Live: Calle 13 shows off a large Latin American tent


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The evolving duo Calle 13 embraces a diverse musical world at the House of Blues in Anaheim.

The dream of a unified Latin America has been an obsession of conquerors and revolutionaries from Hernán Cortés to Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez.


Politically, the idea is a minefield. But musically it’s becoming more of a propulsive reality, as the white-hot Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 made clear in its Thursday night show at the House of Blues Anaheim.

At next month’s Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, Calle 13 will be up for 10 trophies, including album of the year and song of the year — a record number of nominations for any one group or artist at the annual ceremony.

What makes the feat impressive is that Calle 13 has prospered not by rephrasing formulas but by consistently pushing its music beyond the sexually bragadocious hip-hop and superbly savage reggaeton beats that defined its original sound and the group’s early image as a sort of Puerto Rican Beastie Boys.

Calle 13 now embraces a pan-hemispheric approach that comfortably enfolds cumbia rhythms, Cuban syncopation, fiery ska horns and the folkloric tints of obscure regional instruments like the Mexican quijada (a donkey’s jawbone) and the Argentine bombo legüero drum.

Calle 13 celebrates this densely woven identity fabric in songs like its hit “Latinoamérica,” which the band offered as a stirring encore along with “Fiesta de Locos” on Thursday night.

Built around a gently haunting melodic line, “Latinoamérica” is a paean to the idea that Latin American cultures are both unified and distinct, and not to be lumped together in a single commercial mono-culture. “No puedes comprar mi vida,” “you can’t buy my life,” wailed the singer Ileana Cabra, nickname PG-13, who has emerged as an integral part of the family affair that comprises stepbrothers René Pérez, a.k.a. Residente, the muscle-shirted lead singer and punning lyricist-provocateur, and Eduardo Cabra, also known as Visitante, Calle 13’s main composer and musical innovator.


René and Ileana, evidently sharing a gene for natural showmanship, make a compelling front couple — Ileana sweetens René’s swagger — while Eduardo, supplying keyboard grace notes, pumping an accordion and plucking various guitars, effectively functions as Calle 13’s musical director. But in Anaheim, the brothers turned over numerous interludes to their percussion and brass sections, who responded with a brilliant conga-driven outro on “Hormiga Brava” and capped the witty, spaghetti Western-flavored “La Bala” (The Bullet) with a Latin-jazz style horn salute.

As a songwriter, Pérez continues to mature beyond the titillating wordplay of the past (e.g. “Se Vale To-To”). Now he buffs his metaphors to a high gloss on songs like “La Perla” and “Pa’l Norte.”

He hasn’t lost his talent for trashing dictators. But he seems to have decided that craftsmanship also can be a radical notion.


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-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Rene Perez of Calle 13. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times