25.12.17

LAS KETCHUP, “ASEREJÉ”

9th November, 2002

Wiki | Video

All right, settle in.

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog, way back in 2009, was that I saw British people talking about "Aserejé" as a glorious piece of ephemera that came from nowhere and led to nothing, and I suspected that there was more to it than that, that there was a history there invisible to Anglophone eyes. As it happens, I had never heard the song: I lived in the only major market (the United States with the English-language overlay switched on) where the song was not a massive hit, and had not happened to be interested in both pop and the broader world in 2002 -- my interest in the UK's experience of music at the time was entirely NME-led, to my regret.

It took me this long to get to it, and I can't be sorry it did, because my knowledge of Spanish girl group and novelty pop history would have been incomplete without the researches into 1977 I did in 2012 and 2014 or the deep dive into 80s Iberian pop I did in 2015. But even this blog contains hints of what would come: Mexican girl group Pandora a decade ago, Mexican pop group Onda Vaselina four years ago, Nuyorican hip-hop group Barrio Boyzz, novelty dances from Banda Blanca to Azul Azul, pseudo-flamenco from Gipsy Kings to Enrique Iglesias and most prominently, Ricky Martin's own novelty crossover.

It's the surf guitar from "Vida Loca," mixed down and looped throughout the chorus as a constant drone (and in so doing, getting back to the Eastern origins of the surf twang) that is Las Ketchup's most prominent association with current Latin pop trends, but there are others: the affection for, but cultural distance from, hip-hop (the nonsense refrain is a Hispanicization of the opening bars of "Rapper's Delight"), the acoustic dance-pop instrumentation (throw in accordion and it could be a Carlos Vives song), and even the vague Orientalism (a constant feature of Iberian roots music) is consonant with Shakira's contemporary gestures towards her Lebanese heritage.

But all of that is incidental, and possibly coincidental. What Las Ketchup are really in dialogue with is in their own country's history of novelty girl-group songs, from the unison-sung flamenco-rock of Las Grecas, whose Franco-era "Te Estoy Amando Locamente" was as heavy as Zeppelin, to the electro-pop of Objectivo Birmania, whose "Los Amigos de Mis Amigas Son Mis Amigos" was a hookup anthem for the movida madrileña, to the flamenco-house of Azúcar Moreno, whose "Bandido" lasted better than the songs that beat it at the 1990 Eurovision.

Although Las Ketchup were from Andalusia, "Aserejé" doesn't include any traditional flamenco signifiers, unless the lyrics' coding of their hip-hop-loving protagonist as Roma counts, but rather gestures towards Western European urban music. The rootsy shuffle-and-guitar of the backing track represents an early-2000s pop assimilation of 90s worldbeat pioneers like Manu Chao and Rachid Taha, in which Spanish, French, American (often via-Britain), and Arabic musical traditions were blended: if the result sometimes sounded painfully generic, that's one of the hazards of attempting to boil a continent's worth of musical diversity down to its common denominators.

But part of that global mish-mash is Catalan rumba, the urban Barcelonan variation on the Cuban-influenced "rumba" palo of flamenco, as popularized in the 70s by Peret and continued in the 90s by Spanish-pop heiress Rosario Flores (among many others). A greater emphasis on rhythm (as befits its Afro-Cuban origins) and less on florid emotional virtuosity made Catalan rumba one of the default roots musics of post-Franco spain: "Aserejé" just barely qualifies, as its rhythm aims for dance-pop consistency rather than "gitana" funkiness, but the great joy of millennial-era dance pop was its ability to assimilate any cultural tradition and return it to the world: 2010s dance-pop flattens everything into the build-and-drop patterns of EDM, leaving textural differences as the only distinguishing characteristics between songs.

But, background aside, what do I think of the song? It's a pleasurable enough way to pass the time; its four-week run at the top of the Hot Latin chart is about right. I always appreciate novelty songs more than I actually enjoy listening to them, and my generalized American chauvinism includes the entire hemisphere: despite the length of this post, the most exciting and interesting Latin Pop in the millennial era was not coming out of Spain. "Aserejé"'s most noteworthy quality is its global success, which (like that of Psy and OMI a decade later) was less dependent on the specific qualities of the track itself and more on the popular appetite for a particular kind of nonsense in a given moment. 

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