STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Calle 13’s René Pérez Joglar — also known as Residente — has toured the U.S. before, but wasn’t sure if he had ever played a concert in Philadelphia before.
The genre-bending Puerto Rican hip-hop/alternative reggaeton group, which has won an impressive 19 Latin Grammy Awards since 2005, has a show booked for Sept. 27 at the Merriam Theater as part of the Kimmel Center’s new concert series ¡En Vivo!
Although most among the American audiences that come to see the 11-piece Calle 13 (13th Street) speak Spanish, Residente (Resident) said in a phone interview that it’s not a prerequisite for enjoying their concerts. “Some of them … don’t speak the language. They feel the energy from the crowd singing the songs; it’s nice,” the emcee and lyricist said.
On their latest album “Multi_Viral,” there are some English (also French) lyrics sung on the song “Perseguido” (Chased) by guest Biga*Ranx. There’s also a witty, biting, English spoken word interlude by actor John Leguizamo called “Stupid is as Stupid Does.”
First founded by Residente and his brother Eduardo Cabra Martinez — stage name Visitante (Visitor) — as a joke, Residente realized he could use dark humor to vent his anger about political and social injustice. “We did a song called ‘Dear FBI’ (‘Querido FBI’). We saw the power that had. We knew that we had a weapon,” he said. “The second album (‘Residente o Visitante’), we were serious.”
Stateside, Calle 13 won Grammys for Best Latin Urban Album in 2008 and 2010.
“My brother, he sends me some tracks, but they’re never finished. And then I start writing. It takes a lot more time, but it’s the best way … very artisanal,” Residente said. “With every album we learn, and you can see it’s organic.”
Even though guitarist Tom Morello, who rose to fame playing in Rage Against the Machine, appears on the media-bashing song “Multi_Viral” (so does WikiLeaks outlaw Julian Assange), Residente noted that the album’s subject matter is not Rage-Against-the-Machine-like, in-your-face political the whole time, and called it “very existential.” “Respira el Momento” is about “the tree of life,” “Ojos Color Sol” is “a nice love song” and “Adentro” calls egotistical gangsta rappers on the carpet, he said.
Residente is also proud of the cinematic quality of the new videos. The “Adentro” video features him wearing a Roberto Clemente jersey while smashing up a sports car he once drove with a bat he got from baseball legend Willie Mays. Loaded up with gold and guns, the car falls off a cliff and goes up in flames.
Before departing Puerto Rico for this tour, a free Calle 13 concert was organized in just three days. Despite no advertising or promotion, they still drew 50,000 people, according to Residente.
Just as independence from the United Kingdom is a hot button issue in Scotland, Calle 13 is outspoken about Puerto Rican independence from being a territory of the United States. “I have a lot of friends here (in the U.S.). I just wanna be like you guys. It’s going to be difficult to be independent, but you manage yourself as you want. I don’t think it’s normal to be colony,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Calle 13 performs at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased by calling (215) 893-1999, or online at www.kimmelcenter.org.