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295–309 © Intellect Ltd 2010
International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics Volume 6 Number 3
© Intellect Ltd 2010. Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/mcp.6.3.295_1
EDDY L. BORGES-REY University of Málaga, Spain
Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through mediations in the informal sociopolitical ecosystem
The following article explores the musical practices and communicating mediations carried out in each stage of the music industry’s value chain in Venezuela, in order to observe the way those mediations inﬂuence the actors involved, determining the elements that both interact and deﬁne the Venezuelan’s musical identity taking reggaetón (very broadly speaking, reggaetón is a Latinized derivative of Jamaican reggae, originating in Puerto Rico, via an interpretation of Panamanian reggae) as a case study. With this purpose, the research has used some empirical data and qualitative techniques, such as participants’ observation, interviews and netnography, as well as quantitative data obtained from the main statistical sources in the country. After establishing the state of the art, the study raises a number of questions to be discussed: (a) the features reafﬁrmed through a transculturalization process – mainly led by reggaetón – in the Venezuelan’s musical identity; (b) the creative uses the consumer has given to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in order to participate in the new communicating dynamics on the Internet; and (c) the effects
musical identity communicating mediations sharing musical practices informal commerce Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela social networks
At the same time. these appropriations had ramiﬁcations for the different ways in which the social and cultural identities of the Venezuelans have been constructed. In this article. where an informal economy. but each country is developing its own legal framework. as a result of which the informal sectors have come up with some new commerce and distribution dynamics incompatible with the country’s legal constitutional framework. distribution and marketing. on the other hand. among others. through which one can step from ‘property’ to ‘access’ and from ‘product’ to ‘service’. In fact. INTRODUCTION Nowadays. and theorized in the work of Leonhard (2008). mainly encouraged by the habits of the new Internet user or Venezuelan informal commerce. Many different virtual communicating facilities such as social networks. These have been marked by the progressive decrease of living standards in recent years. are having in the country’s music industry. the user has re-dimensioned the consumer dynamics and transferred the control over contents from the industry to the audience. globalization brought 296 . determined by the socialtechnological phenomenon mentioned above. That is why Venezuelan authorities have – unsuccessfully over the last decades – tried to design policies in order to regulate the informal economy and the emerging piracy practices. appropriations linked to contents and consumer dynamics (enforced by users). we will focus on the Latin American country of Venezuela and the mediations that take place in the value chain of the music business. Despite the efforts from the music industry to keep control over the procedures inherent to production. appropriations (carried out mainly by actors such as authors and producers) linked to hybridization processes concerning formal aesthetics and music styles that result from cross-national transculturation activity. which have been strongly consolidated and have affected the music industry. DEFINING THE FRONTIERS OF VENEZUELAN CULTURAL IDENTITY IN MUSIC Despite the fact that the end of the last decade was marked by the setting of the global society parameters within which we have to live now. From a sociological perspective. political or legal nature. Borges-Rey that content appropriations. P2P and Torrent-style content networks. affecting business models and value chains signiﬁcantly.Eddy L. as we will see. digital music and the set of cultural practices circumscribed around it are beyond any regulation of a social. deﬁcient copyright regulations and consumption patterns have visibly modiﬁed the net of sociocultural relationships between digital music and its different actors. a number of mediations have been taking place on different levels: on the one hand. ﬁrmly rooted during a process that took hundreds of years. orientated to controlling the situation. notably changing their musical imaginaries and the way they perceive their citizens’ rights and duties regarding ICTs and media contents. This reality increases in developing societies such as Latin America. are making this transition worldwide easier. still ﬁght to retain what essentially deﬁnes them. the peoples’ cultural identities.
