Reggaeton in Reno

It’s sexy, in Spanish and is something Latinos can call their own

Carlos Martinez, a Wooster High School senior, is DJ Alakran.

Carlos Martinez, a Wooster High School senior, is DJ Alakran.

Photo By David Robert

Coco Boom is at 701 S. Virginia. Doors open at 10 p.m., but it’s best to arrive around 11:30 p.m. $10. Free for women on Fridays. Spanish and English spoken.

It’s 1 a.m. on a Saturday night. In a nondescript bluish building between Luciano’s restaurant and the Wild Orchid Gentlemen’s Club on Virginia Street, DJ Aldo MC is revving up the crowd in front of him, chattering away in Spanish. A few seconds later the music switches beats and speeds up from a Caribbean merengue to a Daddy Yankee reggaeton song that everyone seems to know. Suddenly, dozens of hips stop shaking and start pulsating in another direction, effortlessly keeping the beat out on the crowded dance floor.

The song, “Gasolina,” made Yankee’s reggaeton music—a mixture of Spanish language reggae, hip hop and Latin dance—an instant hit with Latinos throughout North and South America last year. Here in Reno, it’s still popular at Coco Boom, a Latino dance club where Aldo MC works. Since it opened its doors two years ago, this club has become one of the most popular places to shake it, Shakira style, on Saturday nights.

“People don’t leave until we close the doors,” says Coco Boom’s general manager and part-owner Eric Salmoran, who owns the club with his brother, Cesar. Salmoran is a wiry guy from Oaxaca, Mexico, where his family owned a liquor business. Since he and his brother opened Coco Boom’s doors, he says, the place has turned from something of a seedy hangout to a Latino dance party that packed in more than 700 on New Year’s Eve.

Unlike his DJ out on the floor, Salmoran is more concerned with security than with how many people are moving out on the dance floor. He monitors the black and white security screens in his back office constantly. Latino nightclubs have their rules. No bad dressing. No gang attire. No attitude.

“Before we bought this place, people used to come here to dance inside, do drug deals outside,” he says, speaking backstage in his office, his walls lined with award-winning tequilas. “Now we have real strict dress codes. No gang stuff. Lots of bouncers. And no problems. The law requires us to have one bouncer for every 50 people. I double that number. I figure, why save money?”

A few minutes later, Aldo MC fills the air with another reggaeton great—the platinum-selling Don Omar. Spanish-speaking waitresses deliver cold bottles of lime-covered Dos Equis, shots of Jose Cuervo tequila and bottles of salt to well-dressed customers. In fact, everyone at Coco Boom is Spanish-speaking, says Salmoran, who has seen Reno grow from having a Latino population so small it only had, “one Mexican restaurant,” to becoming a city with at least 20 percent of its residents hailing from south of the border. He calculates that that’s a lot of Latinos who want a place to go on Saturday nights.

But his clients don’t just want to come and dance to the traditional cumbia and salsa. “When we put that music on, they clear the dance floor,” he says. “Many of the young Latino people today don’t know how to salsa. What they like is the reggaeton.”

Patrons hit the floor for reggaeton and other Latino dance music at Coco Boom.

Photo By David Robert

Aldo, like some of the others, struggles to explain just exactly what all the reggaeton hype is about. “It’s unique. And it’s in Spanish. And it’s from Latin America, something we can call ours, unlike hip hop or rap, which is in English. It’s also sexy. It’s got a good beat, original dance moves.”

But one thing he can explain quite well: Somehow, it’s all got a lot of sex appeal.

“In the Latino culture, Saturday nights on the dance floor are ‘noches calientes. Muy caliente,’” he says.

Part of that tradition comes later, at 2 a.m., when the Sexiest Woman of the Night contest takes place. Guided by Aldo, women decked in tight jeans, waist-long hair, spaghetti strap tops and big, bright smiles voyage to the dance floor, unabashed, dancing with themselves, showing off their moves, as the crowd cheers for their favorite. On some weekends, the winner gets a cash prize. These and other contests are part of the Latino nightclub tradition, says Aldo. It’s also a way to get the women together and is a draw-in for the men who come to the club to meet Latina women.

Newcomer Kristina Zamoras, 23, was impressed. “This is my first time here,” she says. “I heard a lot about this place, so I kind of knew what to expect. Still, it’s strange to see such a place in Reno. I’m used to listening to reggaeton music on the radio, but it’s great to have a place to come where I can dance to the kind of music that I like.”

Salmoran isn’t the only one who thinks there’s money to be made in Reno’s music industry en espanol. Wooster High School senior Carlos Martinez, 18, has been making money with his own Spanish language DJ music business for five years. Known as DJ Alakran, or scorpion, he now sports a collection of more than 10,000 tunes and spends his weekends shuttling between Reno and Carson City Latino nightclubs, pool halls, Mexican weddings and quinceaneras.

Over the years, he’s seen a big change in his clients’ musical taste. It used to be more hip hop and other English-language popular music. Now it’s all pure Spanish—reggaeton, of course.

“Teenagers like reggaeton because of the dance steps,” he explains, though, like Aldo MC, he struggles to describe what makes this style unique. “It’s more ‘sexy.’ It’s in Spanish, and it has its own beat.” But, he adds, it’s also the words. His favorite song, he explains, is about a guy who has a hard life and the daily struggles he has to go through. It’s something to which the young people can relate.

Martinez, who is president of Wooster’s Hispanic Cultures Club, is also researching the nightclub industry for his senior project. What he’s found out is something he already knows.

“Reno’s a good place for a Spanish music business,” he says. “The demand for it is growing.”