On the vistas of Latin American music, Chile has never really had the same international reputation enjoyed by its neighbours Brazil, Colombia or, to a lesser extent, Argentina... at least not until now. The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the country and a year ago Chile was the scene of protests against social inequalities that were severely repressed by the army (and which, for many Chileans, brought back the trauma of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship). But now, more than ever before, young artists are taking matters into their own hands and are playing a crucial role in writing a new page of their country’s history. In recent years a new generation of singers, reggaetoneros, rappers, and producers from a wide variety of backgrounds have been turning the tide, conveying a message that isn’t anchored in any particular political movement, but that above all cries out for freedom.
Such is the case with Tomasa Del Real, a former tattoo artist from the northern city of Iquique, who has transformed into the exuberant diva of reggaeton 2.0 – more commonly known as neoperreo. Together with her partner Ms Nina – her Argentinean counterpart based in Madrid – Tomasa Del Real a.k.a ‘La Reina del Neoperreo’ is the greatest ambassador for this ravishing and uninhibited reggaeton subgenre, that above all things advocates tolerance. Even though this alternative branch of reggaeton – which sweeps away the old macho stereotypes of the genre – wasn’t born in Santiago, it is definitely in this city at the foot of the Andes mountains that the craze for neoperreo is at its height. Once frowned upon and considered vulgar, reggaeton – and now its cheeky and digital little brother – are setting the pace for the lives of young Santiagans by inviting themselves to places where they never expected to go.
From 2016 until the end of 2019 – when a fire ravaged its façade and part of the buildings – the prestigious Centro Arte Alameda, located in the historic heart of Santiago, transformed itself from being the bastion of national artsy cinema, into a veritable ‘catedral del perreo’, playing host to Mamisonga, one of the capital’s most popular festivals. It is proof that, despite the fact that everything is currently on mute because of the pandemic, nightlife in Santiago is a lively place for lovers of dembow, and that the dancing is as energetic as it is explicit. Santiago’s nickname of ‘reggaeton capital of the world’ is apt, and it’s reputation as such is well-deserved when you consider the – wait for it – more than 400 million reggaeton tracks streamed there each month on Spotify in 2019. A staggering number!
No wonder it’s the eccentric reggaeton-neoperreo treasures of Santiago that dominate this playlist. But this digital DIY genre born on the internet is intrinsically kaleidoscopic. You’ll find the edginess of the local trap scene, with headliners such as Gianluca and Pablo Chill-E, alongside neoperreo’s resolute pop aspirations with Princesa Alba and Paloma Mami, as well as the militant activism of Blue Mary and Señorita Chu with their anthems of people power and feminist empowerment such as “Resiste” and “Creadora”.
Neoperreo is protean and has many different faces. One thing is sure however – there’s never a dull moment when you discover it in Santiago.