Reggaeton faces Cuban fire
At 10 o'clock on a Saturday night, the Mariana Grajales Park in downtown Havana pulses with a thumping beat. Young men in drooping trousers and women in mini-skirts dance, raise their hands in the air and grind pelvis to pelvis amid whooping, clapping and coarse jokes.
The risqué dance style known as 'perreo', which translates loosely as 'dogging', is associated with reggaeton, an up-tempo mix of reggae, hip-hop and Latin rhythms that was popularised in Puerto Rico and has become a mainstay on Cuban TV and radio.
Now, the music finds itself squarely in the sights of critics who lament the genre's notoriously suggestive lyrics, steamy videos and sometimes misogynistic stereotyping.
Cuban authorities recently announced restrictions reportedly declaring state-run recording studios and broadcasts off-limits to songs with questionable lyrics. They also prohibit such music in performance spaces subject to government control.
The rules would, theoretically, apply to all genres, but it's reggaeton that leading cultural lights have singled out for criticism in official media while warning of new rules governing "public uses of music."
Legislators are also studying a bill to regulate the airwaves and performance spaces. Artistes would face sanctions for lyrics and performances deemed too racy, although it's not yet clear who would be the official arbiters of taste or what penalties may be imposed.
"It has been decided," said Danilo Sirio Lopez, director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, in a December speech to lawmakers.
"We will not play one more rude song, one more base song, one more song with offensive lyrics or videos that attack or denigrate the image of women."
The proposal apparently falls short of an outright ban, but in a country where the government is the main patron of the arts and controls all airwaves, the threat of losing access to broadcasts, production facilities and performance spaces sends a clear message to reggaetoneros: Clean up your act, or else.
The past year's hit song, Quimba Pa' Que Suene, by Los Principales, translates gently as "Shake It So It Goes Off" and is a kind of homage to masturbation.
The video was uploaded to YouTube and heralded as "the new hymn of Cuban youth," and for the last year it could be heard booming at top volume at private parties, school events and other get-togethers.
The runaway smash El Chupi Chupi, by Osmani Garcia and various artistes, was also criticised for its creative wordplay about sexual acts. "Go on make yourself pretty, and turn out the lights, the orgy has begun," goes one of the few lines printable in a family newspaper.
Officials, critics and the influential Cuban Women's Federation derided both songs as vulgar and demeaning to women.
"Obviously everyone is free to listen in private to whatever music they want," said Orlando Vistel, president of the Cuban Music Institute, an arm of the Culture Ministry that promotes music.