On November 10, Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 broke two records at the 2011 Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada: most Latin Grammys won in a single night, and most ever all-time. It was a night, from beginning to end, that was fully theirs (and rightfully so).
The group opened the show with a goosebump-inducing rendition of their hit, Latinoamérica. They would end up taking home nine awards that night, all the while using their acceptance speeches as a platform to present their own social commentary. By the end of the night, Grammy organizers had enough: they cut them off during their final acceptance speech for denouncing ‘payola,’ the practice of illegally bribing radio stations to play certain musical artists. But even silenced microphones could not hide the obvious: Calle 13 is damn good and they are here to stay.
Out of the ashes of the nearly extinct reggaetón genre (if you don’t admit this, you’re in denial), Réne Pérez Joglar (aka Residente) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (aka Visitante) have carefully crafted Calle 13 into one of the best musical acts that Latin America has to offer. But to simply peg Calle 13 as a ‘great musical act’ would ignore the important social/political issues they’ve touched on in their music throughout the years (early in their career, they were guilty of, perhaps, overusing misogynistic and violent lyrics, but have since matured greatly). Many of their songs have social/political overtones; here are some of my favorites:
- Querido FBI: Open supporters of the Puerto Rican Independence movement, Calle 13 gained instant popularity on the island after recording a song protesting the controversial death of Puerto Rican revolutionary Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
- Atrevéte-te-te: The witty hit that made Calle 13 famous, it criticized those that were ashamed of, essentially, their Puerto Rican roots ($20 says your 50-year-old Tía knows every word).
- P’al Norte: A single off their second album, the song empathizes with the immigrant experience. The remix was just as good, if not better.
- La Bala: Denounces the violence that a simple bullet can cause.
- Latinoamérica: Quite simply, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It touches on the beauty of Latin America and its people. It’s hard not to get emotional and feel a sense of pride when watching the video.
Soon after their record-breaking night in Las Vegas, the group announced a partnership with UNICEF focused on bringing attention to human trafficking and child exploitation in Latin America. The project includes a documentary series, Esclavos Invisibles and the group also sold the rights to their song, Preparame la Cena for the campaign.
Always controversial, it’s refreshing to see a musicians that use their fame to bring light to important social issues, record sales be damned. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they stand up for what they believe in, and in the process, serve as a voice for millions across Latin America.