Listening to Calle 13 in Cuba

Dariela Aquique

Calle 13 in Havana back in 2010.

HAVANA TIMES — No other form of artistic expression has as many variations as music. I must confess I am rather prejudiced when it comes to musical preferences. Sometimes, however, I manage to tear free from my habits and undertake a journey across the vast universe of musical genres.

That is how, to my surprise, I ended up listening to some albums by Calle 13, I who have always been rather apprehensive towards so-called “urban music.” Listening to this band song after song, album after album, I clearly realized that there are no inferior or superior genres.

The band was born in the humble neighborhoods of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The name comes from the home of the lead singer, located on 13th street, in the projects of Trujillo Alto.

Rene Perez Joglar (known as “Residente”), the director, arranger and lead singer of the band, his step-brother Eduardo Cabra (“Visitante”), chorus singer, composer and player of several instruments, and his sister Ileana Cabra (PG-13), who sings in some of their pieces, owe their nicknames to the identification routine they had to go through before the security guard, in order to enter their own residential complex.

These young musicians are the voice of a social vanguard that has been outlawed but manages to impose itslef with a unique and radical form of poetry. They are band that do not sugarcoat their lyrics, that uses a simple and direct language, in step with these times of war and fashion shows, of famines and reality shows.

They are the voice of the individual that is anxious, that needs to express what they feel, to scream it at the top of their lungs – and the scream is not exactly something pretty. That is why rap music, hip hop, spoken word pieces and more refined reggaeton numbers sound a bit hostile.

As for Calle 13, like everything that originates in the underworld, it immediately prompted outrage. The proverb about the “diamond in the rough” doesn’t always apply. The band’s eclectic personality, its fusion of different styles and its hard-boiled (at times grotesque) lyrics, hwoever, make the aphorism absolutely true.

Since the close of 2005, when they launched their first album through the independent Puerto Rican lable White Lion, through their following albums Los de atras vienen conmigo, Residente o Visitante, Entren los que quieran and Multi Viral, their most recent creation, we have been witness the growing maturity and quality of their work.

Though different in rhythm and intention, their classics (Atrevete, Chulin Culin Cunfly, No hay nadie como tu, Latinoamerica and Ojos color del sol, feature Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez), are all equally enjoable. It is no accident that they should have won 21 Latin Grammys and 2 Grammys.

Residente and Visitante, as well as the band’s musicians Hector “Coco” Barez, Andres “Kino” Cruz, Mark Rivera, Arturo Verges and Ismael Cancel, are popular singers that avoid the banalization of poetry or having their music address only the elites. We live in vertiginous times and the idea is to break out of confined spaces.

Free at last of my prejudices, I invite everyone still suffering from this to listen to Calle 13 and to confirm that there is only good and bad music, and that this has nothing to do with its genre.

One thought on “Listening to Calle 13 in Cuba

  • Another characteristic of Calle 13 they don’t sell out to the industry, for a few years because he expressed his political views the colonial governor banned him from using any venue for concerts and many radio stations banned their music. So they went international and returned a few years ago (2012) new more liberal governor and had a concer for 25,000. The only thing I would correct from this piece, he is not from the projects, he is in fact froma middle class family but is immersed in the working class culture. His mom is an actress.

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