It's hard to imagine anyone betting on Calle 13‘s success back in 2005, as the popular Puerto Rican group prepared to release their eponymous debut. Back then, reggaeton was still very much the rage on – and off – the island, and René Pérez Joglar (“Residente” – the group's lyricist and vocalist) and Eduardo Cabra Martínez (“Visitante” – band leader and musical mastermind) where, at first glance, just another duo trying to make it. However, their irreverent blend of hip-hop, electronica, World Music, and reggaeton was in truth much more interesting than anything else getting the media's attention – even revelatory by local radio standards.
And while the majority of the entertainment press – not ready or willing to tackle Calle 13′s more politically minded lyrics and public statements – chose to focus on the group's penchant for controversy, René and Eduardo kept working on their music: upping the stakes with each release, collaborating with renowned musicians like Café Tacuba and Gustavo Santaolalla – among many others – and conquering Latin America in the process. “Our project is honest and good. We have good lyrics, good music, we have a great live show,” René said to me simply, a couple of days before headlining the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City. The more than six thousand people who showed up at Brooklyn's Prospect Park for Calle 13‘s set clearly agree with him.
Our conversation took place over a couple of hours last July 3rd at Residente's apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Comfortable, yet spare, with colorful paintings by local artists adorning its walls – it's evident René spends more time away from home, having played over a hundred concerts in 2011 alone. We sat down over a beer to chat about Puerto Rico's independent music scene, Twitter, and his involvement with the Movimiento Revolucionario Calle 13 or MRC13 for short – a revolutionary movement inspired by the group's lyrics. What follows is an edited version of that interview, produced for Puerto Rico Indie‘s online music series Archipiélago [es].
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