but the frontiers established between Colombia and Venezuela divide geographical territories – such as the Llanos (plains) and the Goajira peninsula – that now share cultural identities as well as traditional heritage. just to cite an example) and television (with the creation of MTV Latino) catalysed Latin cultural expansion throughout the American continent. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (Argentina) and La Ley (Chile). Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. which had a great impact. La Gran Colombia dissolved because of political divergences. at the same time. when the Fania All-Star’s releases entered the nation. as Venezuelan popular music began its hybridization process in the early 1960s. nonetheless (Desorden Público. The 1990s helped some Latin American countries such as Mexico. along with others – such as the end of the millennium and the consequent uncertainty it sparked in the society of knowledge – reafﬁrmed cultural determinants and social imaginaries. established a republic by joining several colonial entities called La Gran Colombia. La Presidencia de Quito (Ecuador). after a number of South American countries achieved their independence. The ﬁrst signiﬁcant problem can be traced back to the Colonial era. the Venezuelan music industry only supported those artists who proved proﬁtable and these kind of artists did not belong to any of the network’s genres of interest. Some Venezuelan groups managed to get in. Maná (Mexico). It could be said that 297 . such as Café Tacuba (Mexico). Something similar happened to music. Aterciopelados (Colombia). a movement that. In the late 1820s and early 1830s. La Provincia Libre de Guayaquil (Panamá) and La Capitanía General de Venezuela. . mainly) appropriate to the aesthetic quality demands of the transnational company. A small group of artists – with a musical offer that could be attractive to MTV Latino – could not get the economic support needed to establish a promotional strategy (videoclip production. Dermis Tatú or La muy Bestia Pop). about a general return to roots. In fact. heavy metal) and many groups and solo artists. This newborn state was made up of El Virreinato de Nueva Granada (known today as Colombia). Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas (Argentina). Shakira (Colombia). with inﬂuential worldwide cultural tendencies. At that time. It is well known that music in large cities of the country is deﬁned by the multicultural phenomenon from a few decades back. and Colombia reafﬁrm some of their cultural features.Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . the inﬂuence of other cultures in building the Venezuelan’s cultural identity has played a major role. There were many music fusions based on the referential popular music of the time (pop. Argentina. hip hop. although none of them managed to be as prestigious as the ones mentioned above. Plastilina Mosh (Mexico). El Llano. Venezuela did not have any access to this promotional ﬂow (represented by MTV Latino) for a number of reasons. Discourses transmitted through media such as cinema (with a ﬂourishing of independent ﬁlm-making boosted by the trio Alejandro González Iñárritu. Molotov (Mexico). when Simón Bolívar. Caramelos de Cianuro. even in Europe. particularly in US societies like Florida. is a geographical surface characterized by a swampy plain on which a social community with a distinctive cultural heritage is established. In these circumstances it was hard to get on the bandwagon. marked by a strong folklore authenticity but mixed. . as it is known in Venezuela and Colombia. as we will see in this article. It is most likely that another key factor might be the lack of stylistic cohesion in Venezuelan popular music. rock.
Eddy L. with their own values and customs [. The reason for this might be partly found in both the border’s proximity and the high number of Colombians who inhabit the cities of Zulia. a cultural manifestation that. Today. because of questions of historical memory.]. however. or even in the effect of the Colombian border radio stations. The truth is that the Zulian radio media encourages this musical genre’s spread and its reception in public transport as well as in discotheques and other leisure situations. an ethnic or a religious minority. . as well as adapted versions of the maracas and harp. whose waves act as catalysts for indoctrination dynamics in Venezuelan territory. which allows the llaneros to rival each other in contrapunteos – similar to Freestyle Battles and Rap Battles – in which they show their improvisation qualities and their ability for rhyme. a central group of cultural attributes still remains and presumably identiﬁes a whole group of humans. serves to express a sense of belonging to a place. even during the 298 . as McQuail’s notion suggests: No matter how much the link between culture and society has become weak. with the joropo as the most renowned cultural manifestation. Culture. must be shared with Colombia due to territorial aspects explained above – all of which could certainly condition the sense of belonging needed to consolidate a cultural identity. The joropo is a musical form on a rhythmic base of 6/8 or on occasion 3/4. and it is always associated with Christmas festivities all over the country. with a strong anti-establishment and protest discourse) is an obligatory reference during December. The most representative example can be seen in the music of the region. This musical genre is an element within the national symbols of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. (Slatta 1984: 194–95. the most relevant things are both language (with all the past dragged and stored with it) and place symbols. especially those who have a clear location in time and space as either a nation. where native musical instruments are used. the gaita (one of the region’s own musical genres. . They developed those unique subcultures. It helps individuals to either ﬁnd or create a personal sense out of their experience as well as a shared feeling of belonging to a place.]. El Zulia (the western region’s mainland) represents a social community with distinctive cultural features. gaita is being displaced by vallenato in some of its traditional cultural contexts. Borges-Rey the Colombian and Venezuelan llaneros – referring to plainsman – represent signiﬁcant equestrian subcultures in South America [. but also of immediate local space and what brands them as distinctive and familiar. . so understood. such as the cuatro – a small four-string guitar – and the bandola. They also served as symbols for the courage of Venezuelans and Colombians due to their vital martial role in their patriotic victory over the Spanish. . 203) But Los Llanos are also known for their folk traditions that served as the foundations of the Venezuelan and Colombian cultural heritage. Focusing on its folk music. a period and a community. (McQuail 1998: 111) The inﬂuence of Colombian culture in Venezuela’s musical identity can also be seen in the evident transcultural effect of vallenato in the western side of the country. From this perspective. especially those of nation and region. Reciting is involved. similar to the cuatro but played with a different technique.
