Prior to Hurricane Maria in 2017, Bobby Babbit, a 29-year-old reggae artist who performs under the name Bob Selecta, was looking to move from Austin, Texas. Selecta had visited several islands but fell in love with the culture of Puerto Rico.
Selecta said he knew he wanted to make the move from the mainland because of the lifestyle that Puerto Rico had to offer. “I was going to come here sooner but [Maria] delayed my time,” he said with a serious look on his face as he sat back on the bench at Kudough’s Donuts and Coffee Bar in San Juan.
A year later—even though the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 130,000 people had left Puerto Rico after Maria—Selecta left his life in Austin and relocated to the “Isla del Encanto” (the enchanted island) with his wife, Irena, and their 2-year-old son, Felix.
After arriving, he said he realized that even though the island wasn’t fully restored and his family and friends questioned his decision, it wasn’t hard for him to rebuild his reggae following.
“Since there is a big reggae scene here, it was easy for me to find the reggae crowd,” Selecta said.
Selecta was born and reared in Baton Rouge, Louisana. He created his professional moniker by combining the name of legendary reggae icon Bob Marley with “Selecta,” the term for Jamaican DJs.
Not only is reggae heard in Puerto Rico, but reggaeton has taken the world by storm as shown by Billboard‘s “Hot 100 Songs.” Island natives, Daddy Yankee, Ozuna, Tego Calderon and Wisin & Yandel are captivating Latinos and non-Latinos through the blend of tropical Latin and reggae rhythms.
The popular sounds of reggaeton played today are a mix of Jamaican dancehall rhythms that derive from reggae, Latin merengue, bomba, plena and sometimes salsa.
“Puerto Rico has a big reggae scene,” said Juan Abislaiman, owner of The Red Monkey Bar. “I play it here a lot [because] people love it on the island.”
Selecta said he performed at The Red Monkey Bar in April and he hopes to perform at the bar more often.
Abislaiman said he plays reggae at the bar almost every night. The owner also said performers like Selecta are welcome to play their music.
Fans of the venue, such as Puerto Rican native Benny Montijo, enjoy Red Monkey because of the ambiance and the variety of song selections. Montijo emphasized that there is a difference between reggae and reggaeton, but also knows how the two intertwine.
“If you reduce the speed of reggaeton, it’s going to become the rhythm of reggae, it has that beat, they both have the same beat,” said Montijo. “Bum-pa-bum-pa-bum-pa.”
Carola Nieves, also a Puerto Rican native, said that through her experiences on the island, people may listen to reggae because it’s a form of relaxation.
“We’re an island and there’s beaches all over so if you go to a beach here in Puerto Rico you can listen to reggae,” Nieves said. “You can listen to reggae everywhere.”
With so much enthusiasm for his music, Selecta has no regrets about leaving Texas. He is able to do what he loves, is learning to speak Spanish and has the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
“We both don’t even think about going back,” Selecta said. “I have more time to focus on music and my family [here].”