Sech photographed on Oct. 2, 2019 in Miami.
Sech photographed on Oct. 2, 2019 in Miami.
Mary Beth Koeth

Sech Is Reviving Reggae En Español By Taking It Back To Its Panamanian Roots

Nearly five years ago, Sech was flipping burgers and working in construction in his hometown of Río Abajo, Panama. Since then, he was discovered as a rapper online, signed a recording contract with Rich Music and -- six months ago -- released his acclaimed debut album, Sueños, featuring Manuel Turizo, Farruko and Nicky Jam. In September, he was nominated for three Latin Grammy Awards.

Sech’s breakout hit arrived in April, when he released “Otro Trago” (Another Drink), featuring Darell, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and established him as one of urbano’s most compelling and promising acts from the southernmost country in Central America.  “Right now,” says Sech, “urban music in Panama is fire.”

Unlike many of the genre’s rappers, Sech composes his music on guitar or piano, then writes the optimistic wordplay that he sings in a warm, soulful tenor -- all evidence of urban’s move toward a more R&B-driven future, best heard on his “X Ti” or “Boomerang.” He sees where the urbano landscape is heading and is capitalizing on it, which is exactly why reggaeton’s top tier has sought him out: Sech has collaborated on recent tracks with Maluma and Ozuna.

Born Carlos Isaías Morales Williams, the 25-year-old singer-rapper grew up in a household that prioritized music. As the son of two pastors, Sech regularly sang in the church choir as a child, and at home, he would jam with his brothers, all of whom are musicians as well. But Sech was always most interested in reggae en español. The genre was born in Panama in the late 1960s and ’70s, after descendents of Jamaican laborers who constructed the Panama Railroad brought reggae, and later dancehall, to Central America. By the late ’90s, when Sech was growing up, “Reggae en español and reggaeton was heard everywhere,” he recalls. “That is something that stays with you forever.”

He cites El General and Nando Boom, both of whom are widely considered forefathers of reggaeton, as early inspirations. “El General was a pioneer,” says Sech, “and one of the first to make reggae en español. He had a big impact on me. There weren’t a lot of artists coming from my country, and when he [found success], there was real hope that you can make it out.”

Motivated to do just that, Sech co-founded the reggae en español duo El Combo de Oro as a teenager. In 2016, he started uploading tracks online, eventually recording and posting solo material, too. In December 2017, he released a single, the tender urbano track “Miss Lonely,” produced by Miami-via-Panama hitmaker Dímelo Flow. A day later, he released his first-ever EP, The Sensation Mixtape.

Both caught the attention of independent urbano label Rich Music, which signed Sech to a recording contract in 2018; soon after, the label signed a distribution deal with Universal Music Publishing Group. Sueños, which includes a Dímelo Flow remix of “Miss Lonely,” is now Latin Grammy-nominated for best urban music album, up against Bad Bunny’s X 100PRE.

Sech himself may not be far from the kind of global stardom that Bad Bunny has reached. In August, Sech hit No. 4 on the Emerging Artists chart, and he is currently credited on four hits on the Hot Latin Songs list. As he continues to cross over into the U.S. mainstream, he says he hopes his career follows a similar trajectory as Daddy Yankee’s. “In the future, I see myself like him,” says Sech, as an artist “who has accomplished so many things.”

Sech wants to accomplish more than a solo career: Outside of his own music, he is also a member of The Avengers, a supergroup comprising Feid, Dalex, J Quiles and Lenny Tavárez (see below). The collective has yet to release a formal project, but was recently in Miami filming a music video for the upcoming single “Uniforme.” Meanwhile, Sech just signed for global representation with the agency CMN, whose first task is coordinating his first U.S. arena tour.

Before that, though, Sech will attend his first Latin Grammys in November -- a ceremony that is facing controversy. In September, Daddy Yankee and J Balvin posted the same photo on Instagram of a red “X” over a Grammy Award with the caption: “Sin Reggaeton, No Hay Latin Grammy” (Without reggaeton, there is no Latin Grammy), alluding to what they felt was a lack of genre diversity in the awards’ top categories. “We hear the frustration and discontent,” said The Latin Recording Academy in a statement. “We invite the leaders of the urban community to get involved with the academy, to get involved with the process and to get involved with discussions that improve the academy. Our doors are always open.”

As an urbano artist who has multiple nominations, Sech shrugs off questions relating to the subject, instead focusing on the positives. “Everything has an evolution,” he says. “Reggaeton and urban music are having an incredible moment, and I think [my nominations] will inspire many. Believe me that at some point, more young people will emerge from [Panama]. Our culture hasn’t reached where it’s supposed to go.”

 


 

At 29, Dalex, born Pedro David Daleccio Torres, has bounced from Philadelphia to Puerto Rico to Orlando, Fla., to Miami. He started as part of the duo Jayma y Dalex -- the pair released its only album, Gravedad, in 2015 -- before going solo. His first LP, the R&B-leaning Climaxxx, arrived this May and debuted at No. 8 on the Latin Rhythm Albums chart.

Since releasing his debut album in 2015, Feid has collaborated with Sebastián Yatra, Nacho and J Balvin, with whom he co-wrote “Ginza.” The track topped the Hot Latin Songs chart for a then-record-breaking 22 weeks. In May, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter born Salomón Villada Hoyos in Medellín, Colombia, released his second album, 19.

Born Justin Quiles in Connecticut, this 29-year-old Boricua artist has co-written with J Balvin, Maluma, Daddy Yankee and Yandel. After releasing albums in 2015 and 2016, he was nominated in 2017 for Premios Juventud’s best new artist award. Now, J Quiles is sprinkling his tropical verses atop The Avengers’ more traditional reggaeton tracks.

After the reggaeton-pop duo Dyland & Lenny broke up in 2013, Lenny Tavárez set out on his own. Though he came up through the Latin trap movement, the singer, now 32, stood out as a crooner with R&B flair. His style is best heard on his 2018 EP, Pop Porn. So far this year, he has scored two hits on the Hot Latin Songs chart.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of Billboard.


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