With “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” smashing music industry records all around, reggaeton and its poppier reincarcations have reached an unprecedented peak on the international stage. Reggaeton might be global now, but one thing’s for sure: don’t count Aleks Syntek as one of its fans.
In a four-and-a-half minute segment of his recent interview on La Saga, hosted by Adela Micha, the Mexican artist went off against the genre, criticizing its repetitive rhythm, sexual lyrics, and escapist fantasies. And then, he said, “Reggaeton comes from apes, ojo.”
The comment was followed by laughter in the studio, with Micha chiming in, saying, “Well, you just have to watch them dance.” Online, the comment has sparked outrage from media outlets like Noisey Mexico and Univision.
Yesterday, Syntek issued an apology on Twitter. “I admit I made a mistake in the way I spoke. I respect everyone who listens to reggaeton or does it for a living. It isn’t a genre I’m particularly attracted to, but I reaffirm my commitment to musical diversity and respect for everyone’s taste,” he wrote.
Reggaeton isn’t for everyone, and its ubiquity can be tiresome for non-fans, or those who wish the mainstream music industry celebrated genre diversity. But given reggaeton’s long history as a site of resistance for black and poor Puerto Ricans and Panamanians, making blatantly racist and classist remarks is unacceptable. It’s evident Syntek wasn’t making a reference to the Darwinian origins of human kind that led to the birth of reggaeton, but rather perpetuating anti-black racism by comparing the genre’s creators to apes. Micha is no better, having felt validated by her guest to make a comment just as toxic as his.
What’s more, Syntek’s apology fails to acknowledge the racist context of his words, and even worse, it has been mostly met with support from fans who agree with his original statement.
It’s important that these comments don’t get brushed off as harmless jokes, instead of what they really are: a dangerous combination of racism and classism. And as reggaeton continues to transform in the global context, remembering the genre’s history of racial struggle is paramount.