other cultural instances – such as cinema. Rubén Blades. a number of groups and orchestras started to blend different elements of these musics. just to name a few. has its roots in the hybridization process that Venezuelan popular music experienced with the arrival during the 1950s of pop and rock from the United Kingdom and the USA. such as La ﬁesta de los quince años – a typical Latin American party where 15-year-old girls are presented to society by their parents – silver wedding anniversary parties or regular birthday parties. thus guaranteeing their hegemony on nightclub dance ﬂoors and making old legends such as Juan Luis Guerra. the charts of radio stations and music TV programmes have promoted merengue artists such as Olga Tañón or Elvis Crespo. television. . with an unquestionable inﬂuence of the media in that process. . This is how several legendary groups were born. which is characteristic of Venezuela. which began as a Zulian gaita orchestra and now offers a musical scheme that melds diverse Latin music styles (the Cuban Timba mainly. and. in the 1970s with the advent of music of African roots such as the Dominican merengue and the New Yorker/Cuban salsa. music has been a very signiﬁcant driver. Willie Colón or Gilberto Santa Rosa. fashion – have played their respective roles in this process. In fact. this musical diversity. By the 1980s. Héctor Lavoe. or salsa performers such as Marc Anthony. obsolete. Living in a major Venezuelan city could lead us to the conclusion that where music is concerned the Venezuelan people either do not possess a cultural identity of their own or that they actually have one constituted by an eclectic syncretism built on the multicultural discourses present in their society. later on. more elemental and standard musical expressions. The Venezuelans have taken over a series of foreign cultural practices. seems to be an obligatory question in view of the growing invisibility of this popular Caribbean sound. a process caused by the unusual rise of other.Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . As time went on. but. where live performances by famous vallenato groups recur year after year. such as Adrenalina Caribe. but also more in line with the new record production patterns. (Cataño 2006: 2) 299 . In fact. That’s the case of the repeated presence of Mexican mariachis in common social celebrations. due in part to the musical permeability of the Venezuelans. as can be seen in the empirical data which is provided below. A LANDSCAPE OF REGGAETÓN APPROPRIATIONS Some evidence of what has been explained above may be the question that Cataño asks in his work on salsa imaginaries: And where is salsa?. traditional Amanecer gaitero – a folk music festival – celebrated in memory of La Chiquinquirá (Zulians’ patron virgin) festivities. Daiquirí or Guaco (La súperbanda de Venezuela). The set of cultural practices with the utmost inﬂuence in Venezuelan cultural identity during the last decade are those related to the musical genre known as reggaetón. with a strong inﬂuence by Giraldo Piloto’s Cuban group Klimax). Of course. this form of music has gradually displaced and ultimately removed salsa from the niche it used to have in the Latin American market. In recent days. rooted in their musical identity to such an extent that they are already a permanent part of their set of cultural practices. the presence of merengue and salsa in the country’s musical culture scene was completely established.
