The first time I heard Calle 13 was in a car with an Angel on our weekend escape to Rosendale, NY. The song was Sin Exagerar and I was instantly intrigued by its sound. It was an appetizing mix of crisp and creamy flow of Latin rap, playful and dramatic accentuation of words (which to me are just a progression of sounds), and a rhythm that is both festive and mysterious. Mysterious might be too strong a word. Mysteriously sexy might be a truer description. The electronic drum sound that repeats from chorus to chorus immediately got my hips to sway and wet my pants a little. The upbeats made with repetitive pounds of a piano chord was supported by staccato bursts of trumpets. Combine all these elements and you’ve got a sampling of the magic and genius that is Calle 13.
In subsequent days and weeks an Angel showed me music videos that this duo produced and my bedazzled eyes and enchanted hips were in love. Actually I soon became obsessed. Four days ago I downloaded all three albums created by these messengers of a higher power and they have not left my ears alone for a single moment. Another example of their pure brilliance is the song La Jirafa. I am completely enraptured by both video and song:
Bass drum beats have always intoxicated me. Add on the ever nostalgic accordion, a string orchestra, and the chorus chanting “ella eeeee” with the dreamy lyricism of Residente’s raps and what results is the glorified song of the year (the song is actually a few years old, but it’s #1 in Joann’s 2010 list). I printed out the lyrics in determination to memorize and lipsync the song and used my friend Google Translate to figure out what he was saying. It made no sense. It was a pure play of words and rhymes. Something about planting your feet on the ground, painting the sky with blue crayon, looking at you giving me tickles like ants on my skin, stirring the dough and wanting four cups, the fate of coughing colors and your name on all three scorecards, nutella, and acapella. Unless I’m completely misinterpreting, mistranslating, this is evidence of dadaist experimentation, a chance encounter between words that rhyme, coming together to paint a nonsensical yet beautiful picture. The music video includes inexplicably random images of a birdman, musicians in red adidas sportsgear, and a rapper as ventriloquist. He draws a landscape, dilly dallies with a girl in a makeshift shack in the middle of a desert and watch as the musicians and birdman duel at dusk. For me, this song is magic in its true essence.
Calle 13 is comprised of two step brothers, frontman rapper Rene “Residente” Perez and shy and reserved beatmaker Eduardo Jose Cabra “Visitante” Martinez. I am infatuated with Residente. There are stars in my eyes as I gaze at his face, his wide sexy mouth that curl at one end as his serenades ever graceful verbal leaps, his childish and playful face and its spastic wide-eyed expressions, his perfectly round and fuzzy head exquisitely designed with lines and shapes, his studded and tattooed torso and arms which he willingly shows off at any given moment, and his perfectly exaggerated gesticulations during performances, movements in perfect harmony with mouth spurts. I want to have his baby. Unfortunately I am no match to his wife, the ever beautiful Miss Universe. Visitante is none the less intriguing. A hipster alternative to the hip hop latin cheese, Visitante flaunts arm tattooes of flowers and is a talented multi-instrumentalist. He is influenced by music the whole world over and is bearded and braided. His timidity shines reserved intelligence and I would be honored to be greeted by his conversations. Fantasies of Residente in bed, fantasies of Visitante in a cafe.
Ahem, OK, back to the music. Listening to all three albums, there is not one song or message or video that is alike. Flamenco, Bossa Nova, Reggaeton, Hip Hop, R&B, electronica, world fusion, even alternative rock, it’s all there. Messages range from political independence and rebellion, cultural pop mockery, perverted lovemance, and senseless satirical comedy. It is no surprise to me that Residente attended Savanna College and received an MFA in illustration and design. It makes perfect sense to me actually and is probably why I am CONVINCED the band epitomizes perfection. Each video presented differs from one to the other, costumed and concocted with visual artistry. Allow me to exemplify:
You’ve already seen La Jirafa and it’s calm and dreamy eccentricity, above is the video for Atrevete te te. Creepy 50’s American Dreamy stepford wife zombies shaking their booties as the newspaper delivery boy preaching to these lame-os to be free to express, to kill, to admit, to let go and let wild. More than anything it’s the incessant rhyming that tells me Residente is a pure poet.
Suave starts with Residente in some twilight zone scene, being injected with a huge needle by a midget blonde which takes him on a joy ride inside an old school 70’s convertible and he then progresses to naive foreplay with two girls the latter of which is chased by a giant version of the midget blonde. O and then there’s the scene with him half naked, sweaty with a dirty apron, swoon. I think the song itself is probably perverted. Google translate makes it all so dada, something about pure strain subjected to arepa, i know you like my elephant coughs, you and I will pocket disbursement, drunk bear with your broth, take off his lock on your slit, salsa kicks and sweaty soy sauce, sex destroyers and Marlborough cowboys. Trippy.
Cumbia de los Aburridos depicts a version of American Idol held inside a poor rural town’s gymnasium with all the losers and bored pathetics gathered in a dance competition. Dudes in neon leotards, fatties in tutus, granny milfs in ballet gear, and over energized breakdancers, moderated by Residente as cowboy attired obnoxious judge. Lyrics are hysterical, and again, so dada. Something about peacock as pilgrims, the feet of boring and depressed in motion, those who smell like old man piss, sneeze shakes and breakfast throw ups, dancing with shadows and teaching fried food, asthma attacks and raw steak. Goddamit I can’t get enough.
Electro Movimiento may not be my favorite song by Calle 13 but it’s probably my favorite music video of all time. Harking back to the 80’s, the song and video is an ode to the time of fluorescence, glitter, foglights and clashing patterns. It’s a love song of how much they are a match, how they match like bread and butter, rice and beans. He’ll do whatever for her, fight 300 ninjas from Korea and fish 500 dolphins across the Andes in skates. This video alone confirms that the band is not your everyday reggaeton hip hop band, at all whatsoever. They are kind of fucking awesome.
Beso de Desayuno gets me a little wet because there are sexy women and food mingled together. Bossa nova melodies blanket this love song about walking on your hair, from navel to ear and a kiss for breakfast. I will have your kiss over breakfast any day my love.
La Perla is a dedication to La Perla, a barrio governed by drug dealers and super exclusive and protective to its residents. In collaboration with salsa guru Ruben Blades, the song is celebratory and prophetic.
And this is where Calle 13 gets controversial. Early in their music career, you see Residente at his most raw and impassioned, crying out hours after the death of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, leader of the PR Revolutionary group Los Macheteros, who was killed during an FBI arrest. As a supporter of PR Independence Movement from US colonization, this song is a protest against FBI’s actions. This is kind of the first time reggaeton pulls a political stint, resulting in Calle 13’s fame as a representative voice and cultural reference.
Since then Calle 13 has won numerous Latin Grammys and are making their way to US fame. Their controversy is talked about all over the place. They played at Coachella this year and received welcomed success. Diplo hung out with them and loved them. Oh and did I mention, they have a fucking documentary movie about their travels to Latin America, exploring its people and culture, in conjunction with the concerts they hosted. AND, Residente is totally on twitter. Please read this post, come to NY and kiss this frog so I may transform into a beautiful Latin princess and replace that Miss Universe as your lucky love.
OK, I think I’ve digressed into a very very very long post about Calle 13. This is mere proof that they are an amazing band. Their message is clear, their talent is true, and the gods are in no comparison to their art.