Friday, October 20, 2006

Reggaeton, Grammy & Calle 13

ImageThe Latin Grammys just got a bit more interesting, thanks to Calle 13, the new kids on the reggaeton block. If they win, viewers may be treated to a Latin version of the Kanye West "Bush doesn't care about black people" moment. The brothers, Rene Perez (aka Residente) and Eduardo Cabra (aka Visitante) are not only sardonic, but politically conscious Puerto Ricans who have a lot to say.

"If we win, props and shouts aren't going to happen. We're going to take that time to say something intelligent and interesting," says Residente, 28, who has a Masters in Fine Arts and pens their lyrics. The quirky two are up for Best New Artist, Best Short-form Video (for "Atrevete Te Te") and Best Urban Album for their self-titled debut album, which was released last November.

Their meteoric rise is already the stuff of reggaeton and Latin music legend. The brothers - both college graduates who sport no bling, are committed dadaists (a global art movement that poked fun at art and the bourgeoisie) and look more like indie rockers than rappers. At first, they decided to give their music away for free on the Web. They recorded five songs, including "La Tripleta" and "La Aguacatona," a hilarious song about Puerto Rican women's diets. The demo fell into the hands of White Lion's Elias De Leon (of Tego Calderon fame) and the rest is history.

With very little record play (mostly in Puerto Rico), Calle 13 reached No. 15 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. They have sold 150,000 copies - without a radio hit and mostly via Internet marketing. They have recorded with Voltio, Nelly Furtado and, most recently, with crooner Alejandro Sanz.

The two are an odd pair for the genre born in the ghettoes of the island. They're middle class, for one, and lack the bravado of Daddy Yankee and Don Omar.

Their music is a combination of rock, electronica, reggaeton and rap - with lyrics that are sexy, political, funny and sarcastic. "La Jirafe," for instance, is a percussion-infused track about a girl being "the one," while "Electrico," is a rock-infused song, heavy on guitar riffs. "La Madre de los Enanos," is a strange, funny track about little people stealing their money.

Their most controversial song was recorded last July. "Querido FBI," is a lyrically explosive piece about the assasination of Puerto Rican revolutionary Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who was shot last year by the FBI during a standoff. The song blames the FBI and the Puerto Rican government for his death.

"It's was important for us to record that song, we detest acts of such kind and we want the FBI and the Puerto Rican government to know that we, and the people of Puerto Rico, won't forget it. We'll keep singing that song around the world and no one will stop us," explains Residente.

The brothers met as toddlers when Perez's mother married Cabra's father. After the two divorced, they remained in touch. Their name means 13th Street in Spanish and comes from Perez's San Juan address.

Since Cabra, a musician who studied finance and IT communications, often visited his brother, his moniker became Visitante.

"Although I studied art I've always rapped, I came to Visitante one day and read him some lyrics. He created the music and we laid out some tracks," he recalls.

"Originally we recorded only 5 songs and we were going to put them up on the Internet but I had a relationship with White Lion, one thing led to another and here we are," says Residente. "We have a good balance. As brothers, I write the lyrics and he creates the music."

It's a mystery why the two have become a hit all over Latin America, considering their lyrics are mostly colloquial Rican-speak.

"I'm actually conscious of that when I write. What I've done is repeat the words or phrases that mean the same thing so that everyone understands the Boricua words," explains Residente.

They also wrote a song that seems to be directed at Puffy.

"I invented a situation and used him as the persona. It's not him but what he represents that bothers us," says Residente.

The song was written during the time that Puffy offered Tego Calderon a paltry $2,000 contract to appear on billboards for his clothing line, an exclusive story broken by Tempo's New York Post.

"Boricuas saw that as an insult. There were people who did it for free (Daddy Yankee), but I wrote the song so that the world knows that not everyone in Puerto Rico is a sucker, that we as a people have pride," says Visitante.

Many fans don't view them as reggaeton but as alternative.

"We are musicians first, we don't label ourselves, people label themselves to make themselves feel better," says Visitante.

Essentials: "Aguacatona," "Querrido FBI," "Atrevete Te Te."

Source: Copyright 2006 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved

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