Calle 13: Roots. Rhythm. Reality


Since their self-titled first album in 2005, critically-acclaimed and outspoken duo Calle l3 (comprised of lyricist Rene ‘Residente’ Perez and master composer and instrumentalist Eduardo ‘Visitante’ Cabra) have consistently pushed the boundaries of not only reggaetón — the genre through which they jumped into the industry’s lens — but of world music as a whole. Residente’s forward-thinking lyrics are a progressive and creative muddle of Puerto Rican nationalistic pride, witty, irreverent wordplay, and of reality – an odd mix, no doubt, but it’s resonated with millions of people of all cultures, facilitating their skyrocket to international icon status. Yet, no matter how successful they’re perceived by industry standards, they’ve consistently maintained an uncanny authenticity, and have used their podium to speak on injustices and inequalities, no matter how politically incorrect their case.

The popularity of the 11-time Grammy winning duo has been a double-edged sword since their 2005 self-titled debut; the pull-no-punches honesty for which the world embraces them, also gets them crucified. Case in point: a couple of months ago, while on the air at the MTV Latin Awards, Residente used some of his airtime to criticize Puerto Rico’s governor Luis Fortuno as a vocal reply to the Puerto Rican government’s recent layoff of 17,000 workers. The result: automatic shutdown of Calle 13’s Halloween concert in Puerto Rico. But, as the lines of controversy and popularity continue to blur for the group, it’s allowed them to reconcile their artistic side with their commercial, their zenith occurring at one powerful sentiment: Calle 13 is one of the world’s most important cross-cultural artistic movements.


Audaciously poking fun at popular culture and addressing elephants in every room they step into have been predilections for Calle 13 – in their just-released documentary, Sin Mapa (‘Without a Map’), they trek through South America in a wildly-entertaining journey to find sense of self through being amongst the people, all while exposing the hypocrisy and political false pretense that runs rampant, but rarely addressed. (While describing mass media in Venezuela, Residente says, “In a country where 90% of the people are the color of cinnamon, the television embraces those with white faces”, and of the over-commercialization of South American historical landmarks, Residente likens Machu Pichu to Disneyland). Sprinkled with a unique brand of comical-yet-serious humor, and commentary so raw and honest it’d scare NatGeo, Sin Mapa serves as an accurate view of contemporary global Latino culture, and removes the veil of insincerity that has long existed within 3rd world countries whose people have been left behind.

All of Calle 13’s recent global activity has brought them to the present, where there have been rumblings within the industry of a global mainstream penetration similar to that of M.I.A., including possible collaborations with high-caliber producers the likes of Diplo. If their recently-shot television commercial for adidas and clean sweep of the Latin Grammy Awards (they won every award they were nominated for, including Album of The Year) a few weeks ago are any indication of where the ultra-expressive cultural ambassadors are headed, then the world, no matter how destitute or overwrought with depression, is about to be culturally rich. Get ready.

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Richard Cruz

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