This demand. dancehall’s boom-ch-boom-chick as reshaped by urban Puerto Rican sensibilities and informed fusion with hip-hop) and a relation to the market (i. courting a wide audience). Marshall and Pacini 2009: 8) In musical terms.g. This socio-demographic 300 . Puerto Rican bomba and plena. among others. which began its cultural legacy in Cuba and was then brought to New York and ﬁnally to Venezuela and Colombia. we refer to a relatively new genre (and related set of cultural practices) strongly marked both by a particular approach to musical style (e. under the guidance of the music industry. We will mention some ideas that will serve as bases for its study. By reggaetón. Haitian meringue and konpa.Eddy L. At the same time. the reggaetón comes from a mixture of a number of Latin American rhythm. with the mediated expansion it had since the 1970s. and even consolidate some European regions such as Spain as a growing market. Tego Calderón. once they reached the US media platforms that spread this music culture among the Latino communities settled in US society.. the salsa. African. as well as Trinidadian soca and calypso. Borges-Rey Salsa. The cause for this hybridization might probably be ‘Jamaica’s own multicultural background. the reggaetón – as Marshall clearly pointed out – is just a part of a wider set of cultural practices that integrate a number of aesthetic forms also rooted in the cultural identity of Venezuelan youth.e. In fact. it will help consolidate the creation of outlets totally focused on spanning the genre in this market segment such as MTV channel Tr3s.. becoming the most internationally recognized style of Latin music’ (Kattari 2009: 108). (Marshall 2006) With the dawn of the millennium. ‘Salsa has reached Latino and non-Latino audiences worldwide. (Rivera. combined with inﬂuences from Panamanian and American music as well. Nuyorican salsa. melodic and harmonic forms that converged in Jamaica. among others – but the explosion of this phenomenon was interrupted by the resounding appearance of reggaetón that would deﬁnitely establish itself with artists such as Don Omar. identities. once it proves to have a signiﬁcant presence in the market. This reality remained valid until a new transcultural ﬂow from Puerto Rico known as reggaetón would signiﬁcantly change the imaginaries. Many lines have been written in explanation of the social phenomenon of reggaetón. became a reference worldwide. and indigenous traditions’ (Kattari 2009: 114): where the Jamaican reggae and mento come together. Wisin y Yandel or Ivy Queen. explicitly commercial. the promotional ﬂow will reach other Spanish-speaking societies. and. consumer patterns and cultural practices of the average Venezuelan. a Caribbean mix of European. Dominican merengue and bachata. served as a hybridization model for reggaetón (Kattari 2009). Of course. As Marshall points out. Venezuela had an urgent need for new incentives in the popular music landscape. Cuban son and mambo. will not go unnoticed. a need that was initially ﬁlled by the bachata – mainly with groups such as the New Yorker/Dominican Aventura. Daddy Yankee. then.
experiencing love. the Hood) has 25% presence. Montehiedra. discotequeando) has a 28% presence in their lyrics. Salinas. with many common concepts. pursuing her by asking or demanding her to dance or have sex. el área 301 . dancing and partying. References to ‘perreo’ as the preferred dance style. lyrical prowess. cuarto. the street (calle. Caguas Carolina. Many will say that they listen to the music for the catchy beat. and they were revealed to have this frequency of interest: ‘sex’. mansión. the club or discotheque (la disco. . San Juan: Trujillo Alto. sex and dance are often synonymous or act as metaphors for each other. habitación. ghetto. (Dinzey-Flores 2008: 47) Actually. residencial. Bayamon. but even then [given] today’s styles in music video portrayal and within our society it is very hard to not see the sexual connotation of the genre today. vecindario. cama) has 21%. Loiza. are ever present in reggaetón songs. segment is exposed to themes frequently visited in this genre. The pursuit of the woman is often attached to the reggaetonero extolling his own rapping. The night meeting events in Venezuela are often visited by youngsters who have unconsciously appropriated these discourses. lyrical. avenida. themes that have their origin in the feeling of marginalization and poverty typical of the rundown social classes in Puerto Rico. la pista. home and intimate geographies (Casa. callejón. discoteca. this violent approach towards sex and women that can be regularly found in reggaetón topics generates a situation where ‘More and more girls let themselves be objectiﬁed as the boys start to think that they have the power to use and abuse women’ (Pérez 2006: 6). the most frequented (43%). violence and heartache. caserío. due to the degree of cultural appropriation in Venezuelan society can be very similar to the Puerto Rican – is evident in their language and slang. neighbourhood (barrio. freeway) has a 22% presence. Given this situation. hogar. (Pérez 2006: 6) The truth is that the link between reggaetón and Venezuelan cultural identity is being built on the foundations of a growing identiﬁcation on the part of Venezuela’s deprived society with some of the Puerto Rican political and social ideals referenced in the lyrics. as Dinzey-Flores explains: The typical plot involves a guy really liking or even loving a woman. or sexual virtues. Puerto Rico geography (Puerto Rico: Borinquen.Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . but also as a metaphor for sex. sometimes making it indistinguishable when one or the other is meant. which sometimes involve the mention of being ready to ‘kill’ or having a posse of friends ready to follow his violent orders and defend him. and their subsequent cultural practices may be associated with the typical night ritual set by the reggaetón listener’s dynamics. All these topics were reviewed by Dinzey-Flores in a study that analysed the lyrics of 179 songs of this genre. which are eventually transferred to the daily practices of those communities. camino. For example. Santurce. carretera. el expreso. Guaynabo. In these occasions. Part of that life – which. Ponce. followed by ‘party and dance’ (37%) and love (30%) (Dinzey-Flores 2008). . young people – especially girls – will resort to evasive arguments. and don’t pay attention to the lyrics. The most frequent are sex.
