By Irina Echarry, Photos: Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, March 22 – In December 2009, during the last Festival of New Latin American Cinema, many people in Havana had the opportunity to enjoy the documentary Sin Mapa (Without a Map). The story was simple but at the same time profound: The Puerto Rican alternative-reggaeton duo “Calle 13” goes on a journey through different countries on the American continent.
According to Rene “Residente” Perez, the lead singer and writer, they decided to travel out of the need to become familiar with other places and other experiences; they wanted to do something with their music that was more than about people “shaking their butts.”
The Cuban public had already been left waiting for them in December at the Film Festival and a little before that in September at the “Peace without Borders” concert organized by Colombian singer Juanes. But now they’ve finally come to the island to offer us their music.
In a press conference on Monday, singers Rene and Eduardo “Visitante” Cabra said what was important was to be in Cuba. “It’s beside Puerto Rico and we hadn’t come here. It’s super stupid not to come here. We’ve visited almost all of Latin America and the Caribbean, but we were missing Cuba. Other places are missing too, like Brazil, which we’re also going to visit. It’s a necessity. My father came here in the 1980s, my sister Milena too. I know Cubans who love me a lot, and everything I’ve seen here has been affection. It was important to be here.”
Speaking of Sin Mapa, Eduardo explained, “It was at the end of recording a CD that had a Latin American influence, so we took the trip to reaffirm the work we’d done. The good thing about the tour was all the beauty we saw, as well as the difficult things. We saw how communities worked well beside rivers, everything was cool, just peace and tranquility. But we also saw displaced communities, those where settlers came and moved out the indigenous people and relocated them in the worst places, some kids even died…”
The musicians said honesty is paramount, because “to be honest as a musician, with what you’re seeing, that gives you a grade of objectivity that is crucial for when you’re narrating reality. If I feel pissed off, I’m going to say it; and if I feel happy, I’m going to say it; if I don’t like something, I’m going to say that – without caring if they understand me…without caring if they say I’m evil.”
The group’s irreverent lyrics and their controversial positions leave it clear that Calle 13 is not afraid of the critics. They are against US military bases in the countries of Latin America, against all blockades, against war and in support of freedom for all political prisoners.
They told us beforehand, “We’re working on several initiatives at the same time, among them a documentary that speaks a little about our identity as Latin Americans. One of the ideas is to cross the US border, but going the other way: Instead of traveling toward the United States, we want to go from the US to Latin America, to hook up with people who are going there and to help them. To warn them ‘Look, there’s the immigration police,’ to give them water…I don’t know… and for them to ask us ‘So why are you coming back this way?’ – and to tell them, “Because over there is bad. We’re returning home.’
“We have the idea of filming that whole journey, which is super long. There are borders that are difficult to cross, like the one between Mexico and Guatemala, that’s difficult… and all that through Central America. It would be fantastic to do that like an illegal alien, despite having passport. I don’t know… maybe losing it.”
Rene, in a relaxed atmosphere of laughter promised that the concert they will give at the Anti-imperialist bandstand in Havana on March 23 starting at 5:00 p.m. will last “as long as people want it – and as long as our repertoire holds out, because remember we’re not a 20-year-old group. We’ll invent something with [Cuban singer] Kelvis and with people who want to come up to sing. Like that it could last a whole day.”
The Cuban public wants to hear this group, who from their very beginning has always advocated a better world. They are defined as minstrels of the urban genre and they sing of the people’s reality – without sexual, political or religious distinctions.