House Party Federation: Underground Artist Networks in the Carribean with Luna Olavarría Gallegos

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Thank you BUFU + School for Poetic Computation for providing WYFY as an open and accessible form of education.

My name is Luna Olavarría Gallegos, I’m originally a researcher, technologist and archivist.

A few years ago I accidentally stumbled into the music industry and have been in it ever since, wearing a lot of different hats.

I am invested in learning and teaching about the music industry because it is something that is so critical to our lives but for the most part is a black box of information. There are a lot of dynamics and ethics at play we don’t think about— especially in a world where most of our music is of or inspired by the Global South.

*Throughout the conversation I refer to the “Global south” which is a term I’m using to describe countries and regions that are economically disadvantaged.


This is (an over-simplification) of how I view the current state of the music industry.

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All of these hoops and barriers in order to reach a place of “ownership” (which in the case of a capitalist society tends to be legal rights and money).

I’d like to pause at this map and discuss in small groups or reflect individually. Questions I have to guide us are:

1. How does clout intersect with this map?

2. Who are some artists who have reached “ownership”?

3. What are other ways we can shift the way we see “ownership”?

I want to briefly discuss legal rights before in order to contextualize “ownership”.

Without going too deep into music industry theory, it is important to note that there are two main types of legal right— “Masters” and “songwriting”. “Masters” come from the time when music was literally recorded and the original copy of the music was called a master (really racist terminology). Historically and still, typically the record label owns the masters and artists do not own their own masters.

It is not rare even today for an artist to not own their masters. Taylor Swift is a more recent example of an artist who is fighting to own her own masters but some who do include: Chance the Rapper, Metallica: Jay Z and Iggy Azelia. This is important because we can begin to understand ownership being beyond making money and actually having legal rights over the music.

Going back to the map, some barriers that people urban areas in the United States may face to reach the point of ownership simply include not having a team to guide you on the legal aspects of the music industry and losing your rights to money, but also, not having the clout to access press opportunities.

This game is difficult enough in the United States, but it becomes more complicated when an artist is of the global south. These are some examples of how the music industry infrastructure fails artists living in the global south.

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1. This is the list of countries where Spotify is available. On the right is the list of countries where Spotify is not available. We have a continent producing the world’s trends and the largest streaming platform is available in only two of these countries on this continent.

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2. Another example is: WikiLeaks’ Sony Archives, published in 2015. The Sony Archives are a collection of leaked emails that outlined strategy and operations of the corporation, they were uncovered by WikiLeaks which publishes news leaks, and classified media provided by anonymous sources. In 2015 they published these emails and one highlight of the internal strategy uncovered was the attempt to remove distribution and publishing infrastructure in the Global South.

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One email between two executives outlining strategy said “internationally most local repertoire would have to be eliminated to focus on English language repertoire, unless there is a country that had managed to be profitable (i.e. Japan).” This is coded language that describes attempts to remove infrastructure from the global south. The email also was aiming to remove local publishing infrastructure which is an important way to make money

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3. Meanwhile, we have a few huge artists backed by corporations like Sony, who are making millions and millions of dollars. Using aesthetic and sonic trends of people in communities that are still under systemic poverty. Usually this affects black people, although It also has to do with people who are closest to power.


These are two images by an artist named Tabita Rezaire. The top image says: 19th century copper telegraph cables followed colonial era shipping routes, and most modern optical cables follow these same old routes. The bottom says: WATER CARRIES DATA.

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Here she has overlaid two maps, the top one is the telegraph lines which also show commerce, shipping routes and the transatlantic slave trade. The bottom shows the optical cables that carry capacity for internet.

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Together in small groups or by yourself, reflect on this work. Here are some questions you can discuss but it’s not necessary that you answer these specifically:

1. What does this work reflects?

2. What are feelings that come up in this work?

3. What does this map say about our world and about our internet?

4. How does water carry data?

For me this map this is important because it makes me realize the ways in which all of our infrastructure and therefor networks, past, present and future, are connected.

If so much of our world’s political economy is based off trade routes which are slave routes which are internet routes then we can learn a lot from seeing cultural and artist networks along these same routes.

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In terms of connections of power— the people who are closest to ports, urban areas, power are able to take most advantage of this system because they’re the people who have always been able to take advantage of these systems.