as well as acceptance of. everyday routine spaces (tienda. The Noise. The Venezuelans. la tumba. An example of this is the emergence of Venezuelan artists such as Natusha. however. speciﬁcally addressed to the socio-demographic segment of highest interest regarding these artists’ musical provision. a solid cultural base had been established and was ready to take in the next evolution of the genre. cementerio. the latter referring to ﬂashy style which signals resistance to. such as Gaby’s El meneíto. Rica y apretadita and Te ves buena. who adjusted themselves to the new trends by creating updated versions of these genres with notable sales success in the country. this hybridization with rap and hip hop during the 1990s merged with Dominican merengue. el caño. gradas. a new Caribbean rap tendency emerged in the discos and the media with artists like Puerto Rican Wilfred y la Ganga and their hit song Mi abuela. Currently. Both duos have taken advantage of the new market dynamics designed by the music business. Borges-Rey este) has 17%. like Brazilian group Kaoma’s Lambada or La sopa de caracol by Honduras’ Banda Blanca. cancha. or El General’s Son Bow. This assimilation and subsequent adaptation of slang into the particular Venezuelan context is complemented by the imitation of certain representations from the ‘ghetto-fab’ phenomenon. hotel. with a whole new generation of artists such as Fulanito.Eddy L. en la fauna silvestre. Tu Pum Pum. At the same time. el risco. the transition began a few decades back. many popular tunes from Panamá entered the collective musical memory of Venezuela. Venezuela is going through complex challenges which to a large extent determine its technological appropriation. such as large hoop rings and long acrylic nails (Pérez 2006). el rio. altar) have 11% (Dinzey-Flores 2008). Qué Pasa’s Mami. which contained some early reggaetón drafts such as Las chicas quieren chorizo by Wassabanga. At the same time. author of the compilations known as Cuentos de la Cripta. have managed to adjust themselves to the changes and patterns set by the world technology market by establishing a set of creative uses according to 302 . New York group Proyecto Uno or Dominican Ilegales and Sandy & Papo (the latter settled in Venezuela) stand out as prime examples of merengue house. By the late 1990s. playa. Muévelo. all of which. Subsequently. In music terms. mainly spread with the help of viral promotion through digital media like social networks and tube sites on mobile devices. as well as markers such as ‘violent poverty’ and ‘blin-blin aesthetics’ (Dinzey-Flores 2008). The sum of all these factors led to the establishment of the sociocultural bases that served as a foundation for reggaetón made in Venezuela. el mar. or Panamanian producer Chombo. This melange was imbued by other music rhythms. the ﬁrst responses from Venezuela’s music industry to the reggaetón-styled merengue house phenomenon came with Warner Music Latina’s release of the ﬁrst record by music band Calle Ciega. yo te quiero or Gerardo’s Rico Suave. the former members of Calle Ciega. NEW MEDIA AND SYMBOLIC INTERCONNECTIONS: FROM P2P TO SOCIAL NETWORKS IN MOBILE ENVIRONMENTS As is well known. Chino & Nacho have become – along with Franco & Oscarcito – the most representative artists of Venezuelan reggaetón. certain socio-economic conditions. would inadvertently become early forms of reggaetón. musical styles that had great repercussions during the 1980s and 1990s. along with Bolivian band Azul Azul’s hit song La Bomba (covered and spread worldwide by King África). Since the late 1980s. marqueta. restaurante. or El cubo de leche by Jam & Suppose.
