Ilustración: Mayo Bous / Magazine AM:PM.

Can we know what is the most heard in Cuba?


There are two types of lists in the world. Those that are based on data (data that may be debatable, but at least aspire to be taken as facts (note how I humanized the data with its aspirations (and with this third parenthesis, this text is the one with the most parentheses in parentheses in Magazine AM:PM, it is a fact))) and those that are constructed from opinions. With divergent schemes, these classifications have the same validity to measure the object of interest, according to the convenience of each one.

Is it possible to know which are the hundred best songs in history? No. The lifelong debate: awards are subjective, and do not always reflect what is best; on the other hand, the most listened and sold could give an idea of the most popular, but that does not have to be synonymous with quality. At least the most popular is a more honest and objective category than the awards given by a few. The terrible thing is when the most popular, is not exactly the most popular either.

Let's analyze a moment Popnable, a website that, based on the API (Application Programming Interface) of Youtube, compiles lists of the most listened to from different countries, regardless of language or genre.

Popnable analyzes more than 28 thousand channels of the platform through a series of bots dedicated to search and collect statistics. These bots have three essential goals: look for channels trending (popular in real time) to add to the Popnable repository; get data from each new music video to also be added; and read Youtube information weekly as number of views, likes and dislikes.

Popnable only seeks information in two types of channels, international ones, which publish videos from different countries and genres, and local ones, dedicated to a specific country. At the time of selecting the nationality under which the video will be classified, in case of belonging to an international channel, the nationality of the artist who interprets it is chosen; if it is a local one, it belongs to the country described in the channel.

Later, a team of site administrators processes this information. Select the videos suggested by the bots and edit the names of songs and artists as standard; approve or not the reports given by Popnable users. At the end, the statistics are compared with those obtained in the previous weeks to generate the new listings. And the most listened to is published in those countries to which they dedicate a space. The Cuba list is published on Thursdays. With a fairly reliable methodology, we can know which are the most stuck Cuban themes in the world, at least on YouTube.

By the way, we can know certain trends from the places in those lists: the sudden changes that happen from one week to another - either thanks to the popularity of an artist in a short period of time or other reasons-; the appearance of a new channel with its own content that achieves, by a stroke of luck, or trending, paste certain video; even analyze how some songs remain among the most listened to for several weeks. However, these statistics are limited to YouTube, and it is difficult to compare the result of their lists with that of other platforms.

On the other side of the scale we have Pistacubana, a website that publishes "the most listened to in Cuba", taking as reference various radio and television programs in the country, and where rarely distinguishes between foreign and Cuban artists. But the real problem, as Geovanys García, creator and director of Pistacubana, explains, is that "the ways of making the lists on radio and television vary in each program, and they influence various factors such as what sounds in the world, especially (in the ) Billboard, what sounds in Cuba, what the listeners ask, criteria of selection and balance of the directors, and other more complicated formulas that go from traditions in terms of genres, personal criteria and even what the rest of the lists do ". This, added to "the absence of a music market, makes the elaboration of the counts in Cuba in relation to the world different".

According to Garcia, the lists in Pistacubana are made with a formula that is applied every week and is the basis of all the counts. They take the charts from radio and television (Piso 6, Lucas, Hit Parade of Radio Rebelde, Entre hits of Radio Holguín, Sonido E of Radio Victoria, among others), song by song, as well as the random monitoring of Cuban radio and television, day by day, and the interactions of users through the portal (videos, audios, lyrics, comments, votes, valuations, news, lists, and impact on social networks). The formula determines for each song the preference index, which is the total number of stations and sources of information that report the subject, and the result is between 0% and 100%. The number one usually round 50% index in the country. Although songs like Bailando achieved 70%, in recent times the number one is between 45% and 49%, something low but that shows that there is no general agreement in Cuba when promoting music. That is, no radio program or television program dictates patterns of which songs are most popular.

