The bulletproof Latin style of reggaetón took one beat and exploded across continents, pop music charts and genres of American music in this decade's unrivaled mercurial run. Its core, though, remains a style belonging to Latino youth. Still, the transcontinental sound even has local practitioners, like Real Cat and DJs Andy Con Erick, who make their ArtsCenter debut Friday.
The Dem Bow beat--the spine of all reggaetón--traveled into hits stateside, but the Triangle hasn't had its own stable of artists working in reggaetón; despite the strong Latino community, it helps to come to this music from close to its roots: Jamaican dancehall and bomba.
Ricardo "Real Cat" Welsh knows about these ties; he grew up in Panama City, widely credited as an early incubator for reggaetón while Jamaican workers were building the Panama Canal. He grew up in a military family and moved around a lot.
After a few hops within the States, he ended up in Durham seven years ago. Welsh, 32, goes back to Panama often, and, because of his background in music, he always has chances to perform. But here he is still trying to punch through as an artist. After long days working as a mechanic for a waste management company, he works on his real dream of getting a record deal. "Everybody likes my style, it seems," he says of support he's received at a handful of area shows. He continues to work on his debut record, appropriately titled Keepin' It Real, with a producer who works to Welsh's lyrics.
Real Cat took his name from two of reggaetón's heavyweights: Jamaican star Super Cat and American hip-hop crossover star Sean Paul. "My voice is similar to Super Cat, and I got a real influence from both of them," Welsh explains. Like much of reggaetón, his lyrics tend toward relationships, love and having a good time.
But DJs Andy Con Erick--Erick "Daddy Nice" Bryan and Andy Torre--come to reggaetón from a different vantage point, but one with similarly strong bonds. They grew up in Honduras: "100% catracho" proclaims Erick's MySpace site. They now live in Durham. Welsh is a veteran compared to them; Andy is 21, Erick 17. But they all want one thing thing: to make a go of it with their music here.
"My wife understands this is my passion," says Welsh of balancing family with his musical pursuits. Even as he's played a few shows in the area, he works his day job to get by. "I believe I've got talent and deserve to be recognized, you know? That's why I work so hard." While he hasn't found a sturdy inroad into the Latino music community here yet, he played the Fiesta Latina in Durham recently and plans on striving for more opportunities to connect. Every performance counts when trying to break through to a new crowd, so when he plays The ArtsCenter's open dance floor, he says, "I'm going to try to bring all I have."
How reggaetón inflamed hip hop and became the soundtrack for a generation of Latino-Americans is still mysterious enough, but original artists continue to crop up in American cities. It's starting in the Triangle, and Real Cat says he hopes to lead the charge: "One of my wishes is to be the first successful reggaetón artist from this area."
Real Cat and DJs Andy Con Erick play the ArtsCenter Friday, Sept. 15. The show starts at 10:30 p.m. and costs $12.