J Balvin, a year of Calvary | People


Few things went well this year for J Balvin. 2021 ends in the middle of a controversy, one more of the many that he has starred in in recent months. “How far are you willing to go to get recognition?” The Chocoan singer Mabiland has claimed him after the latest scandal: exhibit an award for best Afro-Latin artist. Exhibit it and boast of that recognition just when in Colombia the claims of the Afro people are discussed and what it means to be a black person. Maybe what about Balvin is just about a bad timingAs some of his followers say, but for the Afro community, the singer’s attitude is one more example of racism and how much remains to be done to stop making their peoples invisible, in politics or in music.

J Balvin (Medellín, 36 years old) received the award as the Afro-Latin artist of the year from the African Entertainment Awards USA (Aeausa), which in the face of criticism has had to explain what the recognition is about. “It is not based on race but, more importantly, on promoting African culture on the world stage,” said the organization in a video, in which it assured that the category in which Balvin was the winner was open to any Latin American artist who contributes to the promotion of African rhythms. “I am not Afro-Latino, but thank you for giving me a place in the contribution of Afro-beat music and its movement,” wrote the singer on his Instagram, from which he deleted the image in which he shared the award.

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The national debate, in which Balvin is now landing, began when a mestizo woman, Isabel Zuleta, won a place on the Senate list for the coalition headed by the leftist Gustavo Petro and she described herself as a representative of black people. “That politics does not blur what you say you represent,” Francia Márquez said at the time, the black woman who aspires to the country’s presidency. Today, the message is repeated, but this time it is addressed to Balvin: “Latin white man, misplaced and appropriating, you Jose @JBALVIN, I talk to you, “wrote the Chocoan singer Mabiland on Twitter, whose album Niñxs Rotxs was chosen among the 50 best of the year by the magazine Rolling Stone.

This is not the first time that the black community has something to say to the Medellín-born singer. Last September, the fleeting video of the song Bitch It was another source of contention. In the images, of which only screenshots remain because he deleted the YouTube video, Balvin “walks” two black women like dogs while the singer who accompanies him, Tokischa, dances against the background of other women, also black, locked up in cages. The clip He was branded as macho and as inducing gender violence, in a context where only in his region, the department of Antioquia, more than 100 women have been murdered this year.

“In response, and obviously respect, I downloaded the video. And seeing that they continued with the criticism and with the whole situation, I’m here showing my face and talking about it, “said the singer then. But neither his apologies nor the fact that the video was removed have been enough to win the sympathy of women. For weeks, several feminist and human rights groups have tried to prevent J Balvin from appearing this Monday at a concert at the traditional Cali fair, one of the most popular in the country. With the label #QueTuPerreoNoMeMate Colombian women have mobilized against the reggaeton singer. “Public resources cannot be feeding contracts with people installed in speeches and practices that perpetuate symbolic violence and misogyny”, points out a legal appeal filed by feminist collectives to avoid seeing Balvin in one of the most relevant fairs in Colombia.

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The malaise against J Balvin has not only had to do with his songs or awards, it has also been against him as a person, against José Álvaro Osorio as a citizen of a country that this year burned in flames and that required him to pronounce on what was happening in amid the protests that left dozens dead and injured. “I am a Colombian proud to take a country and take my land to other parts of the world. I’m not from the left, I’m not from the right, but I always walk straight not slow”, The Colombians heard at the beginning of the year in The Boy from Medellín (The boy from Medellín). An Amazon Prime production in which a not very empathetic J Balvin was seen. The documentary follows the singer at the end of 2019, when the protests against the government of Iván Duque began, and its premiere coincided with the moment when the wounded by the police in the demonstrations were already counted. Wrong again timing some would say.

The singer J Balvin, during a surprise concert in a bar in Medellín, this month.
The singer J Balvin, during a surprise concert in a bar in Medellín, this month.RR. SS.

“From the media it was a very difficult year for J Balvin. It seems that he never knew what is happening in his country, that he did not have what to contribute to the great conversations that have taken place in recent months, “says music journalist Sebastián Peña, for whom commercially it was not the best year for reggaeton either. “His album this year has been well received, but not like the previous ones. Although he was supposed to do a more personal production [el disco lleva su nombre en mayúsculas sostenidas], in the end only Dear river, the song he dedicated to his son, responded to what was expected. In this album there was not a great contribution to the genre, as in other productions “, says Peña, a reporter for the magazine Shock.

A review by the press shows that in 2021 there was more talk about his controversies than about his music. J Balvin not only generated discomfort among women, among black people or among young people who came out to risk their lives in the marches in Colombia about which he was silent, he also did so in the music industry itself. The singer questioned the organization of the Latin Grammy for the few nominations for reggaeton, or rather for the few nominations with his name, as there were reggaeton singers. “The Grammys don’t value us, but they need us. It is my opinion and nothing against the other genres because they deserve all the respect. But the trick is already boring. We give them ratingbut they don’t give us respect. (PD: I’m nominated so they don’t come because I’m hurt) “, said the Colombian. His message ignited the spark of Residente and sparked a fight with the Puerto Rican singer, whose scene was social networks. “I’m lost, José. If the Grammys don’t value us then why do I have 31 Grammys ”said René Pérez, in one of the many messages he dedicated to the Colombian.

For Roberto Cardona, director in Colombia of Los 40 Principales, if you only talk about how Balvin did commercially, it was not a bad year, but “regular”. “Although in the previous album he hit much more [tuvo al menos cinco hits], has not stopped being in the top of the Latin artists. He is the second most listened to on Spotify and his name continues to be very important to the Latino community in the United States. A separate issue is what has to do with your reputation. There he did have a bad year ”, says Cardona, who, however, sees it unfair that an artist is qualified for what he says or does as a person. “I don’t politically expect anything from an artist. He has been consistent in separating the two facets. In the face of the people, he is just an artist who keeps his life as a father, his personal life, ”says Cardona. But it is not easy to separate the artist from his work, less when the artist says he is willing to change and learn, but reality shows otherwise. “I’m happy learning every day,” wrote the singer a few hours before showing his recognition as an “Afro singer.”

“Musically, he has taken the risks of those who dare,” says Cardona about the controversial recognition. Cardona says that Balvin has tried to use his great reach to serve as a platform for more forgotten genres. Remember the collaborations with the Nigerian musician Mr. Eazi as an example of his genuine interest. “Maybe if he [Balvin] don’t do afrobeat, that sound wouldn’t be in many people’s ears today. What he does is help all those sounds to have more diffusion, but the controversy is understandable, “acknowledges the journalist. “Balvin is like my brother, we always exchange music. He wants to share his music and culture with me, I want to do the same, so I’ll tell you maybe, ”Mr. Eazi said in an interview recently.

Perhaps it is unfair that each movement of J Balvin is evaluated, as it is not done with other artists, but so many nonsense in the same year could not end in something other than his image turned into a meme and a crusade against him so that he does not let you go on stage this Monday in Cali. Perhaps, as Cardona says, Balvin has to go back to the beginning to win the public’s sympathy again. “This weekend he fell by surprise at a nightclub in Medellín. No one advertised it, it didn’t sell tickets. You can hate it, but seeing J Balvin at a party where you were expecting a dj…. ”, says Cardona, who believes that the musician has tried with actions like this, to reconcile with his audience.

The new year will begin for the singer from Medellín with a concert tour and his name in the programming of the Festival Estéreo Picnic (FEP) in Bogotá already causes discomfort. “From here to the FEP you manage to cancel J Balvin three more times,” someone wrote on Twitter in October when the artists’ poster was revealed. With the latest controversy, Balvin seems to be agreeing with him.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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