While tucked away along the East River in my Greenpoint apartment, I am often awoken at unspeakable hours. Music, loud and heavy with bass, erupts from a passing car. While many are frustrated by this brief interruption, I tend to smile to myself as I feel the sounds vibrating from the street.
Previous to experiencing this film, my knowledge about these blaring vehicles was surface level, leaving me oblivious to the cultural importance that lies within these sounds. During visits to family in Puerto Rico, I’ve noticed cars stacked with speakers, DIY style. While this sight never felt significant, it takes on new characteristics in Puerto Rico’s neighboring island. Hop over to the Dominican Republic, this image is intensified, as it is firmly ingrained into their culture. But when these sounds and bass are transplanted to New York City, a town bursting with Latin influence, the cultural importance is stripped away by the rigidity of NYC rules. Director Sean Frank captures this fight in his short film, shedding light on the underground scene that spans the city’s five boroughs and the efforts behind keeping a culture alive.
The boldness of the Dominican culture is no secret. It is a vibrant island fueled by rhythm and sound. In Frank’s 10 minute project, in partnership with Presidente Beer, he captures this image, trailing these “musicologists” back to their roots in the DR. The pride in the eyes of his subjects is captivating, giving clarity to those unfamiliar with this world about the meaning behind these sound systems. These beats provide a commonality, a calling to gather and celebrate. On the island, the brightness of the culture is met seamlessly with the bold bass. Bring this to New York, and this expression becomes garish and lurid, an abrasive disruption to nearly everyone else. In the film, we catch a glimpse of this, where a cluster of these vehicles are being surrounded and questioned by police. Though the brevity of the film does not allow for a deep delve into the politics of the issue, a light is cast on a significant occurrence in this community and the issues that are hidden before our very eyes, or rather, ears.
The story told by Frank was compact but bursting with energy. While I would have hoped for a chance to reach deeper into this idea, each facet to this story was given an opportunity to be seen. From the behind the scenes of the lifestyle and its roots to the problems the culture is facing 1,500 miles away in New York, the visual opens eyes to a piece of this loud island. With the knowledge I have now, I’ll be sure to smile a little more when I hear the bass booming from down the street. Remember, “Es ritmo, no ruido”, it’s rhythm, not noise.