SEATTLE — Latino artists like Shakira, Daddy Yankee and Marc Anthony’s hit songs have made them household names across the U.S. Less familiar is Calle 13, the Puerto Rican rap group with a record-setting 22 Latin Grammys (and three U.S. Grammys), whose music champions poor and marginalized people around the world.
Group member Rene Perez Joglar, also known as Residente, recently debuted a self-titled album that explores his place in the global community. Using a DNA test, Residente traced his roots to areas around the globe. He collaborated with regional artists that share his genetic makeup from the Balkans to Niger.
His experiences recording in 10 different countries are currently being turned into a documentary film. When recording in the conflict zones of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani bomber forced the rapper to evacuate in order to finish recording his aptly titled “Guerra (War)” in Ossetia. He interviewed refugees from the area to improve his writing on the song. In Ghana, he recorded “Dagombas en Tamale”, a song celebrating the ingenuity of the poor with refrains like, “we’ve learned to harvest without land” and musing that the poor don’t need radios because they have drums.
Residente of Calle 13 using activism to make social changes is nothing new. As a student at the University of Puerto Rico, he protested for lower tuition fees. His championing of education was evident in 2011 when Calle 13 used its celebrity status to support Latin American student movements, gathering 50,000 people in San Juan to demand lower costs in education. The group turned a CD release party into a political event. Here are six more humanitarian acts by the group:
- Giving 30,000 Salvadorians the opportunity to pay for tickets in rice and beans to benefit hurricane victims.
- In 2012, the group raised nearly 50,000 pounds of food for the poorest communities in Mexico.
- Residente of Calle 13 is the face of the MTV Exit campaign to stop human trafficking, narrating the documentary “Invisible Slaves” with fellow group member Eduardo Cabra.
- Residente of Calle 13 has spoken about social issues with former president of Uruguay Pepe Mujica, who was known as the “world’s poorest president” because of his donating 90 percent of his salary to charity.
- He met with Barcelona’s mayor, whose career began defending the mass evictions occurring after the global economic collapse.
- He has lobbied Paraguay’s legislature to act in accordance with the Inter-American Court of Human rights and restore certain indigenous lands to their previous owners.
The Nobel Peace Summit recently recognized Residente of Calle 13 as a Nobel Laureate for using both his music and his celebrity status to bring attention to social issues. He has been a spokesman for both Amnesty International and UNICEF. Residente used the opportunity to criticize the amount of money governments spend on weapons, as well as to stress the need for the acceptance of refugees and immigrants.
Residente believes that anyone can be a social activist, and the first step is talking with people in the community about issues that matter. He has followed his own advice, using his music as a platform to speak directly to the international community in terms everyone can understand. As Residente of Calle 13 raps on his track “Un Nino en la Calle”, “What is anything worth if there is a (single) child in the street?”
– Jared Gilbert