“Reggaeton” is one of those buzzwords thrown around in the music industry as an up-and-coming genre, with some of the heavy hitters in mainstream hip-hop jumping at the chance to collaborate with their Spanish-language counterparts. Ask the average American pop-music listener about it, and it’s tough to get names of reggaeton hits — a mix of hip-hop with Caribbean and reggae beats — much less the stars.
That may be changing, thanks to the ambitious plans of one Don Omar. The Puerto Rican megastar christened the Verizon Center on Friday night with its first-ever reggaeton concert, featuring an elaborately designed, Broadway-esque stage full of pyrotechnics; dozens of scantily clad, mohawked, krumping dancers; violin and piano players; and smoke machines — in short, all the bells and whistles one would expect from any big-time arena concert. By packing the lower bowl of the massive arena, by far the largest indoor concert venue in the area, Don Omar made a huge splash that should affect not only his nationwide popularity, but that of the burgeoning genre as well.
“People don’t realize just how big the Hispanic culture is in D.C. until they have special events that can get everyone who loves this music together in one location,” said audience member Victor Colindres, a fellow Puerto Rican who lives in Suitland. That was the sentiment of many in the diverse audience, who hailed from Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Bolivia, Panama, the Dominican Republic and various other nations as indicated by the flags being waved in the rafters at the Verizon Center.
What they saw was unlike any previous local reggaeton concert. It started with “the Don” sporting his trademark dreadlocks and a post-apocalyptic black armor (think of those scary Oakland Raiders fans with the spiky shoulder pads, but times 10) before he changed into a white tuxedo with matching cape and gold staff, followed by a white T-shirt with a large custom platinum medallion and baggy jeans.
He may not be the best-known reggaeton artist — that title belongs to Daddy Yankee, whose songs (“Gasolina,” “Rompe”) get regular airplay on MTV and urban hip-hop radio stations. However, Don Omar — born William Omar Landron in San Juan — is arguably a close second, and his collaborations with P. Diddy, Ja Rule, N.O.R.E., J-Lo, Fabulous, Fat Joe and others have built up his stateside reputation in recent years.
With a new platinum-selling album, “King of Kings,” topping the charts, he began his 17-city U.S. tour last week with stops at reggaeton meccas — Madison Square Garden in New York and American Airlines Arena in Miami — as well as medium-size Hispanic markets such as Washington to prove he can hang with the big boys.
Don Omar, who grew up singing gospel as a child, has perfected his soulful piano ballads, such as “Angelito,” and mixed it up with dance-hall reggae in “Belly Danza” and “Salio el Sol.” There also are various songs that take cues from such Puerto Rican musical traditions as bomba and guaguanco (a form of rhumba), Dominican bachata (“Pobre Diabla”) and gangsta rap (“Conteo”). The biggest ovations here — including piercing shrieks from younger female fans — were for Don Omar’s megahits that combine it all: “Reggaeton Latino,” “Dile” and “Dale Con Dale,” plus the guest duets with reggaeton superstar Tego Calderon (“Bandoleros”) and Romeo of the bachata crooner group Aventura (“Ella Y Yo”).
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s something about Don’s raunchy voice; I just love the way it sounds,” said Jackie Garcia, an Alexandria resident of Salvadoran descent who had persuaded seven of her friends to fork over $68 to $98 for the three-act extravaganza.
“The Wizards play here; the Caps play here,” exclaimed fellow Salvadoran Carlos Henriquez, who had made the trek from Warrenton, Va. “This is truly an event. This movement of reggaeton is going out loud. Even gringos like this joint.”
He was right. It’s isn’t just Latinos who have joined the craze. Mr. Henriquez’s Hawaiian friend Mookie Cabrerra, a non-Hispanic living in Manassas, said she thought reggaeton was “the best beat to hear all the time.”
With the Don Omar concert living up to its lofty goals, the future of reggaeton is looking bright. Melissa Fuentes, a Puerto Rican living in Fairfax, has a 13-year-old niece “who absolutely loves” the music. All her friends do, too, and “they’ll be 23 like me in 10 years. This reggaeton thing is going to go strong for a long time.”