Chocolate Remix: the lesbian reggaeton artist taking on Argentina's 'supermachos'

Reggaeton is almost as famous for its dodgy lyrics as its dancehall rhythms. But in Argentina, one woman is busting sexual taboos and outswaggering the men

The founding fathers of the testosterone-fuelled Latin pop genre reggaeton would probably be surprised to hear their penises described as dispensable. But this is the message from Chocolate Remix, a tiny Argentinian woman in a big cap taking aim at the “supermachos” in her single, Lo Que Las Mujeres Quieren. “Hey macho reggaeton man, listen to what I say / You don’t know about women / A woman prefers two well-placed fingers.”

This is “lesbian reggaeton”, and “Choco”, its swaggering pioneer, is one of a rising number of female reggaetoneras changing the male-dominated genre from within. An established talent in Buenos Aires’ alternative scene, Choco keeps reggaeton’s defining dembow rhythm and perreo (the doggy-style grinding dance culture) but uses the lyrics to satirise machismo and bust the taboos of female pleasure and lesbian sex. She also revisits reggaeton’s homophobic roots and rewrites the songs for a queer audience.

Choco might be a badass on stage but at home she is Romina Bernardo, a softly spoken 31-year-old former IT programmer from Argentina’s small north-eastern province of Tucumán. She now lives in Buenos Aires with her two cats. Between careful sips of maté (a green tea beloved in the southern cone), Choco explains how she loved reggaeton when it arrived in the clubs in the 00s, a decade after it came out of the barrios of Puerto Rico where underground artists first fused Jamaican dancehall rhythms with Spanish lyrics. Yet she hated the lyrics. “In reggaeton, a lot of songs talk about sex. I thought it would be great to use it to talk about other kinds of sex,” she says, adding: “Lesbian reggaeton was a kind of joke.”

Chocolate Remix live
Chocolate Remix (centre) performing live. Photograph: Victoria Schwindt

But the joke soon became serious. Choco started producing and uploading her songs in 2013, but with new album, Sátira (Satire), released in March, as well as a forthcoming European tour, it’s now a full-time job. The album’s title alludes to the randy figure of Greek mythology, while its cover depicts Choco in a wedding dress with chocolate smeared over her throat. “The idea is to present something that generates confusion,” she says, mimicking a shocked face. “Are you a lesbian? Oh my God, is that chocolate?” Sátira comprises seven tracks – most of which have a heavy dose of reggaeton’s signature tinny percussion and synth-led melodies, over which Choco raps in torrents of staccato and sometimes squeaky Spanish.

In the video for Cómo Me Gusta a Mi (How I Like It) Choco trills happily “I like cheaters / I like ugly girls” as the camera pans over a neverending bed of naked women in various stages of copulation. Sexual and political liberation are two sides of the same coin: “I like the empowered woman / But I like it even better if she eats this empanada”. (In Spanish, “empowered” – empoderada – rhymes neatly with “empanada”, a type of Argentinian pasty and slang for female genitalia.)

There was, however, a backlash from women who said her explicit videos and songs, just like those of male artists, were objectifying women. “It was a sensitive subject at the time. If you saw a women in mini-shorts people were like ‘Argh! That’s machismo,’” explains Choco. “I said, it’s great we are analysing this stuff, but what we are doing is putting more taboo on sex.” She also bumped up against an element of classism – reggaeton is grounded in street culture and is often written off as vulgar. “The idea of progress for middle-class Argentinians is that that you shouldn’t be a bitch, you should be intellectual and go to university,” she says.

What is radical in Cómo Me Gusta a Mi is not the nudity but the novelty of a reggaeton video full of women enjoying themselves, no man in sight. In the 25 years since reggaeton’s inception, women have usually only been present in half-naked, decorative form, emitting only the odd sigh of “Ay papi”. In 2012, the Cuban government even tried to ban it from the airwaves for painting women as “grotesque sexual objects” (predictably, this only succeeded in increasing its popularity) and last year the “misogynistic” lyrics in Colombian megastar Maluma’s song Cuatro Babys led to a petition for him to pull the song.

Female reggaeton artists have always struggled for visibility. A notable exception is Ivy Queen, whose 2003 hit Quiero Bailar defended women’s freedom on the dancefloor. She paved the way for today’s generation of female DIY reggaeton artists such as Argentinian Ms Nina los Santos, Chilean Tomasa del Real and San Franciscan balladeer La Favi, who are building their own fanbases on SoundCloud and YouTube. Choco identifies these artists, along with Catalan Bad Gyal, the rising Colombian star Farina and the Madrid-based group Tremenda Jauría, as part of a “feminist new wave”, though they themselves may not use the label. “I guess it’s a mini-movement,” she says. “Currently reggaeton is the most popular music at all the feminist parties.”

Explicit content: Chocolate Remix performs Lo Que Las Mujeres Quieren (What Women Want)

Chocolate Remix tackles homophobia and gender violence. Reggaeton’s homophobic roots stem from Shabba Ranks’s 1991 song Dem Bow (meaning “they’re gay”), which was the first track to use the unmistakable drum rhythm that became reggaeton’s backbone. “I took this song and I remade it to say ‘I’m bent and I’m proud,’” Choco explains. Ni Una Menos (Not one less) was written for Argentina’s “feminist warriors” and takes its name from the banner under which they took to the streets in October 2016 to protest at the country’s shocking rate of hate crimes against women. Over a thumping cajón drum, the lyrics – “If she paints her lips / Dances to reggaeton / Leaves you for another” – are punctuated by chants of “ni una menos”. It is a tribal call to arms. Choco is quick to point out that the problem is not specific to Latin America. When she worked in Europe, in IT, the gender imbalance among colleagues was striking: “We sometimes think ‘machoism’ is just fighting with your wife,” she says, “but there are a lot of things that no one sees.”

Despite sticking two well-placed fingers up at the reggaeton establishment, Chocolate remains a “huge fan” of the genre’s megastars such as Daddy Yankee. “He’s not the bad guy,” she says, “he is just responding to the macho culture.” Would she be his support act? “Of course! But right now I don’t think my music is interesting to his audience. I’m presenting an alternative but I’m also saying ‘fuck you’.” She imagines the concert: “I’m there shouting, ‘Your dick is not important’ … Maybe with some years of talking and with some help from psychologists, they could accept it.”

Ella Jessel

The GuardianTramp

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