Taking It to the Streets

Puerto Rican band Calle 13 prepares to cross over to the English-speaking masses

The members of Calle 13 are controversial—not for wearing a dress made of meat, but for their words. Not only did these two Puerto Rican stepbrothers—Residente (René Pérez) and Visitante (Eduardo Cabra)—begin their latest album Entren los Que Quieran (Enter if you please) by criticizing their label Sony for cheating them out of money, they also called out artists for doing pay for play. The band, who plays a unique mix of reggaeton, reggae, indie rock and rap, has made headlines for supporting radical leader Hugo Chavez and bashing the Puerto Rican government for laying off state employees.

As Cabra points out, they have no reason to censor themselves. “Will we regret what we said when we are older?” he says. “We may change our minds, but I will know that at the time when I said these things, that I said them with love and passion and I can never regret that.”

But this time, the winners of 10 Latin Grammys are facing criticism from their own fans. Their crime: wanting to cross over Shakira-style and put out an English album. “The idea is to communicate with more people. We don’t think a language necessarily defines a person or a country,” Cabra says, who insists they don’t confine themselves to just one style.

But some fans beg to differ. Comments such as, “You pretend to be rebels but now you’re recording in English for the gringos,” or “Pathetic. Total Deception!” appear on their Twitter page.

But the brothers have grown thick skin by dealing with the reactions to their raw lyrics and offbeat political comments. So they keep making their own eclectic mix of genres.

“Our style feels natural, and so has our growth in our albums,” Cabra says. “People are slowly grasping our style, and they will see in this last album that we have surpassed ourselves.” So will the English market get it?

So far their U.S. tour has been a great success, Cabra says. And they’ve also been practicing their English in hopes that they can properly translate their rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the gringos can simply enjoy the funky beat of their music, which pulls forbidden dance moves out of even the lamest dancers.

And as Calle 13 says: “Dance, by intoxicating your neurons with cheap vodka. White, yellow, mulatas, you can dance with whatever bom-bom that comes from your piñata.”