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Paul Gilroy is this writer who wrote about a phrase he called “THE BLACK ATLANTIC” He describes this as “the desire to transcend both the structures of the nation state and the constraints of ethnicity and national particularity.”

For me, this means that your race and your ethnicity as well as where you’re from (how powerful your country is in relation to other countries) are all factors in how your world is created. To me this means we can’t compare people living in the hood in Michigan to people living on the coast of Panama — while also taking into consideration material realities like lack of food, water, proximity to war.

This class is called “House Party Federation” because when thinking about music showing up across the world in different modes and forms, the informal artist networks are what brings it all together. Since these types of These “artist networks” — forms of music consumption and music distribution– come from real people networks, which flow with, resist, and often times live outside of the formal structures in which we live. Slavery, trade routes, political state boundaries.

People live all along and outside these vectors— when they do they listen to music and congregate together.


On this map I have provided, the red circles indicate the areas I will talk about that I consider some of the places in which the reggaeton sounds have been incubated. They include: Kingston, Jamaica, Lagos, Nigeria, Palenque, Colombia, San Juan Puerto Rico and Panama City, Panama.

I am providing today three examples of the ways in which artists networks have assisted in the creation of the genre we know today as reggaeton.

A lot of early reggaeton came from Panamanian workers who were constructing the Panama Canal, which split the Northern Hemisphere from the Southern Hemisphere. These workers came from the West Indies. They lived in the “canal zone”, were discriminated against for their labor, their race and their language and were paid in silver while their European counterparts were paid in Gold.


These are some early Panamanian reggaeton videos:

1. Renato

2. El General

The early roots of reggaeton in Puerto Rico in the 90s were marked by raids of music stores by the U.S. national Guard and Puerto Rican police. The governor at the time, Pedro Roselló enforced a law he called Mano Duro which was a way to control drug crimes on the island pacifically in low-housing units called Caseríos. He was put into office with the campaign “Mano Duro” — Iron fist. Part of Mano Our was the policing of reggaeton music.


This governor also happens to be the father of the governor who was just kicked out of office last week by the more than 500,000 Puerto Ricans who took to the street to protest. They were successful in making him resign.

During this time of “mano duro”, the Puerto Rican police accompanied by the United States national guard raided music stores to remove reggaeton music, and targeted low-income housing to police the music and people.

This was in the 90’s and although maybe surprising that reggaeton was illegal during this time, we need to remember that Historically anything that supports large groups of poor people congregating poses a threat to the State.

Eddie Dee’s “Censurarme por ser rapero” is indicative of this time. The lyrics are “censuring me for being a rapper is like censuring an entire people.”

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Around the same time, there is reggaeton emerging in Colombia that comes from a tradition of champeta which is the music of the coast of Colombia specifically Palenque, Cartagena and an island called San Andres. This is a sound system in Palenque, Colombia.

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The podcast I shared is a podcast done by Boima Tucker of INTLBLK and it explores the connection between Champeta and music of different African countries. I love this because if we see Colombian reggaeton as an extension of champeta which comes from Angolan roots, and we can see Panamenian reggaeton as an evolution of Jamaican dancehall and reggae and Puerto Rican reggaeton as an extension of New York hip hop mixed with Panamenian reggaeton, we can truly understand the way diaspora is endless and endless.

The next audio I'm going to play shows the evolution of traditional champeta with reggaeton of Colombia with a underground label called Farra Rap Records.

This in particular is really important because right now, one of the remgaetoneros with most visibility, fame, wealth and “ownership” is J. Balvin who has been credited for inventing a more stripped down version of reggeaton. This is heavily due to his whiteness as well as his position as one of the first big reggaeton stars of the century to sign to a major label.

Regardless it’s untrue. Reggaeton is not just of Panama and Puerto Rico. It has deep roots, many places and origins. The community that incubate sound is often times erased while one person is championed as the inventor.


I want to give time to reflect and discuss and I’m going to pose a few more questions around artist networks. I’m most interested in thinking about the Internet and how it exists in the global south with artists who were able to share music through slave, immigration and labor networks.

1. How does the internet change the way we consume music?

2. How does it change the way we make music?

3. What are some of the ways the Internet could be more helpful to us in terms of creating and sharing music?

4. What are some boundaries we face as consumers of music?