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UNEARTHING GEMS OF FEMINIST REGGAETON WITH CLARA!

Clara was in the soak-up years of her youth when she stumbled on reggaeton. “It was at Pirámide, a club in A Coruña that ceased to exist,” recalls the DJ and producer raised in that port city in the Galicia region of Northwestern Spain. “The track ‘Dale Don Dale’ from Don Omar came blaring on the speakers and I immediately became mesmerised. It was like a naive teen-crush at first listen.”

It was the early noughties. Reggaeton’s alchemy of brazen Hispanic raps and steamy beats hatched in Puerto Rico was surging on the global mainstream circuits. In the U.S., the genre built up solid traction cross-culturally, but where it really took off was in the latinx barrios stretching from Los Angeles all the way to Miami, where communities elevated this sound to a cathartic state of mind – a hymn to their unique identity. As the scene expanded, reggaeton leapt over the State’s outlines and bloomed like a devil’s ivy in young hearts around the globe.

But while reggaeton’s narratives of love, sex and pride mirrored mostly the experiences of the latinx based in the American continent, its yarns weren’t equally perceived across the pond. Perhaps for that reason, teenagers in Galicia generally deprecated reggaeton’s folklore, describing their consumption of it as a corny guilty pleasure. “This was a sound we’d dance to in the clubs or secretly in our bedrooms” reminisces the 29-year old, currently based in Brussels, Belgium. “You just didn’t want people to discover that you listened to reggaeton on your headphones. It was like an invisible social norm. So for a long time, I also made a distinction between this music for fun and the serious one I’d listen to regularly, which verged on alternative and indie music.”

Following a period of eclipse, reggaeton found its edginess back on the global limelight midway through this decade. Artists like Arca revolutionised the sound by pushing its boundaries into unexplored sonic landscapes and inspired young producers and dj’s to ride the resurgence wave by delving into the scene’s past as a way of reinventing its present and future. Clara is definitely on that restrict group of underground artists that dusted out old-school reggaeton gems to give them an unexpected second life. Only she emerged with a distinct purpose: unearthing the female reggaetoneras that you’ve never heard before. “After I started DJing at parties and bars where I’d play a bit of reggaeton, I decided to search for girls singing this music,” says Clara. “I found it strange that reggaetoneras didn’t get much visibility and when I asked people if they knew of any singers, they could only come up with Ivy Queen. So I went on researching and came to find out that there are actually a lot of reggaetoneras out in the shadows.”

Ever since she took up this challenge, Clara cemented a distinctive signature aesthetic by blending hard-hitting rave sounds – she cites Lotic or Kamixlo as references, for instance – with feminist reggaeton. And when it comes to the latter, her selection of tracks can at times be uncanny: it’s not unusual for Clara to lit up the dancefloor with an unlikely reggaeton joint mashed up with a pop beat. By pop I’m talking about Reel 2 Real’s ‘I Like to Move It’ or some Kylie Minogue type of hit. “In the 00s, it was usual for them to mix a lot of pop samples that were huge in America into reggaeton,” says Clara in an uplifting tone. “I really love that because it adds some humor to the music while reinventing the pop culture through different tastes.”

At the tail end of 2015, and after years perfecting her outputs, Clara – under the alias Clara! – released her debut mixtape Reggaetoneras through Sister, a collective for female, non-binary DJs that actively supported her research. The following year, she joined the Belgium imprint Gravats and enhanced her outputs with Reggaetoneras 2 (2016) and Reggaetoneras 3 (2018). As a statement to her soaring appreciation by the crowds – particularly that of alternative niches -, both projects, released in cassette format, sold out within days.

“What I strive for it to showcase the work of these singers,” says Clara. “Cassettes are a format that I enjoy, but releasing 100 limited copies wouldn’t give them the visibility that I’ve envisioned, so I insisted in sharing the mixes on Soundcloud so that everyone could have access to it.”

On the matter of social aspects of reggaeton, Clara points out that reggaetoneras have been around for as long as their male counterparts, but their success was chained to the gender politics surrounding the scene. “It’s like what happens with women who are DJs: we aren’t looked the same way as men and people are a lot more demanding when it’s a woman playing  music,” she says. “The same happened to these female artists, so many stopped singing because they weren’t enjoying the same success.”

Another element in the equation has to do with the lyrics, which to this day are broadly perceived as biased towards women. A logic that Clara is aiming to reverse. “When I tell people that I like reggaeton, they tell me that women shouldn’t listen to it because it’s a very sexual music and that’s really machista,” she says. “Women can be as super sexual as men. On some tracks, girls sing about going out, dancing with anyone and enjoying themselves; on others, they say how they like when men give it to them – and there’s never a moment where they hint on someone’s forcing them to do anything. I like this shift in the narrative where women put themselves at the center of the conversation.”

Clara assumes the aspiration of someday meeting the pioneer reggaetoneras of past eras, although she reveals a particular self-consciousness when picturing the possibility those encounters becoming real. “I’m European and I fear them saying that I’m culturally appropriating their music. It’s really important for me to make it clear about where this music comes from so not to look like that we created this or that we’re here to save these artists from anything. I really respect them and I don’t have any intentions of appropriating anything – this is their music. And I don’t know what it’s like to live in Puerto Rico, for instance, so we have different lives and points-of-view on things like feminism. So if I’m to produce something on the lines of reggaeton, it will be through my perspectives.”

While Clara confesses that beatmaking is an art she has yet to grasp, she recently gave a shot at singing on the EP Meneo, which resulted from a collaboration with Brussels based producer Maoupa. “It’s really hard to be objective with our voice, you’re always doubting that it will sound good,” she says. “But people liked it, so we kept on going with it and I ended up enjoying the process.”

Reggaeton has been riding an ascending curve in recent times. Artists like J-Balvin or Bad Bunny are awakening the masses to the scene, but Clara mentions singers like Karol G or the more indie Bad Gyal and Tomasa del Real as female voices levelling out the field on their own terms. In a climate where more female and LGBTQ+ artists are seemingly bound to emerge (on her last mixtape, she included a track by the trans artist La Bori), Clara is broadening her research to also include producers. And with her plans firmly set on releasing more mixtapes in the near future, she’s definitely one to keep under the radar throughout this year as she further explores her aesthetics against the patriarchal backdrop of her sonic references.

“I just want to showcase that women can sing about whatever they like, that men can dance in a music video and be sexualized or even highlight woman-on-woman or man-on-man,” she says, her gentle voice tone turning lively. “I can’t change the world, but I’m humbly trying to make a difference.”

 

A chat for Nation of Billions. Photo by Coquelin Photographies.