The factors that add up to 100% -the supposed song that achieves # 1 in all compiled lists, all rotation reports, an average rate of 10% and an absolute network index- are the position of the song on the list (# 1 is better than # 10. If it has no position, as in Piso 6, a generic is assumed, the 10 for all); the number of lists that report the song (this aspect can grant up to 65%); the rate of promotion (how hard it enters the counts of radio and television - a fact that as the weeks pass decreases and shows the disinterest that the issue generates over time to be replaced by others or simply bored -); the rate of rotation in radio and television (issues such as summer or patriotic do not enter lists but rotate a lot, or when an artist dies, such as Aretha Franklin or Charles Aznavour, these can be rotated more, but do not count) ; and the interest rate of social networks (actions on networks, press releases, reflections on other websites or relevant interviews on radio and television.) For example, Laura Pausini in Cuba generated concerts, specials and recitals of Laura throughout Cuba; it does not appear in lists but it is present and must have an entry in the counts, or the interest generated by a Grammy, Cubadisco, Lucas, Cuerda Viva, etc.). "The objective," says Garcia, "is to achieve a behavior consistent with the musical rotation in the country. This counting format guarantees a stable meter over time, regardless of the number of premieres or stations involved for decades or annual counts. In other words, the data for 2010 correspond to those of 2018. "

The director of Pistacubana does not believe this "is the default meter of the diffusion and consumption of music in Cuba but a variant, because there may be others, even better". The lists that they elaborate are generated from a mathematical formula that they have perfected over the years, with different parameters. One of these parameters is the quality of the lists that gives greater or lesser importance to each one when it comes to preparing their counts. Pistacubana is now more than eight years old, so its criteria and experience can be considered valuable. Their listings are not a reflection of the most heard in Cuba, but an approximation based on what is broadcast in the national media.

If we are guided by what one listens to in bars or on the street, like reggaeton and trap, or if we consume the hotlist of El Paquete Semanal ("The Weekly Package"), it becomes very complicated to make a canvas of what Cubans hear. It is logical to think that the different matrices of The Weekly Package (points where the contents of The Package can be restructured) prioritize certain artists to the detriment of others. On what, or who, to trust then? We have to choose, as we do with the prizes to which, according to our criteria, we give them more value. Pistacubana, for example, has a count - "TopListas" - that evaluates "the quality" of a list. García explains that "The portal takes into account which are more coincident with each other and which are divergent. Coincidents have greater influence and quality because they respond to a majority; this «quality» has nothing to do with the quality of the musical proposal. The base of coincidence is not the Top 100, withoutPromo, which part of any report that is made in the country, with the idea of promoting. A list whose count coincides one hundred percent with Promo is a list of the highest quality according to the criteria of Pistacubana; but they are not the best, nor should they be the only ones. All this is done to make up for the lack of a market in which the consumption of music by the public directly relates ". It is just an honest way to approach the problem, a possible solution that we can accept.

However, when asked why there are no exponents of certain genres in the lists, Garcia explained that "if the radio does not broadcast a type of music, it is almost nil the possibility of that content appears in the portal." Which leads us to move the question to radio and television programs. Why musicians like Bad Bunny, who managed to sneak 15 songs in the Billboard's Hot Latin Songs in 2017 and is one of the most listened to by young people and with more presence in The Weekly Package, barely appears in the lists of national media? Is it a problem with certain artists, with the genre in which they move or with specific songs for the content? Or is it with the trap because of its aggressiveness and loud lyrics? Whatever the reason, a reality is being eliminated: the trap as one of the most popular musical genres of Cuba.

Something similar happens with the most street side of reggaeton. If we discount the exceptions of artists with a more commercial style who have managed to enter a list - although not in the positions they should be - there are others like Chocolate MC, with an almost viral presence in the traveling speakers and with their moment of glory in Youtube, what they shine by their absence. Chocolate is a regular on Popnable's Cuban lists, its theme Bajanda He was in seventh place in June 2018.

Sometimes you think it's about avoiding a kind of music because of its aggressiveness, and that, even if you do not share it, at least has an explanation. But then there are cases like El Negrito, El Kokito and Manu, whose themes Pa’ que guarachee Santa Claus or Amiga mía do not enter in any list, even though they are "soft" reggaeton songs, without any kind of rudeness.

Both counting models are different and therefore have almost always different results. Neither of us shows the reality of the most heard in Cuba, but at least they allow us to have a slight idea of the Cubans' preference. Unfortunately, the lack of public statistics on music consumption in Cuba, together with the disconnection of the country from the modern world (streaming and other reproduction platforms) keep us in a fog where some, like PistaCubana, try to light up a bit. If Cuba, and its music industry, want to join the processes of the global industry, a lot of changes in the sector will be necessary. And in theory, that is one of the purposes of the modernization program of the Cuban music industry [1].


[1] It refers to the Project «Strengthening competitiveness, organizational performance and export capacity of the Cuban music industry», promoted by the United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO for its acronym in Spanish), with the Ministry of Culture of Cuba and that includes a series of investments in music infrastructures in Cuba and training activities, among other actions. The financing project ends in 2018, although its results are expected to cover milestones in the short, medium and long term.

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