First Listen

First Listen: Calle 13, 'Entren Los Que Quieran'

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Calle 13 i i

hide captionCalle 13 is a duo of step-brothers René Pérez Joglar (on the left) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez.

courtesy of the artist
Calle 13

Calle 13 is a duo of step-brothers René Pérez Joglar (on the left) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez.

courtesy of the artist

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Members are the Puerto Rican group Calle 13 are quick to mention that they dislike the label "reggaeton," because their music is a fusion that goes beyond any genre. I would say Calle 13 itself is much more than a band of musicians: They are poets, comedians, journalists, satirists and political activists.

They often get dismissed for their raunchiness: They've come up with some lines that are nauseating, but at the same time so clever, it's easy to hover between fascination and disgust when listening to them.

They also often get brushed off as mindlessly rebellious, indiscriminately poking fun at movie stars and icons of Latin entertainment and Hollywood. They recently revealed that when approached by Coca-Cola to do an advertisement, they demanded to write the script themselves. The script included them gargling and spitting Coca-Cola, denouncing U.S. foreign policy, and saying, "Even though it's terrible for your health, I drink Coca-Cola when I'm thirsty." Obviously, the ad was not approved.

But people who dismiss Calle 13 as crude rebels-without-a-cause ignore the fact that the group applies the same wittiness to sexual innuendo as it does to political protest. Its members' pens are as sharp and clever when they're hitting on a girl as they are when they satirize the corruption that infests Latin American governments. In that sense, they're real: They think that what's happening in the world is pretty awful. They want it to change. And they'd also like to get a cute girl's phone number tonight.

I think another reason Latin-American fans (myself included) love them so much is that we identify this distinctly Latin quality in them: They are fighters who endure and struggle against the very real horrors of Latin America. But part of their defiance lies in the ability to have fun, to be funny and sexy in spite of these horrors.

Calle 13's new album, Entren Los Que Quieran (Those Who Want To, Come In), is more politically feisty than any of its previous albums. The album opens with "Calma Pueblo," and by the first breath, it's brought down the governor of Puerto Rico (lead singer Rene Perez claims he left his mom unemployed with the recent mass layoffs), Sony ("My label is not Sony / My label is my listeners") and the media. "La Bala" is an Ennio Morricone-flavored song that tells the story of a bullet's pathway and the senselessness of violence. There is at least one dance track, as well as a lust song ("Baile De Los Pobres," which channels Billy Joel's working-class desires in "Uptown Girl"). But the real love song on this album is "Latinoamerica," a gorgeous ode to Latinos everywhere: "I am the sun that is born and the day that dies... I am America Latina, a land with no legs who still manages to walk."

Calle 13 is a new point in a long tradition of Latin troubadours and storytellers. Which is why the word "rebellious," when used to describe Calle 13, doesn't do it justice — it's too dismissive, relegating a complex world view to a simple word. Besides, Calle 13 isn't that rebellious anyway — it just tells it like it is.

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First Listen