Those are set against the parameters and regulations imposed by the music industry. (Dillon 2006: 303) This interconnected music universe has found in social networks a catalyst that allows the digitalized musical content and its subsequent treatment (sharing. facilitating not only synchronous. in technological appropriation. which allows them to be connected in a ubiquitous manner. This can be conﬁrmed in the statements of Douglas Ochoa. As Dillon points out. In this way. A few years ago.) to generate effects that have profoundly changed those cultural practices related to them as: the interactions occur through the technology. to survive. the Venezuelan user’s consumer pattern follows the standards quickly set in developed countries in recent years. Recognising the social.8 percent rate of misery’ (Tejero 2009). . through their mobile telephone. political and social reality of Venezuela. All these activities belong to the usual set of cultural practices of users worldwide. and political power of such networks is important as they not only provide a medium through which we can express ourselves but also challenge us not to simply ripoff dominant or existing approaches to music but actively develop new practices and opportunities.Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . which. (López 2009) It is a fact that Venezuelans get regular access to social networks. virtual communication but also asynchronous communication 303 . etc. ‘According to the index made by US economic news agency Bloomberg. instant message services such as Microsoft’s Messenger or microblogging options like Twitter. they also download Internet content through P2P or Torrent networks from their homes as well as taking an active role in the creation of user-generated contents. in the process of assimilation and understanding of the new consumer dynamics. wide variety of activities of an amateur nature’ (Frith 2006: 38). therefore. delivery. . Venezuela ranked last in a list with 60 countries. with a 36. The reality is that we are increasingly becoming a more networked. creates new strategies in order to maintain some of the control previously lost. creative. against Brazil’s 191 and México’s 100 million people. there were already signs that indicated a number of drastic changes in consumer dynamics and. deﬁned by growing misery rates. Just the annual sales of this device in the Venezuelan market are double those of Brazil and México together. their social condition. creating a current of opinion around it. considering that Venezuela has a population of 27 million people. which are later distributed by regular channels in digital environments. this is a major contrast considering the economic. pervasive musical world. because ‘the commercial music industry has always relied upon a rich. communication and social development manager of Telefónica in Caracas: 70% of Blackberry sales in Latin America are made in Venezuela. promoting. A clear evidence of this is the growing exploitation market that mobile phone company Blackberry has found in the country.
after exploring the symbolic values appropriated through the reggaetón culture that deﬁned the music identity of most Venezuelans nowadays. These users have more speciﬁc musical preferences and devote much of their time to explore the Internet in search of information about styles. They enjoy sharing and recommending music to their group of virtual friends. They download contents from P2P networks and Torrent sites on a regular basis. as the random users usually go to the stores 304 . There are many different socio-demographic groups that follow a speciﬁc music-consuming pattern. In fact. since some of the most commercialized cultural goods are hit compilations. Thus. The second group – the ‘technologically involved’ – shows a different dynamic. Adell-Pitarch and Borges-Rey 2010: 41) On this basis. in the most popular social networks (Facebook) and in those websites that allow the user to listen and share music selectively (last. affecting also the creation of a music culture’s deﬁning features. we will review the collaborative dynamics that occur in social networks in Venezuela. the personal and collective. the use of radio is usually restricted to a commuting context or an evasive listening while doing other activities. Despite the fact that. which use these in order to appropriate their content and generate a variety of cultural practices around it. balancing between the public and private. music on the Internet participates in the construction of our identity but in diverse forms. but ﬁrst. trends and groups they ﬁnd interesting. but they can all generally be reduced to only two: one linked to the use of conventional media such as radio and television – also regular pirated goods’ buyers at buhoneros (informal street stands). and another one more involved with the ICTs. the music preferences of the random user are conditioned by the playlists created by informal traders of pirate CDs. Thus. the playlists represent an important factor. In this respect. in some cases. in developed societies. a clear distinction must be made. converting each user into one more agent of identity creation.Eddy L. radio in Venezuela is one of the most important channels of promotion of popular music.fm). the hit parade system determines what the ‘random users’ consume. this construction of identity is based on the act of sharing (music. In fact. information). This is just an effective marketing strategy. as explained in a previous study: As in other scenes in daily life. Interconnected Musical Networks (IMNs) potentially facilitate wider forms of musical collaboration. For both groups. encouraging them to ﬁnd a particular hit among the pirate records offered by buhoneros or even commercial establishments. and create playlists that are then redistributed through Spotify or social networks. as they determine to a large extent the perception of the users’ musical identities in the networks where they interact. (Dillon 2006: 300) This new collaboration among digital users ﬁnds in social networks a rich interactive scene based on the mediations that occur on those symbolic resources suggested by the technological appropriations (De Aguilera 2008). side-by-side and face-to-face interaction. (De Aguilera. The consumer dynamics of the ﬁrst group – whom we will call ‘technologically random’ – begins with radio listening. Borges-Rey and.
