Aside from simply making incredible songs, Calle 13 has been utilizing their worldly music and powerful lyrics as an agent for change. Calle 13, “káy-ye-tré-say,” (translated as “13th Street”) is perhaps the most popular Latin American music group of the 21st century thanks to their unique combination of satirical lyrics about Latin American issues on top of their extremely catchy sound. Instead of making music in the search for fame and money, Calle 13 uses their influential power as worldwide musical icons to give the people back their voice and raise awareness on modern-day problems of Latin America.
The music group Calle 13 was born in 2005 when two stepbrothers from Puerto Rico wanted to make music that would give light to the subdued Latin American voices. Inspired by the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, René Pérez Joglar, known as Residente, is the voice and lyrics of the duo while Eduardo José Cabra Martinez, known as Visitante, is responsible for the music itself.
While the duo’s music involves a good bit of the well-known reggaeton characteristics, such as the “dem bow” beat, Residente and Visitante pride themselves on their vast range of sound. Calle 13’s beats and musical patterns have been defined as rock, ska, merengue, Bollywood, hip hop, tango, la cumbia colombiana and electronica, but Residente prefers to describe him and his stepbrother as urban artists.
On top of Calle 13´s memorable rhythms, their cunning and creative lyrics are responsible for the duo’s impressive and record breaking three Grammy and 21 Latin Grammy award wins. Residente´s clever phrases cover topics including: religion, violence, politics, war, revolution, education and of course, Latin American culture. His mind-blowing capacity to fire out word after word and his overall expressive behaviors has caused Residente to be referred to as the Hispanic version of rap icon, Eminem. Grammy and Latin Grammy Award winning songs such as “Latinoamérica” and “Atrévete Te Te” are examples of how the Calle 13 stepbrothers use their musical artistry and groundbreaking lyrics to amplify the voice of the people while also proving the power of the word and the people’s voice.
“Prepárame La Cena,” released in 2010 on the album entitled “Entren Los Que Quieran,” is one of the most powerful and influential songs that Calle 13 has recorded. While this song contains a slower rap, the chorus is filled with beautiful voices singing the repeated phrase “prepárame la cena que regreso pronto” or in English, “make me dinner because I am returning soon.” As the song develops through the verses, choir-like voices and folk-like instrumentals begin to fill and blend with the background drumbeat.
In addition to the literal sense of the phrase, the simple three-worded verse “prepárame la cena,” (prepare me dinner) holds much significance. Calle 13 chose to utilize this song specifically as an agent to bring attention to human trafficking and child exploitation in Latin America. The stepbrothers sold the rights to the record in a partnership deal with UNICEF and MTV as part of the MTV EXIT movement in conjunction with the documentary series entitled “Invisible Slaves.”
Calle 13 also devoted their music video for “Prepárame La Cena” to help spread the word of the movement and its themes in an accessible media form. The video follows the stories of various sets of children of all ages who get lost in trafficking and 21st century slavery situations such as prostitution, construction, factory labor and begging. As the children get more involved with their labor, the video shows foreshadowing flashes of the children instantly aging; demonstrating that as soon as these children are exposed to these horrors, their innocence is immediately lost and replaced with a dead end.
The repeating lyrics of the chorus: “prepárame la cena,” were written for the millions of children across the globe, especially in Latin America, who never had the chance to say “make me dinner because I am returning soon” to their families because of modern day slavery and human trafficking. Aside from this powerful phrase, the rest of the song’s lyrics are also bursting with deep ideas and cultural significance. When you hear Residente resonate his verses full of I’s and we’s, you feel as if his voice were representing and singing as the sole representative of the essence of Latin America. One of my favorite lines of the song is: “Acá el silencio se convierte en sonido,” translated in English as: “Here, the silence becomes sound.” Exactly as Residente sings those lyrics, Calle 13 has filled the silence with their innovative sound and moving words.
Calle 13 is a trailblazer for artists of the 21st century who are trying to do something with their music and instill the desire for change in the hearts of their listeners. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy the dynamic beats of Calle 13 while educating yourself with new perspectives. Spread the word. Spread the beat.
If you want to learn more about Calle 13 and their cause, visit Mtvexit.org/LA.