Tomasa Del Real Is Dreaming Up Reggaetón’s Future

The Chilean artist ditched a successful career as a tattooist to make reggaetón hits that put women in the driver’s seat.

Tomasa Del Real Is Dreaming Up Reggaetón’s Future Photo by Rod Photography  

Up until this summer, Tomasa del Real made music in her tattoo studio. The 29-year-old Chilean reggaetón artist's aesthetic might be doused in the internet — she records noisy, vulgar tracks on her phone and sends them to collaborators around the world, then meshes the results with choppy visuals — but she didn't kickstart her music career with a hyped-up SoundCloud track or a viral video. Instead she has tattooing to thank for her rise to position as a reggaetón queen. After studying design in the Chilean capital of Santiago, she began traveling across the continent to ink people's skin and, along the way, started playing DIY reggaetón parties in whatever town or city she was in. After a while, she began to be recognized for her experimental reggaetón beats and potently raunchy verses. “I just did it for fun, whenever it occurred for me to do it," she tells me over Skype from her new music studio in the port-side city of Iquique. "On my [tattoo] tours, sometimes I’d arrive and people would say, ‘Can you play at a friend’s party?’ I’d always be down to do reggaetón. That’s how it started. Like a snowball.”

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Over the past two years, del Real's popularity has steadily grown, finding ears outside of South America. In February this year, a collaboration with Stockholm producer Talisto, titled “Tu Señora,” made some noise. Then in March, she released her debut album Bien y Mal, which means "good and bad" and is a nod to its homespun production process. The nine-track album is a collection of songs previously released on YouTube and SoundCloud, and features a broad range of production qualities and styles that she describes as “unplanned.” She laughs as she explains to me with pride the DIY production and planning involved in the album. "How it was recorded, what I said, the graphic content — it’s politically incorrect and disorganized."

However, her new album, which is due out at the end of this year, is a very different story. Titled #neoperreo, it's a statement of intent with its eyes fixed on the future. It translates as “new perreo"; perreo being the dance, and increasingly, the culture that surrounds reggaetón. Del Real's experimental take on reggaetón is the latest evolution in a well-traveled music that developed in Puerto Rico from Panamanian and Jamaican roots with U.S. hip-hop and Trinidadian soca influences. Her production style, although a reminder of the pre-commodified DIY roots of the genre, are laced with lyrics that defy reggaetón's traditional machismo by prioritizing her own pleasure, alongside a dance culture that champions the music for its ability to bring people together. To del Real, she and her contemporaries like N.A.A.F.I in Mexico City and RIOBAMBA in Brooklyn, are making a new strain of reggaetón — their generation's Latin American pop. The idea behind #neoperreo, she explains, is more than a sound: “It’s a movement. The new way to listen to reggaetón.”

Below, she talks on her tattoo artist roots, what she sees as the new musical movement of Latin America, and shares a new video for the sweaty club anthem “Tamos Redy" from Bien y Mal. Scroll down to read her interview in English or Spanish.

How did you first begin making reggaetón?

I first started making reggaetón because that’s what people listen to here — there’s this car culture where people just cruise and listen to music. They listen to reggaetón, so that’s what I always thought of as natural. But I never thought I would end up doing reggaetón.

I’m a tattoo artist and I’ve been doing tattoos since 2011. I had this tattoo business, a studio with a lot of other tattoo artists, and I began traveling tatting people — and meanwhile, I was beginning to do reggaetón. I don’t know why. Just whenever it occurred to me, I’d rap, then I’d upload it. More people started to write to me. I did a few tattoo tours and during them, I’d arrive to countries and people would say, “Hey could you play at a friends party?” That’s how I had the opportunity to perform in so many places and that’s when I started doing videos. Little, by little, I was doing it a more seriously up until now — I closed my tattoo business because now I can’t do all that work and I don’t have the time that I need to attend to clients. I hope I can open it up again, but for now, I’ve been performing all over the place at different parties, and I love to travel.

Is there a connection between your tattoo art and your music?

Reggaetón is something that I never planned — it was something I did for fun and I’m still learning how to do. The tattooing is different. I started to tattoo really well. I studied it until I learned how to do traditional tattoo, which is what I like the most. I also learned [the history] of how it arrived to Chile, Argentina, and how it ended up in Latin America in general.

For you, what’s the difference between reggaetón and perreo?