As Castells and others point out. On the other hand. along with television. they also act as distribution channels for music exchanged among users via Bluetooth or – from a more creative perspective – voice notes. also represent one more invasive appropriation dynamic that threaten copyright protection laws. 2007: 377–78) In fact. music’s collectivity becomes the subject of its visual representation’ (Berland 1993: 40). young Venezuelans not only participate actively through their mobile phones in social networks. reafﬁrm their musical identity and share the cultural goods they appropriate demonstrate signiﬁcant ethnographic data. ubiquitous connectivity and self-administered nets of shared social practices. the mediations carried out in mobile telephone environments are an increasingly relevant factor.] The youth culture has found in mobile telephones an appropriate tool to express the need of ‘safe autonomy’. and adapted new communicating uses. clearly linked to a number of symbolic ideals from a variety of reggaetón aesthetics. created. . That identity. . either through Spotify or Facebook or YouTube. At the same time. they get access to a number of other hits that reafﬁrm their presence in the top lists as they are more and more listened to. CONCLUSION: THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN REGULATION AND THE INFORMAL ECONOMY What began in Venezuela as the sporadic. this interconnection in the cross-media environment – where not only social networks but also conventional media converge – brings about an unprecedented change in communicating dynamics. incidentally. forums and blogs. In any case. Microsoft Messenger or BB PIN (Blackberry instant communication system). (Castells et al. Young people have spearheaded the spreading of mobile communication technology in developed countries. where they get to comment on those videos and theme songs uploaded. clandestine sale of a few pirate CDs by street traders has become today a network of wide production and distribution of cultural goods that represent a major part of the country’s informal 305 . Music television still keeps a remarkable market share. in the scenario where the involved users interact. [. Tr3s. . This increasingly habitual practice involves any musical theme broadcast through radio. VH1 or HTV channels which are accessed by a wide range of the population – illegally in most cases – and which. although effective viral promotion tools for artists. the creative uses Venezuelans have conceived through these in order to promote their preferences. as has happened for a few decades: ‘Through the intervention of the technological processes and dominant codes of musical television. condition the demand for artists.Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . television or a live performance. or street traders to acquire a compilation containing the music hit they heard on the radio and so. . These practices. being recorded – by the mobile phone’s ‘voice notes’ application – then sent to the contacts net through MMS. noting that the playlists in the latter two also contain a number of visual codes with a great inﬂuence in virtual groups. as well as invented. is promoted and instilled by satellite/cable networks such as MTV. or interact in fan groups. the playlists are mere virtualizations of their music preferences – marked and imbued with their musical identity – distributed on the Internet.
Their service offer is so wide that they not only sell those items. which range from illegal 24/7 street trading in crossroads and trafﬁc light stops to the stores mentioned above. ANDIM). Later. come from pirate versions (Lugo and Sampson 2008). the Inter-institutional Agreement Against Piracy was created in 1996 under the protection of the Ministry of Justice. What’s more. but also by the search for working alternatives to the high unemployment rates in the country. they are using a myriad of different ways to get what they want. by the second half of 2009. the Ofﬁce Prosecutor XVIII for the Public Ministry was created. The bottom line is that consumer empowerment has ﬁnally reached the music business. According to ﬁgures from the Venezuela National Statistics Institute (Spanish acronym INE). As a response to this situation. we can afﬁrm that the distribution and promotion of these cultural goods largely depends on their circulation through a non-copyright-regulated process outstripping a number of market conditions that slow the content’s global consumption. Comparing this data with those statements from the Authors and Composers Society of Venezuela (Spanish acronym. with authority in copyright matters. and almost 72% of personal computers’ installed software. ﬁlm. What Leonhard proposes as a ‘liquid model’ for digital music shows a kind of user who dictates consumer patterns and whose power of choice affects the music industry’s proﬁts: We are heading into a ‘music like water’ future. followed by the National Alliance for the Defence of Music Industry (Spanish acronym. and depending on their cultural backgrounds. In 2002. to a large degree the ‘traditional’ record industry is simply no longer invited to the party. Therefore. and many consumers have now taken charge of their own entertainment. 