By Lucas Villa
Given the sustained popularity of Daddy Yankee (especially after the crossover smash “Gasolina”) and Luis Fonsi (propelled by the immortal “Despacito”), it’s easy to tell how reggaetón music has long had ties to its home in Puerto Rico. But as history shows, the genre is also well rooted in Panama as well; often-overlooked pioneers from the 1980s and early ’90s El General, Nando Boom, and Renato all hailed from there. The sound they helped cultivate, originally called reggae en Español, spread to the Puerto Rican underground music scene and eventually hit global commercial success, forever linking the music and the place.
But cultural historians have also noted a blanqueamiento, or whitewashing of the genre, that saw Black artists’ influence in molding the genre downplayed as lighter-complexion superstar Latinx acts have taken the music to greater heights. Because of this, the genre’s association with Panama has waned through the years. But one rising Panamanian reggaetón maestro is putting his country back on the map.
As a producer and songwriter, Carlos Isaías Morales Williams — also known as Sech — is stepping out from behind the console and into global success that those before him could only imagine. Though many reggaetoneros were shut out of this year’s Latin Grammy awards nominations, prompting a backlash on social media, the rising singer-songwriter managed to nab three nods. You can hear why: Sech’s voice is giving música urbana a distinct Afro-Latinx soul that it’s been lacking.
At the beginning of this decade, Sech was one-half of the production duo El Combo de Oro. He got his feet wet in reggaetón and música urbana at large while helping create hits for other artists. In 2017, he got the itch to go solo and pursued his own career with the buzzy single “Miss Lonely.” “One of my friends told me, ‘Bro, you write these songs and you sing them better than the other artists. Why don’t you sing?’” Sech told MTV News. “So five years ago, I started to sing.”
As a Panamanian singer with a dream of superstardom, he named his 2019 album Sueños, which translates to Dreams. The cover art accurately depicts Sech as a cuddly bear planting his flag on the moon. “It’s a dream to have your first album on the Billboard charts,” he said. Sech opens it with “Soñando Despierto,” or “Dreaming Awake,” which sees him acknowledging the struggles he’s overcome at home in his quest for success. His powerful voice switches between sweet and sultry on the rest of the tracks. The heartache on his breakthrough single “Otro Trago,” or “Another Drink,” is palpable as he sings of a woman forgetting her troubles in the club.
Sech has reached No. 3 on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Albums chart with Sueños while nabbing a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Urban Music Album. “Otro Trago,” which he sings alongside Darell, peaked at No. 37 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and received nominations for Best Urban Song and Best Urban Fusion/Performance. (It also boasts a remix featuring Ozuna, Nicky Jam, and Anuel AA.) Ahead of the awards on November 14, Sech talked with MTV News about his dreams coming true.
MTV News: After writing and producing for other artists, how does it feel to be your own artist?
Sech: I think that’s the first thing you need to learn: to be a good songwriter and producer. Not a full producer, but to be someone that knows something about music. To play piano and some instruments. To have that experience to be an artist.
MTV News: What’s the difference between when you write for someone else and when you write for yourself?
Sech: I do everything with my heart and with feeling. I always do the best that I can do. There’s no difference. I write the song and if it’s for me, good, and if it’s not for me, still good. [laughs]
MTV News: Who are some people that influence your music?
Sech: Daddy Yankee, Drake, Post Malone, and Justin Bieber. I would like to work with them too. I love R&B. I hear R&B, jazz music, and blues. That’s me: a fusion of reggaetón with R&B.
MTV News: How did your song “Otro Trago” come together?
Sech: I started playing piano in the studio. It was a romantic song, and later, Dimelo Flow told me he could put some reggaetón on it to make it stronger. That song was an experiment.
MTV News: How do you feel about your Latin Grammy nominations?
Sech: I feel so good. It’s my first time at the Latin Grammys. I always saw them on TV. I never thought that I would see myself there.
MTV News: What do you think about Latin music being so big right now?
Sech: It’s great, but all the musicians have put in a lot of time and work to make that happen. That’s something that needs to be respected. I feel like we’re in one of the best moments for música urbana and reggaetón. For the music to be global and everywhere, it’s amazing.
MTV News: With reggaetón having roots in Panama, how do you feel to be representing your country?
Sech: I feel very happy to be representing my country. You already know the story with Panama and Puerto Rico. There’s so much talent in Panama and I’m very proud to be one of the people representing where I come from.