite what many people believe, Reggaeton has its origins in the Afro Panamaian population, where much of the blacks descended from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, not Puerto Rico. They spoke Spanish and reggae was the music they knew best. Reggaeton begandeveloping in Panama in the 1970’s and by the 1990’s Puerto Rican artists had been heavily influenced by its addictive Spanish lyrics and hip grinding reggae beat. The Dominican Republic was the next country to catch on to Reggaeton. Given the Puerto Rican/Nuyorican, Dominican, Black American and West Indian presence in New York City, it seems only natural that New York City would be the next place to house this music in the early ’90s. Miami also caught on quickly with its inherent Afro-Caribbean influence.
There are some ways in which current Reggaeton resembles Hip-Hop and ways in which it is more like dancehall. When listening to contemporary Reggaeton music, it is not uncommon to hear meringue, salsa, bomba, pleana, bachata, bolero and Hip-Hop rhythms amongst the main beat being the Dem Bow beat; the signature recognizeable beat in every Reggaeton song that dancehall king Shabba Ranks brought to the scene in a song of the same title.
Dance is another part of of Hip-Hop and its culture. In fact, dance is an important foundation in all of the various cultures of the African Diaspora. In many countries throughout the Carribean and South America, there are hip grinding carnivals that last days. Back in the day every Hip-Hop video and performance had dancers. Save for Snap and maybe Yung Joc, for some reason it is no longer cool for rappers to dance. Within the past ten years, most Hip-Hop videos throw a few cute girls in front of the camera and call them dancers. Reggaeton choreography and lyricism is often like Hip-Hop. In terms of dance, the Hip movements seen in Caribbean music such as Dominican meringue and bachata, Afro Cuban and Puerto Rican salsa and Jamaican dancehall is rarely seen in Reggaeton choreography. The dancers do a poor job at utilizing the wide realm of polyrhythmic music forms that can be heard in many of the Reggaeton songs. It all looks very generic and no different than any other R&B and Hip-Hop video. Dancers are supposed to bring a visual presentation that is so amazing it entertains and excites the viewers. The dancers in Reggaeton videos and performances often just look like they’re jumping around or sashaying in the background. The dancing does not compliment the music. They blend in instead of captivating the viewers.
Afro Caribbean (Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Trinidadian, etc) dance always involves various manipulations of the hips, waist, legs and buttocks. Generally speaking Hip-Hop dance does not require or involve the same level or type of rhythmic control of this region of the body. Tanisha Scott, choreographer for Sean Paul does a good job at showing the world how it is supposed to be done. Ciara is another example of the mastery of mind, body and hip, ab and bootie manipulation. Unfortunately many Hip-Hop heads can not see the sheer difference between Beyonce’s wild spasm like movements and Ciara’s sharp and funky physical gestures. Nowadays when Hip-Hop dance is mentioned many people just think of breaking and popping and locking. Breaking, popping and locking also require high levels of body control but it is not in a hip rotating, multi rhythmic gyrating hip shaking kind of way.
With this being said, Tego’s dancers would do a little hip shake or rotation every now and then but mostly their style was more that of a Hip-Hop dancer. When they did do some hip activity it was very basic and simple. The routine was fairly unoriginal and did not supplement the performance. After Tego’s set there were two Heineken dancers featured on a platform in the stadium. The two dancers (one white and one black) had decent looking, somewhat curvy bodies and were wearing short skirts and little tops. However, their dancing was atrocious and it was quite obvious that they were not put on display for their dancing ability. It is clear that there is a crisis going on because there is no respect for dance. No one knows what good dancing is anymore. The white girl was dancing too slow and the black girl was dancing too fast. They did not even look like they felt the music and their movements were stiff and boring. There are plenty of dancers, not models, in New York City looking for a gig, so there’s no excuse.
LL worked the 30 minute set hyping up the crowd with his classics including “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Jinglin’ Baby,” “Around The Way Girl,” and “Rock The Bells.” “Where’s my J.Lo?,” LL asked the audience during his AmsterJam jet prior performing their duet “All I Have.” The woman who went on stage had the complexion and hair type of J.Lo but unlike J.Lo, she could not dance at all. I had witnessed enough horrific dancing from women who were given the opportunity to seduce the audience with their physical proweress. J. Lo not only has amazing abs, bootie and thighs but most importantly she knows how to work it. In Puerto Rican and Black American communities it is shameful to move as badly as that J.Lo imposter. She was worthy of getting tomatoes thrown at her. Just looking good is not enough. The talent of the performer should be so great that it convinces the audience that all eyes should be on them.
When the dancers stopped dancing, they were replaced with some stiff looking guy playing three conga drums. Conga drums are often heard in salsa rhythms, but this guy was playing it to “Addictive” by Truth Hurts. The rhythm he was playing sounded like scattered racket. Perhaps it was because he was not accompanied by the soul inspiring vision of gorgeous female physiques dancing to his beat. Drummers are often inspired by dancers and vice versa, it is a symbiotic relationship. It would have made more sense to utilize those drums during Tego’s performance.
Both LL and Tego had an array of wonderful songs to dance to, I was not impressed with any dancing I saw anywhere that day. Tego and LL both had great presence on stage but overall the concert was just another public display of how the quality of dancing is rapidly falling from a population of people who have always valued good dancing. Dancing is what black people do, no matter where they are from. And to get on stage or in front of the camera and look the way too many ladies are looking today is unacceptable. Reggaeton choreography needs help and Hip-Hop should reconsider what beautiful dancing bodies can do for their performances. Cute, tight, voluptuous womanly bodies are always good to look at but they are even better when they know how to move it. Who wouldn’t want to see that?