The politics of Calle 13, to the beat of reggaeton


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Extensively tattooed and often parading around stages and streets without a shirt, reggaeton rapper Rene ‘Residente’ Perez is an unlikely political commentator in Latin America. Yet these days the front-man of the Puerto Rican alternative-reggaeton group Calle 13 is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the region’s conservative governments among celebrity public figures today.

In October, when he co-hosted the 2009 MTV Latino Music Awards in Los Angeles with a visibly uncomfortable Nelly Furtado, Residente hurled insults at Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He also took a moment to propose Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as ‘best pop artist.’ Usually, the United States and the current governor of Puerto Rico are also subjected to Residente’s profane political jabs.


So on Tuesday, there was no better place to be for this swaggering performer than at the so-called Anti-Imperialist Plaza in Havana, where Calle 13 gave a rousing concert before a massive crowd of about 250,000 Cuban young people, just steps from the U.S. Interests Section.

Politically, and in news terms, Residente did not disappoint.

Residente reportedly said at one point during the show that he wished Puerto Rico could one day be ‘autonomous, because we are a colony,’ referring to the island’s status as a territory of the United States. He also led his multi-Grammy-winning group in performing its most potently anti-U.S. song, ‘Querido FBI.’ The number, Residente said, was ‘dedicated directly to the building that’s back there,’ according to this video posted on a Peruvian news site.

Rolling slide shows of photos from Calle 13’s trip to Cuba are on view at La Jiribilla, a Cuban culture magazine. More photos are at Cuba Debate.

Residente keeps an active Twitter account. On Tuesday he tweeted characteristically of his politics: ‘If we can play in the United States, the only country in history to launch an atomic bomb, we can play anywhere.’

Next up for the group? A concert in Miami. I wonder how the exile community will welcome Rene ‘Residente’ Perez and his Calle 13.


-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City