9th June, 2001
With this record, we turn another page in the history of Latin Pop: it is, by some reckonings, the first reggaetón number one.
Not that it would have been recognized as such at the time; not only was reggaetón as a scene and a culture still primarily an underground scene based in Puerto Rico, with little exposure outside the Caribbean, but a savvy Latin pop listener would have known that "La Bomba" was already three years old, having been a hit in Bolivia, Chile, and surrounding territories, by the time it made its way to the top of a U.S. chart. And it might have felt a little long in the tooth even in 1998, when it was new: Azul Azul's music was unapologetically derivative of the great Panamanian dancehall toaster El General, quite possibly the first performer to record a song with what we now recognize as the reggaetón rhythm as far back as 1992.
I first heard El General ca. 1991, when the video for "Muévelo, Muévelo" was in constant rotation on the Guatemalan music-video channel, second only to Gloria Trevi's "Pelo Suelto" in the little canon of Latin music then shaking me up. The story of El General, and how Jamaican-descended Panamanians pioneered "reggae en español" (really dancehall, more than roots) with the help of producers from New York and Miami in the late 80s and early 90s, is still less well-known, especially in English, than it deserves to be. But all this is an aside.
"La Bomba" is the first proper novelty dance hit we've had since "Sopa de Caracol" all the way back in 1991 (the Hot Latin chart kept "Macarena" down at 12 even as it went to #1 on the Hot 100, a feat of frankly baffling chart calculation). That it came from a party band formed in mountainous, landlocked Bolivia, one of the poorest and proportionally most indigenous countries in Latin America, rather than any of the hundreds of Caribbean port cities it might have been expected from, is a testament to just how international and borderless Latin popular culture had become by the mid-90s: while there were and would still be regional scenes, the reach of broadcast, satellite, and (rapidly approaching) broadband and cellular communications technologies is making everywhere a lot more like everywhere else than it used to be.
(Another aside here: the period I focus a lot of my energy on these days, 1920-1940, was able to make the same observation: the dissemination of recordings, radio, and cinema rapidly transformed local musical and theatrical traditions, which more often than not resulted in the creation of something new. We should never make the mistake of thinking that technologically-driven cultural change is unprecedented.)
The lyrics hardly bear analysis: like any novelty song, they're mostly encouragement to dance, instructions on how to, and a dorky reminder to be sexy while doing it. It's hard not to let the rhythm catch you by the hips, though: one reason reggaetón will go on to conquer the Latin charts entirely is sheer Darwinian force: it's the best rhythm to dance in a lot of different ways to. But we'll have lots more opportunities to go into that in the future.