Tomasa Del Real Sets the Record Straight on “Neoperreo,” the Inclusive DIY Dance Music Subculture, and Drops Third Album
“I'm someone who enjoys reggaetón, and no one should really worry about someone having breasts or a penis. There shouldn't be a division line."
Perreo, also known as sandungeo, is a dance that emerged along with reggaetón — typically a female-back-to-male-front grinding style named for “doggy style” sex, based on word for dog in Spanish.
Neoperreo is an artistic movement, one that embraces the sexy grinding and el genero urbano music, but defies narrow labels and seeks to be inclusive of the marginalized. The budding subculture was enabled by personal tech and beat-making software, and so it's no surprise that it celebrates the retro and DIY digital influences that helped inspire it — think videos with low-budget footage, and graphics with neon pink and purple spot color. The clothing and visual style is a blend of goth and pre-Y2K digital aesthetics, and the sexually assertive lyrics acknowledge the free-spirited community that the style attracts. The music and scene organically grew simultaneously in different corners of Latin America, sweeping freaks and queers and outcasts off their feet:
Take the Chilean millennial who grew up in the digital age with a love of reggaetón, a background in fashion design and tattoo art and an unapologetic confidence, 32-year-old Tomasa Del Real, for example. The rapera is at the forefront of neoperro. “It started very underground. In a very small scene, that with time kept growing,” she explains to CHICA.
Del Real coined the term in an interview when explaining that her style is considered a subgenre of reggaetón but with differences in the subculture. At that time, she had released her first album, Bien y Mal, and she was blowing up, “I was being labeled as the new ‘queen of reggaetón,' and I expressed to them that I didn't feel comfortable with that label because I'm not Puerto Rican. My music isn't classic reggaetón. The lyrics and what I sing isn't a reggaetón style, but it sure is perreo…. At our parties, you dance perreo normally. When artists like me started coming out, it brought out a different crowd, like freaks and artists that will sing weird things a bit more crazy. This set the tone for our generation, it opened a space to people who were normally left out with a dialogue that's more modern.”
This style is particularly seen “La Vampira,” one of her earliest music videos.
While she continued to make a name for herself, a like-minded influenced by the internet-sphere began to coalesce: “We combined our aesthetic, which also embraces digital elements in real life spaces. The community started to grow organically. Everyone helped one another — like performers would wear their friend's clothing brands that fit the aesthetic. It kept growing, in South America, Spain and the U.S.”
Tomasa describes her latest album, TDR (her name abbreviated), as a romance-infused extreme perreo. And she conveys her thoughts on the censored ideas in Latin music industry, like the idea that women can enjoy sex as much as men, which is found in songs such as “Ella Quiere Culiar,” “Perrea Conmigo” and “Neoperreo Bailoteo.” The artist opted for a softer and sweeter tone in “Contigo.”
Born Valeria Cisternas in Iquique, Chile — a coastal city in the north region of Chile, and west of the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth — her local culture played a huge role in making her different from other acts. She tells CHICA:
“I'm Chileña because I was born in Chile, but my culture is Atacameña, not Mapuche, which is the culture of Chile. My city is very far away from everything considered Chilean culture. In reality, my culture is a blend of Peruvian and Atacameño culture because my city was part of Peru until the 1800s.”
Referred to as the “Miami of Chile,” Iquique, which was a booming mining town in the 19th century, is known for its extreme water sports, palm trees, luxury cars that look like models straight out of The Fast and the Furious and most importantly, a lot of perreo: “There's a lot of reggaetón. A lot of cars with lights and loudspeakers … with Lamborghini doors.” Naturally, she gravitated to that sound. “I tell you, I was a reggaetonera without even knowing it, but my ‘Gasolina' [Daddy Yankee] will come out the same [flow].”
It's no accident that neoperreo has a semi-established mood and look. Del Real studied wardrobe design and fashion at Duoc UC, a private college in Santiago, Chile's capital. At 22, Tomasa moved to Argentina to focus on her clothing brand and sell her pieces. Returning to Iquique, she opened up a boutique, with a twist: She added a tattoo shop. In her downtime, she'd head over and look at what the ink artists were working on her — and developed a taste for it. Eventually, the designer started practicing on her friends and soon enough, she received appointments of her own.
During these years, circa 2008 and 2009, personal tech went next level. The first iPhone versions were out, along with their plethora of easily accessible apps. Her mom's gift of a MacBook Air would change Tomasa's life. While running the shop, she would play with apps and software like iMovie and Photo Booth: “I started making videos, and then realized there was no sound. So I then started to make music.” After the music video was completed, she would post on YouTube and Facebook. Though lacking a “privileged” voice, as she admits — her friends sometimes made fun of it — she acknowledges how the digital era allowed her and many others to transcend certain vocal limitations and flourish by DIY (autotune, anyone?). Del Real says, “Digital tools created a generation of artists that weren't influenced by one thing in specific. It wasn't planned, for me, I was a normal working tattoo artist, and all of sudden, because I had an iPhone, the curiosity was created. And not only me, it was happening all around the world.”
Her videos became a hit with her friends and then a following erupted. She began traveling the world for months at a time, both doing tattoos and performing in underground parties. “I would be away on tour. So it got to a point in which I was like, OK, I'm going to close the store and dedicate myself to music 100 percent.” she said.
While she continued to make a name for herself, a mini-movement emerged: “We combined our aesthetic, which also embraces digital elements in real life spaces. The community started to grow organically. Everyone helped one another — like performers would wear their friend's clothing brands that fit the aesthetic. It kept growing, in South America, Spain, and the U.S.”
It's clear Tomasa Del Real has reached a certain level of fame and media coverage where she occasionally needs to set the record straight. Contrary to what is said on the web, Tomasa does not consider her music as feminist or queer. The point is to make neoperreo genderless so that everyone can enjoy — not label it. The community created a sound and style that represents people of all sexual preferences and subsets. “I've read that neoperreo is a feminist wave, because I'm a woman — and it's the opposite. We don't want people to focus on our genitals…. When I started making music, I wasn't thinking about being a woman or man. I just wanted to make music. I never questioned the lyrics or what I was saying. I'm someone who enjoys reggaetón, and no one should really worry about someone having breasts or a penis. There shouldn't be a division line.”
Another misunderstanding was the story behind her name. Rumor had it that the artist experienced racism for the color of her skin in Chile. Like many parts of Latin America, people there will earn certain pet names due to their characteristics. The singer assures that being called morena was a term of endearment in her community and understands that it's different if it happens in the States. “It's not like saying the N-word here,” she says. “The truth is that they always called me negra or negrita in Iquique, my city. We are all dark, and it is normal to be called that. A group of friends began to call me the black Tomasa for the character who carries fruit on the head, and over time, I started using it as a nickname.” And as for her new last name? “When Facebook appeared, at some point, you were forced to put your last name, and I put “del Real” by the last name of a boy from a Chilean band that I liked at that time.
After signing to Nacional Records, she released her album Bellaca Del Año, which included a collab with reggaeton legend DJ Blass for 2018's “Barre con el pelo.” Stepping into her third album, Del Real wants to continue to push the genre into a more commercial space. She wants global recognition and wants to bring the leading artists with her, like Ms Nina. “I want to continue to expand the subgenre. The urbano genre is trending right now, and for many years the audience was missing out because it was underground. I feel the same about neoperreo.”