René Pérez Joglar (lead singer, songwriter) and his stepbrother Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (music director, composer) formed the duo Calle 13 in 2004. The band is named for the street in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, where René lived and where Eduardo visited him often. Because the house was in a gated community the brothers had to identify themselves at the guardhouse as residente (René) and visitante (Eduardo), and they took these as their stage names. Their younger sister Ileana Cabra Joglar, a.k.a. PG13, later joined the band as a singer.
Calle 13’s music is eclectic. It has been called reggaetón, but band members insist it is broader. Their songs are built around René’s crisp and penetrating spoken word, but Eduardo’s inventive musical settings draw from rock, jazz, salsa, and Latin American and Caribbean folk and popular genres. René’s provocative lyrics poke fun at authority and address many challenges facing Latin America, including immigration (“Pal Norte” 2007), violence (“La Bala” 2010), class prejudice (“Tango del pecado” 2007), hope and resilience (“Latinoamérica” 2010), self-expression and disobedience (“Atrévete-te-te” 2005, “Vamo’ a portarnos mal” 2010), as well as the simple joys of love and life (“La vuelta al mundo” 2010).”
Rene and Eduardo got their start in the “underground” music scene in San Juan, Puerto Rico, created in the 1990s by young people who enjoyed spoken word with music. After achieving commercial success in 2005 with their self-titled CD, Calle 13, they reached increasingly wider audiences with Residente o Visitante (2007), Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo (2008), and Entren Los que Quieran (2010), winning a total of 19 Latin Grammy awards and two Grammy awards.
Calle 13 has used their visibility to draw attention to political and social problems, often in controversial ways. In 2009, for example, they were banned from performing in San Juan after accusing the city mayor, Jorge Santini, of corruption and drug abuse. They have also collaborated with socially conscious artists from other Latin American countries. In 2008 they recorded the song “La Perla” with Ruben Blades; and in 2010 they recorded “Latinoamérica” with Susana Baca, Maria Rita, and Toto la Mompositna, to send a message of pan-Latino solidarity and hope:
“I am, I am what my father taught me,
he who doesn’t love his country, doesn’t love his mother,
I am, I am Latin America,
people without legs but that they still walk.”
(English translation of lyrics by Marisol Berrios-Miranda)