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Reggaetón is the music, and perreo is the dance — when you find yourself with a person, the physical part of the music. Reggaetón parties, in general, are made for single people, so that they can go to a place and dance and have a good time and hopefully meet someone. So reggaetón makes it so that two people at a party can get physically close to each other to dance and say stuff they would never normally say to a person they don’t know.

Like what kind of stuff?

I have a song that goes "bien dura, bien dura, bien dura" (really hard, really hard really hard), and when someone sings along, and someone comes close to dance, there’s an opportunity — reggaetón facilitates two people coming together. We’re all in agreement, it’s not anything forced, but it just makes it easy for two people to come together at a party, to perrear and then to go home together.

Tomasa Del Real Is Dreaming Up Reggaetón’s Future Photo by Rod Photography  
“My music isn’t mine, it belongs to everyone who inspires me. I’m just a girl with good friends, a Mac, and Wi-Fi.”

What do you like about making this kind of music?

Reggaetón lyrics are really strong and they’re usually sung by men. I think people like [my music] because for example, a woman who wants to dance — now she has the opportunity to sing it and dance. I imagine that women like to sing my songs to others, and men like to hear them being sung to them.

What was the process of making the video for “Tamos Redy”?

It’s a great song, I love it. All of my motives for reggaetón and everything also have to do with the internet and the future. I didn’t have a single contact before, just the internet and a computer. Through the web, I was able to meet people. Right now I’m in northern Chile, in Iquique, a small city on a beach right next to the Atacama desert — the most arid in the world. Here, we’re next to this beach, a city, the mountains and there’s a desert right around the corner, and yet, the only connection I have with the world is through the internet.

That’s how I met Chico Sonido, a Mexican who lives in Los Angeles. I was in Mexico talking to a friend of his and we ended up talking through the internet. He found a track and we recorded it with a phone and sent it back to [Chico Sonido]. So we made the song without knowing each other, but then met because he came to Mexico to record the video. It was directed by Enciclopedia Color with collaborators DJ Rip Rosa Pistola, the rapper Speakz, and the performer Pepe Romero. My music isn’t mine, it belongs to everyone who inspires me. I’m just a girl with good friends, a Mac, and Wi-Fi. I’m here and of the now, and right now is the future.

Tell me about your new album.

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I have a theory. I think that reggaetón has turned into the pop of Latin America and there’s a new movement of reggaetón that is "neo-reggaetón" or “new reggaetón,” and that’s from our generation. So, #neoperreo is like a new way to perrear. The new way to listen to reggaetón.

Even though it’s not necessarily Central American, it was born there and has come back around. I am from that generation that listened to reggaetón as a young girl, and now I’m turning it back around. This new generation of people are doing new Latin music — like a compilation of all those sounds. That’s why #neoperreo is electronic. For example, N.A.A.F.I from Mexico, their sound is new Latino, and going to a N.A.A.F.I party is like new perreo. Apart from the music, the genre is accompanied with an approach to partying. And it’s not just me, it’s an entire movement.


Lee la entrevista en español

¿Cómo empezaste cantando reggaetón?

Yo empecé a cantar reggaetón porque acá [en Chile] mucha gente escucha reggaetón — hay cómo una cultura de autos (la gente andan en auto y escucha música). Y escuchas mucho reggaetón, entonces siempre era natural hacer reggaetón.

Nunca pensé que terminaría cantando reggaetón. Yo soy tatuadora y vine haciendo tatuajes, hace varios años desde 2011. Yo tenía mi local de tatuajes, el local era mio pero tatuaban diferentes tatuadores en mi estudio. Entonces yo viajaba el mundo tatuando y parallelamente haciendo el reggaetón porque se me ocurría de loca y lo subía al internet. De repente empezaron a escribirme más gente. Hice un tour por varios países tatuando y cuando llegaba a esos países alguien me decía, "Oye pero puedes tocar en una fiesta de un amigo?" Y yo decía "Sí es bacán cantar reggaetón." Y así tuve la oportunidad de ir a muchos lugares a tocar y mostrarme. Ya parallelamente empecé a hacer videos. Cada vez lo tomé más serio hasta ahora — cerré mi local de tatuajes porque ya no me podía hacerme cargo y ya no tengo el tiempo que necesito para atender a un cliente. Espero volver a tenerlo pero por el momento me ha salido muchas fiestas en muchas lugares y me encanta viajar.

¿Hay una conexión entre tu música y tus tatuajes?

