www.AlfredoFloresPhotography.com

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Washington Post Express Arts & Events Feature Article Alterna-Rican: Calle 13

Washington Post Express Arts & Events Feature Article

Alterna-Rican: Calle 13

Photos taken by and article written by Express contributor Alfredo Flores

IT SEEMS LIKE just about everyone is claiming to be a maverick these days, but few have the cojones to actually be one.

Calle 13 is a hip-hop/Latin-rock phenomenon that’s been pegged as the future of the burgeoning reggaeton genre, but the witty duo constantly pokes fun at what’s wrong with the Spanish-language pop, earning them irritation from fellow artists.

For instance, last year, when Calle 13 exploded on the Latin music scene with eclectic beats and cheeky Spanglish lyrics about political injustices and pop culture figures, it earned the group an armful of awards, including Latin Grammys for best urban album and song and Billboard Latin Music’s best reggaeton album, which left their competitors fuming. Fellow Puerto Rican rapper and leading lady of reggaeton Ivy Queen said that the Grammys “should have been shared better.”

“If you’re envious of us, go ahead, cry! Gua-gua-gua, keep crying,” Residente taunts in Spanish in the new Calle 13 single, “Que Lloren” from the band’s new CD, “Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo.”

Residente (Rene Perez), along with his half-brother and multi-instrumentalist Visitante (Eduardo Cabra), both 30, have become champions of the fringe alternative-music scene of Puerto Rico, an island whose rich sonic mix of salsa, merengue, bomba and plena has been given the backseat to reggaeton, which mixes Jamaican dancehall, bachata, bling bling, sexual overtones and violent lyrics.

The bar has been set high for the Boricua twosome ever since they announced their arrival with 2006′s “Atrevete-te-te,” a song whose video is loaded with dancing Marilyn Monroe lookalikes, with Visitante playing his clarinet from the rooftops as Residente checks out the ladies, raps that he doesn’t care if they all look the same and that they all like Coldplay and Green Day.

In a sit down interview in New York following the band’s promotional concert at the Nokia Theater Times Square earlier this month, Residente explained in Spanish, “We’re walking a fine crystal line where we’re tempted to produce music that’s for the masses, but that doesn’t interest me. I am who I am and I feel proud to be a representative of the Puerto Rican alternative. We need to represent the music they listen to in the barrios, and alternative music is the music of the barrios.”

The album’s title translates to “The Ones Left Behind Are Coming With Me” and the disc is dedicated to the often overlooked working class — the dishwashers, the cooks, the janitors, people who identify with Calle 13′s music, with Residente giving shout outs to the names of projects, barrios and favelas all over Latin America. Residente also mentioned that those “behind” could also be his 10-member rock band, arranged by Visitante.

The album has a little bit of everything — ’80s synthesizer pop (“Electro Movimiento”), New Orleans second-line rhythms and Dixieland (“Gringo Latin Funk”), big band tuba (“Que Lloren”), Balkan whirl (“Fiesta de Locos”), African guitars (“Esto Con Eso”), Afro-Uruguayan Candombe tropical sounds (“La Perla” featuring a rare rap from salsero Ruben Blades about a seaside slum in Old San Juan) and rock accordion (the hit single “No Hay Nadie Como Tu” featuring Cafe Tacuba).

The album’s messages are positive — don’t try to become something you’re not just to fit in, just be yourself, stand up to those who put you down, find true love. But it’s not all po-faced, as these jesters have a little fun in the process. The album is loaded with smart, funny lyrics: “She doesn’t eat dulce de leche because of the cholesterol / She says Spanish words mixed with English / She’s a gringa wanna be / Can’t even name the capital of her country” (“Gringo”); “In our urban genre you’re a tourist / Next to your personal stylist and make up artist / Wearing fur coats in an island where it isn’t cold” (“Lloren”); and “For you I’d do anything / Fight 300 ninjas in Korea” (“Electro”).

In the love song “Nadie,” Calle 13 may have found their perfect musical mate by collaborating with Tacuba, a like-minded Mexican alternative band. The super alterna-groups blend cello, booming bass, jazz horns and accordion with a peppy and upbeat cumbia beat featuring the unmistakable nasally voice of Tacuba’s Ruben Albarran and Residente’s melodic rap delivery, with PG-13 (the latter’s sister Ileana) providing the sultry vocals in the chorus.

The song sets the tone for the overall lighter and less racy mood compared to last year’s “Residente o Visitante” album. Residente feels that much such harsh language wasn’t necessary this time around.

“There just wasn’t a need to be as hard in this disc,” he said. “This is a much more colorful, more tranquil album. We came into this wanting to do something way different from our second disc and our first. We wanted to find a better way to communicate with more people.”

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