Writers Talking About Anything but Writing
Words By Laura Villareal and Malcolm Friend, Art By Mackingster
An Interview with Malcolm Friend on the Seattle Mariners, La Sista’s Album Majestad Negroide, and Plátanos
Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.
Laura Villareal (LV)
The Mariners are one of two teams that have never made it to the World Series, but it seems like they have an extraordinarily loyal fan base. I read that Nintendo owns 10% of shares for the team and Macklemore even wrote a song about them. What’s it like being a fan?
Malcolm Friend (MF)
I was trying text between me and my siblings but couldn’t, so I’m going to approximate it as best I can. My little brother texted all of us after last MLB season started and the Mariners looked like they might make the playoffs (which they didn’t; shout out to the longest active postseason drought in North American sports at 17 straight years), and was telling us he and a friend were talking about how there’s some sort of experiment or simulation to see just how far people can be pushed in terms of their loyalty. After talking about it for a while, my brother came to the conclusion that the Seattle Mariners are that simulation, and exist simply to gauge how long fans can be loyal to the team, which I feel like is all that needs to be said there.
All jokes aside though, being a Mariners fan is essentially being Tantalus. Every now and again they get close to making the playoffs or get a great player. I’ve even been in attendance for two no hitters thrown by the Mariners, including Félix Hernández’s perfect game. I’ve gotten to see all-time greats such as Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martínez play. But any sniff of playoffs or success is immediately pulled away from us, only to be replaced by mediocrity and even sometimes outright ineptitude.
That’s so funny! I’d totally believe the Mariners were an experiment in loyalty. It’s like you never know what you’ll get with the Mariners so you gotta keep watching. People love the thrill of uncertainty in almost winning and rooting for the underdog.
Do you think the Mariners will ever make it to the World Series?
I don’t like to say never, but Chicago Cubs fans went 108 years between World Series titles, so they have until 2085 before I do.
You stated, “La Sista’s debut album Majestad negroide being a heavily slept on Afrolatinx masterpiece” when I asked for three topics. Tell me a little bit more about that. What makes the album so good?
What’s interesting about this album is that it came out in 2006, just a few years after Tego Calderón’s El Abayarde (2002), Don Omar’s The Last Don (2003), and Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino (2004), typically considered the holy trinity of reggaetón albums that helped popularize the genre, and Ivy Queen’s breakout Diva (2004), another album that helped boost reggaetón’s image and profile.
Why I find this album so compelling is that it’s rooted in blackness. La Sista (who I think now goes by La Zista) is from Loíza, typically considered the center of black culture in Puerto Rico. The title of the album itself is riffing off the poetry of Luis Palés Matos (specifically his poem “Majestad negra”), who is 1) considered the father of Afro-Puerto Rican poetry, inserting Afro-Puerto Rican culture into literature, but 2) an extremely controversial figure because there’s some uncertainty around whether or not he was actually black. La Sista also has a song on the album titled “Calabó y bambú,” a riff off another poem by Palés Matos, “Danza negra.” La Sista also has a titular song dedicated to Yemayá and incorporates bomba into the album, something that sonically does a lot for the album. And yet she doesn’t get the same type of recognition that Tego Calderón does in terms of repping Afro-Puerto Rican culture, or the type of recognition Ivy Queen does as an early female figure in the genre.
That’s really, really interesting! There’s so much in your response that I want to discuss. Does riffing off Palés Matos work influence how you read La Sista’s music?
Absolutely it does. I think it positions her music (or at the very least Majestad negroide) in an interesting space in any situation. If you’re of the belief that Palés Matos was black, then it positions her music as a clear cultural successor to Palés Matos in ways I’m not sure other Afro-Puerto Rican reggatón artists such as Tego Calderón and Don Omar would be. If you believe that Palés Matos wasn’t black, then La Sista’s music does important work reframing his poetry and presenting her own formulations of blackness in Puerto Rico, formulations that come out of her own lived experience.
I know reggaetón has been criticized for both racism and sexism; do you think those might be reasons why La Sista hasn’t received recognition for her innovative work?
I think it’s definitely a big and inescapable part of the equation. And it’s not just La Sista, of course. The question on gender points me to Glory, who became the female voice on a lot of early reggaetón tracks, voicing female desire for the male lead. Despite providing two of the biggest lines during reggaetón’s explosion (“Dale papi, que estoy suelta como gabete,” from Don Omar’s “Dale, Don, dale,” and “Dame más gasolina,” Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”), her solo career never really took off. Félix Jiménez, in the essay “(W)rapped in Foil: Glory at Twelve Minutes or Less,” points out the same embrace of sensuality and sexuality that helped propel the careers of men like Don Omar and Daddy Yankee worked against Glory when she released her solo album Glou. Jiménez states that Glory’s features on those tracks “had the twofold consequence of securing for her a place in reggaeton’s tight family and, most of all, keeping her in her place.”
In terms of race, reggaetón in a lot of ways follows a similar story as salsa, where black voices (and faces) get pushed out in favor of their lighter-skinned counterparts. This is ever-present in a world where J. Balvin, Maluma, and Karol G are quickly becoming the new mainstream faces of the genre. But the overlap of race and gender really jumps out when folks continually come back to Tego Calderón as the black artist honoring black culture in his music. While La Sista certainly does get credit in some circles for incorporating bomba into her music, as Petra Rivera-Rideau points out in Remixing Reggaetón, she doesn’t see the same type of international success as Tego Calderón.
What are your top three songs from Majestad negroide?
“Calabó y bambú,” “Rulé candela,” and “Alcabones de la letra” (a collaboration with Chyno Nyno and Ñejo).
We can both agree plátanos are a perfect food, but where do you stand in the great plátano debate? Which is better: maduros or tostones?
I’ve always been partial to tostones. When you get just the right double-fry on the plátano and they come out perfectly crispy, nothing can beat some good tostones. That being said, the correct answer to any plátano debate is mofongo.