El reggaetón para mí es algo que no lo planeé — me pasó y es algo muy divertido y lo estoy aprendiendo todo el rato cómo hacerlo. El tatuaje no. Yo empecé a tatuar bien. Estudié tatuaje hasta aprendí tatuaje tradicional que es lo más que me gustó. También aprendí cómo llegaba a Chile, Argentina y cómo ha llegado el tatuaje tradicional acá, en Latinoamérica al menos.

Para ti, ¿cual es la diferencia entre perreo y reggaetón?

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El reggaetón es una música y el perreo es el baile — cuando encuentras con la persona, la parte física con la música. Las fiestas están hechas generalmente para gente soltera. Y la gente soltera puede ir a un lugar para bailar y pasarlo bien y aparte ojala conocer a alguien. Entonces el reggaetón hace que dos personas que están en una fiesta se acercan físicamente a bailar y que hagan y decir cosas que uno jamás le diría a una persona que una no conoce.

¿Que cosas?

Yo tengo una canción que es, "bien dura, bien dura, bien dura." Y cuando la canta y a una persona cuando se baila cerca hay una oportunidad — ósea cómo que el reggaetón facilita llegar al otro. Todos estamos de acuerdo, no es nada forzada pero se facilita llegar al otro, perrees y te llega alguien a tu casa.

Mi música no es mía, es de todos los que me inspiran, soy solo una chica con buenos amigos, un Mac y WIFI.

¿Porque te gusta hacer ese tipo de música?

Las letras del reggaetón son fuertes y las cantan los hombres. Pienso que a la gente les gustó porque, por ejemplo, una mujer o una persona quería bailar — así que de repente tiene la oportunidad de cantarle a quien estaba bailando. Me imagino que a las mujeres le gustan cantarles eso a alguien y a los hombres les gustó que les cantaran eso.

¿Como era el proceso hacer el video de “Tamos Redy”?

Esa canción es muy buena, me encanta. Todos mis motivos de ahora de reggaetón y todo eso, también tiene que ver con el internet y con el futuro porque todas mis redes son del internet. Yo no tenía ningun contacto especial con alguien, solo tenía internet, computadora y así, por la web, conseguí conocer a gente que no conocía personal. Imagínate, estoy en el norte de Chile en Iquique, que es una ciudad muy pequeña que esta en una playa y al lado del desierto Atacama que es el más árido del mundo. Ósea acá, estamos al lado de la playa, la ciudad, el cerro, y hay un desierto en la esquina. La única conexión que tengo con el mundo es el internet.

Así conocí Chico Sonido, que es un Mexicano que vive en Los Ángeles. Yo fuí a México y hablé con un amigo de él y hablamos por internet. Él buscó un tema y lo grabamos via internet, con un celular y vamos conversando y allí sentamos y grabé y se lo mandaron a él. Entonces hicimos el tema sin conocerlos físicamente y nos conocimos porque yo fuí a México y el vino a grabar el video. Estuvo a cargo de la dirección Enciclopedia Color, con la colaboración de la DJ Rip Rosa Pistola, el rapero Speakz y el performer Pepe Romero. Somos amigos, nos gusta el #neoperreo y estamos todos redy pa lo que venga. Mi música no es mía, es de todos los que me inspiran, soy solo una chica con buenos amigos, un Mac y WIFI. Estoy aquí ahora y ahora es el futuro.

Háblame de tu nuevo disco.

Tengo una teoría. Lo que yo creo es que el reggaetón se convirtió al pop de Latinoamérica y hay otra movía nueva del reggaetón que es el neoreggaetón o nuevo reggaetón, que es de nuestra generación. Entonces, “neoperreo” es cómo la nueva manera de perrear. La nueva manera de escuchar reggaetón.

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Hasta que no es necesariamente de Centroamérica, nació de allí pero ya dió la vuelta. Yo soy de la generación que escucha eso desde chica y ahora vuelvo y vengo de esa escuela. Esa nueva generación de personas estamos haciendo ese nueva música latina, es cómo una recopilación de todos esos sonidos. Por eso neoperreo es electrónico. Por ejemplo NAAFI de México, ellos son sonido nuevo latino, y ir a un fiesta de NAAFI es nuevo perreo. Aparte de la música, el nuevo género está acompañada con una propuesta de fiesta. No soy yo- es una movida entera. Es cómo me imagino la necesidad de inventar algo nuevo y de conectarlo a través del internet.

Tomasa Del Real Is Dreaming Up Reggaetón’s Future