Despacito: Spanish song soars up US charts

More than 20 years after the "Macarena" sensation, a Spanish-language song has again conquered the US singles chart - Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi's "Despacito."

Despacito: Spanish song soars up US charts
Luis Fonsi performs in Carson, California. Photo: AFP

The song has soared to the top of the charts through an assist by pop celebrity Justin Bieber, who appears on a remix version with a breathy opening verse in English.

“Despacito,” which also features the Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee, is a pop track driven by a reggaeton beat. The lyrics to the song, whose title means “slowly,” are full of sexual innuendos.

“Despacito” on Monday came in at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart of top-selling US singles, the second straight week it has taken the highest spot.

The song cruised to number one on the back of dominance in streaming and digital downloads, although it fared less well in airplay on US radio stations.   

Nearly three-quarters of sales or streams of the song were for the remix with Bieber, tracking service Nielsen Music said.

“Despacito” has ruled the US Latin chart for 16 straight weeks and has racked up more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube.   

The song is the first mostly Spanish-language track to top the mainstream US chart in 21 years.

In 1996, “Macarena” by the Spanish duo Los del Rio conquered the United States as it set off an international dance sensation, with the song even figuring at the Democratic Party's 1996 convention. 

Daddy Yankee, whose real name is Ramon Rodriguez, said that the chorus and pre-chorus of “Despacito” carried “magic, and a melody that everyone could relate to.”

“This is definitely not only a big achievement for Luis Fonsi and for me, but it's a big achievement for music in general,” he told Billboard magazine.    

“We are crossing cultural barriers and unifying the world through music,” he said.

Fonsi, who is better known for his ballads than his incursions into reggaeton, recently wrote on Instagram: “Music has no language. Let's keep making history.”   

“Despacito” has quickly in the past two weeks become a viral sensation online through a variety of video tributes on YouTube.   

In one clip, three Italian comedians listen to the song in a car and pretend to hate it before being won over by the rhythm.    

The original video, which features Puerto Rican actress and 2006 Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, was on Monday the 24th most-watched ever on YouTube, the highest for a 2017 release.

The all-time most-watched video is “Gangnam Style” by Korean dance-pop artist Psy, another rare non-English track to become a major US hit. 

READ ALSO: Whatever happened to Spain's pop sensation Las Ketchup?


Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop -- but it's this eclectic sound that has turned him into a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop
Spanish rapper Anton Alvarez known as 'C. Tangana' poses in Madrid on April 29, 2021. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s biggest Spanish-language stars since his third album “El Madrileno” — the Madrilenian — came out in February. That ranks him alongside his superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia, the Grammy-winning Catalan singer with whom he has co-written several hits.

C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way since a decade ago when he became known as a voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the wake of the financial crisis.These days his rap is infused with everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles from Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitised by autotune.

“It’s incredible that just when my music is at its most popular is exactly when I’m doing something a bit more complex, more experimental and less
trendy,” he told AFP in an interview.

And he is unashamed to be appealing to a wider audience than previously: his dream is now to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or someone older can enjoy at home while cooking”.

‘People are tired’

The rapper, who sports a severe semi-shaved haircut and a pencil moustache, has worked with Spanish flamenco greats including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already drawn nearly six million
views on YouTube.

Shifting away from trap, one of rap’s most popular sub-genres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move — especially for someone with a young fanbase to whom rumba, bossa nova and bolero sound old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They’ve had enough of the predominant aesthetic values that have previously defined pop and urban music,” he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan
singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazil’s Toquinho, one of the bossa nova greats.

“What struck me most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I don’t mean pop,” he said.

A new direction

C. Tangana started out in 2006 rapping under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept Spain a few years later, hard-hitting trap was
the perfect way to voice the angst of his generation. But after more than a decade of rapping, things changed.

“When I was heading for my 30s, I hit this crisis, I was a bit fed up with what I was doing… and decided to give voice to all these influences that I
never dared express as a rapper,” he said.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which came out a year after his big hit “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he used to listen to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in
education and a journalist father who liked to play the guitar. The Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and with bachata which were played in the first clubs I went to, which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stints working in call centres or fast-food restaurants.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know. But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who dabbles in folk, rock and pop — another jack of all musical trades.