The Cultural Wave of Despacito
On January 13th, 2017, Puerto Rican Latin pop singer Luis Fonsi released his collaboration project with Reggaeton superstar Daddy Yankee to the world, and the world responded back. Despacito gained millions of views on YouTube within its first 24 hours. The song played at the top of the hour on various radio stations, and DJ’s added the new clubanger to their sets. Seven months later, Despacito become a cultural phenomenon with two remixes and broke several billboard records. Not only did Lusi Fonsi and Daddy Yankee create the hit of the year, but they are making history.
Despacito opens up with the chords of a cuatro, a traditional instrument from Puerto Rico. Fonsi releases an Ay! that brings a sense of nostalgia to anyone from the island. The cuatro continues to provide the main melody of the track along with a fusion of Latin Pop and Reggaeton rhythms. The verse builds up to the catchy, phonetic chorus of Des-Pa-Cito, which means “slowly” in Spanish. Add Daddy Yankee’s creative rap lyrics to the mix, especially the hook of pacito a pacito, suave suavecito, nos vamos pegando, poquito a poquito, and you get a playful song of Caribbean seduction.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee give tribute to Puerto Rico when they filmed the music video in the neighborhood of La Perla in San Juan, the capital of the island. The first half shows the waves crashing into the rocks as Fonsi looks out into La Perla. Zuleyka Rivera, former Miss Universe and Miss Puerto Rico, plays Fonsi’s love interest, walking happily throughout the barrio. She interrupts a domino tournament while people dance in front of cars, local businesses, and the streets. Music is the life force of the island.
The second half finds Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Zuleyka in a club looking to have a good time. As Fonsi plays the game of seduction, people dance to Yankee’s play on the hook. Soon, the original melody transitions out, and the traditional instruments take over; congas, tambores, and the cuatro, as the dance party continues. In the hearts of Puerto Ricans, music provides the pulse needed to breathe.
Victor Manuelle adds a tropical twist to Despacito when he collaborated on the salsa remix of the track. Things really took off when pop sensation Justin Beiber, heard the original song being played at a nightclub in Colombia. Beiber contacted Fonsi and asked to record a remix. When the remix was released in April, the big surprise for everyone was hearing the pop singer’s vocals in Spanish. Despacito became the number one song in the world with the bilingual remix.
Latin performers like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, Marc Anthony, and Ricky Martin, have done mainstream crossovers, but what makes Despacito different is that the song is completely in Spanish. Even before the bilingual remix was released, Despacito was played in English-language stations like Z100 and KTU. This is also the biggest hit for both Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. Luis Fonsi’s last hit was No Me Doy Por Vencido (I Won’t Give Up), while Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina went international in 2004.
Despacito is opening opportunities for both mainstream and Latin artists to collaborate together. Justin Beiber recently collaborated with Colombian reggaeton artist J. Balvin with a remix to Sorry. Some could argue that Romeo Santos has culturally initiated the chance to record with mainstream artists as he has done with Drake, Usher, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. Although both Drake and Usher have recorded in Spanish with Santos, both tracks did not gain the momentum Despacito has. Prince Royce features Zendaya and Chris Brown in his new Bachata album Five. Shakira recently performed Chantaje with the lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin. The possibilities of Latin fusions are now endless within the music industry.
Pacito a pacito, Despacito will become a Latin music classic. You might get tired of hearing all the remixes, YouTube covers, and news on how this song is breaking records. One thing is for certain, both Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have set the bar even higher for collaborations between mainstream artists and the Latin music industry. More cultures will come together through the power of music.