306 . according to videostore-like procedures. It’s now My Media. several institutions that watch over the rights of artists and the record industry have put pressure on the government to create new policies to regulate the activities carried out by these establishments. TV series and live concert DVDs and the pirate software sale business has reached such a rate that many trademark branches can be seen in shopping malls in Venezuela’s most important cities functioning as sellers of pirated consumer goods. attached to the State Police’s Anti-Organized Crime Division. thus showing an increasing piracy practice in different sectors of the informal economy. there are more people in more places around the globe tuning into music with more enthusiasm and sheer determination than ever before. the Venezuelan user has obtained the content within the illegal framework in most cases. (Leonhard 2008: 38) In this sense. not yours that you are simply ‘broadcasting to me’. but also hire them. in view of a new governing body known as the Organic Procedural and Criminal Code. with the Brigade against Piracy (Spanish acronym COMANPI) as its operative agency. there arrived the Anti-piracy National Action Group (Spanish acronym. Borges-Rey commerce. The expansion of music CDs. an aspect the new user does not feel enthusiastic about. SACVEN) indicating that 85% of ﬁlms and music CDs commercialized in Venezuela.Eddy L. in 1999. based on this very simple fact: Today. This aspect is obviously conditioned not just by the massive demand for these goods. the informal sector was made up of 44% of the country’s employed people. and even make them on demand.
with ﬁnancial interests in this sector take actions as swiftly as possible in order to maintain. GANA). a conclusion drawn from the Spanish Institute of Foreign Trade’s ﬁgures. because now people will be paying attention to music again. Leonhard sets out an analysis of digital music’s current situation and its relationship with both users and music industry. In this respect. leading to the Commission for the Implementation of Industry Protection Policies based on Author Rights and its Fiscal Impact (Olivar 2005). Can you make a proﬁt on a lower sales price? Here’s my math: Reduce your production costs by 25%. and take advantage of a much larger market altogether. in need of new lines of action. Thus. save 50% of your marketing budgets. . That is the reason why the organizations. via the Internet. their audiences. According to these. making consumption easier in many ways and adjusting it to some practices – such as buying a pirate DVD movie as yet unreleased in the cinema or listening to the album which the artist has not released yet onto the market – which run contrary to the model chain that the industry struggles to maintain. ‘often using music to create speciﬁc symbolic atmospheres and experience feelings and emotions within them’ (De Aguilera 2008: 43). Argentina and Brazil stood out as the countries where the cultural industry had a major economic presence. he also suggests what could be. He tells the industry to: Drastically lower the prices for music products and you will see piracy ‘disappear’ quickly because pirates cannot compete any longer. including some emerging economies like Brazil. proving that almost the whole cultural industry’s activities in Venezuela are carried out within the frameworks of the informal economy. which. in which it is well known that people look for musical ‘experiences’ instead of just consuming music goods. they just care about the emotions music will let them experience. (Leonhard 2008: 31) This cultural and political structure also has a certain consequence within the Venezuelan’s musical identity. as this dynamic has been a determining factor in the way the user gets access to contents. but most important. but which dictates the dynamic bases of access and content control which empower the new user. the consumer patterns have changed: users are no longer concerned about how music is obtained. has not changed signiﬁcantly. and the people integrated or linked to them. .Buhoneros’ reggaetón : Emerging Venezuelan musical practices through . sell the product for 30% less. with up to a 3% value of the gross domestic product. the right measures to remove piracy out of the equation. 307 . Venezuelan users are locally strengthening a cultural practice which is not only globally widespread. merged with the Integrated National Service of Costumes and Tributes Administration (SENIAT). according to him. such is the case of Venezuela or Paraguay (ICEX 2010). by 2008. among other things. In fact. while the rest of the countries in Latin America only reached 1% value or less. The kind of relationship these have with music texts is typical of those ‘textualized cultures’ explained by secondgeneration semiotics scholars. In his work. cut in the artist for 20–40%. Venezuela’s informal economy has established a trend in music consumption repeated among several Latin American countries. look to get 95% of your catalogue exposed to their perfect target groups. however. The rate of commerce of pirated works and goods.
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