Take “Despacito” itself. It begins with a steel-stringed Puerto Rican guitar called the cuatro, which most likely descended from an instrument brought to Spain from North Africa by Moors. The rolling reggaeton beat came out of Jamaica and, long before that, probably originated in West Africa. In rapping, Daddy Yankee employs an art form developed by urban African-Americans, infusing it with the unique feel of Puerto Rican Spanish and slang. Mr. Fonsi’s deliciously suggestive lyrics arguably belong to a tradition that stretches back to the lovelorn troubadours of medieval Spain, and beyond.
The song is a fusion, an amalgam. As such, it doesn’t just illustrate the genius of pop music but also serves as a model of how creativity works generally. Innovation often involves organizing old pieces into new configurations. Tech companies, like Apple and Google, know this. Hence their emphasis on cross-pollination — their open work spaces and public areas designed to encourage intermingling.
.. Then came President Trump and the news that some still viewed the United States as a fundamentally white, Christian nation with European roots. Which means what, exactly? Modern genetics tells us that Europeans are themselves a mixture of different peoples, a hunter-gatherer population mixed with farmers who, thousands of years ago, immigrated from what’s now Turkey (near Syria), topped off by herders from what’s now the Russian steppe. Christianity, the supposed glue of Europe, was imported from the Levant. And I’m writing this in a language — English — that consists of French and Latin grafted onto an Anglo-Saxon base, sprinkled with Old Norse and grains of Celtic.