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Peter Szok

Renato Sets It Straight: An Interview on the Diffuse Roots of Reggaeton

Texas Christian University, EE.UU.

In a 2008 interview in Panama City, Leonardo Renato Aulder (1961) described his personal background and his early contributions to the development of reggaeton. Renato is one of reggaeton’s “founding fathers,” and while his comments reflect the heated debates between Panamanians and Puerto Ricans over the origins of the genre, they also reveal a more complex explanation for the rise of this popular music. Renato is the grandson of Afro-Antillean immigrants. He grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, where he spoke English, played football, and thought of himself as a U.S. citizen. Musically, he fell under the sway of rock ‘n’ roll, soul, as well as R&B. After the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (1977) and his relocation to Panama City, his artistic inspirations continued to be varied. In Río Abajo, a traditional Afro-Antillean neighborhood, Renato became intrigued by reggae and Jamaican dancehall, but he also remained tied to African-American popular culture and was affected by the spectacular rise of hip hop. Reggaton is ultimately a transnational creation. It draws on an array of musical influences and cannot be neatly categorized as a Panamanian or Puerto Rican creation. Reggaeton’s roots are more diffuse, as Renato’s life helps to illustrate.

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