"Residente" is the alias of René Pérez Joglar, a Puerto Rican rapper, music producer and founder of the former sibling group Calle 13. I discovered Calle 13 all by myself through last.fm when I lived in England, where nobody gave a toss about Latin music. But even alone in my living room I knew immediately that these guys were different. The music was as juicy, punchy and hip kicking as Seeed and Daddy Yankee put in a shaker, but the lyrics, for a change, were SMART. While the music drew me in, it was the words of Residente that converted me into the full-blown Calle 13 fan that I have been ever since.
When Residente raps, he spans topics from the reggaeton-typical dance animation for females to political injustice, from harsh criticism of the music industry to poetic love songs for his lady, his home country, his continent. His reggaeton is wittier, funnier, and more over-the-top than that of any other artist I know, so much so, that it is confidently teetering the line of being a parody, whilst still making Latin music lovers grind and gyrate on the dance floor any day of the week. His political stuff is outspoken, hard, and aggressive. His love songs are lyrical, original and just beautiful with all their imagery. Performed by someone who mostly raps like a machine gun, his happy and sentimental songs gain extra meaning, like a German shepherd dog that just chased away an intruder being fierce and scary, only to return to the lounge to cuddle with the toddler of the family he loves.
Experiencing this energy live last Sunday was a privilege - a celebration of human resilience.
Here are 6 little insight treasures that I took away from this happening:
1. Lyrics ARE important
This is not new to me, but I felt it so strongly at the concert. When you write lyrics, they MUST be faithful to what you believe in, they MUST convey a message you stand for, and they MUST be good. What makes good lyrics? That's a whole 'nother post for another day, but I will gladly come back to it soon. For now, suffice it to say that the concert re-ignited my passion for composing with words.
2. Yes, it's fuckin' political,
to say it with the words of Skunk Anansie. I have always taken the stance that music is a great way of getting your voice heard and sharing what you believe in with more oomph and emotion than most speeches will ever have. Sure, music can just as much be a tool for personal expression, escapism, lulling people in, or making them buy more shit at the mall. But the concert reminded me that writing words that matter is awesome. And that it takes guts! Because not everyone will agree with you, or like you - but that should really be part of the fun.
3. Let them keep it
Just the night before the concert, I went to a flamenco festival hosted by a Spanish dance school in my area. Before the show, we were reminded that photography and filming were not allowed, and that there were professionals doing the job so we could purchase videos and pictures of the show at a later date. How lame is that?? I totally get the need to make money as artists, and especially musicians are often expected to give away everything they do for free or embarrassingly cheap. But let's just face it already: people love taping everything that matters to them, and if they're taping YOU, it means you made it into their day, maybe even into their hearts, and very likely into the social media feed of their friends. If I can't legally take pictures, it makes it really hard for me to blog about something and share it with others. And while you MAYBE stand to gain a few coins from selling your photos (who buys those - except for your parents??), you come across as petty to those you wanted to charm. Loads of people were filming at the Residente concert, and so was I. I will follow the same lead whenever it is in my power.
4. High energy concerts are the s h i t
I have been to a fair few music shows recently. All of them were great in their own ways, and they all had in common that they were pretty chill. From Joasihno's electroacoustic robot music to Dalgazul's Turkish Latin Jazz, they were head-nodding, feet-tapping and soul-feeding; even Breakin' Mozart was a sit-down event despite showing some outright exhilarating dance moves. By contrast, Residente's show was a jumping, screaming and sweating mess, and I realised how much I missed going crazy to music. It is such a deeply human thing to do. And at that, a high energy concert of your choice will always beat the club downtown, because here, everybody is already psyched for the physical eruption, you know you like the music and are not at the mercy of a DJ, and really, nobody is trying too hard to impress anyone. My personal bottom line: go to high energy concerts more often, allow my own stuff to be more high energy, and maybe even invite the crowd to let it all out every now and then?
(<-- Here you see me, very sweaty and visibly excited.)
5. Playing with a track doesn't have to be musically cheap
Residente had seven very capable, virtuoso musicians with him on stage: two guitarists, a curly pianist that constantly jumped up and down for joy, a female vocalist, a guy who seemed to specialise in... let's call them world music instruments for short, a percussionist AND a drummer. They ripped crazy solos, they tore the stage apart, they were 100% tight and on point. AND: they sometimes played with a backing track. In the past, I always found it a bit disappointing when bands did that. But in this case, I really didn't mind: a lot of the Residente songs live from quite unique sounds that emerged in collaboration with artists from all over the world. Barring bringing them all on stage with him every time, he has to use a track to re-create these songs if they are to sound more or less like the album version (that said, he also played slight variations on old songs, so he wasn't hell-bent on carbon-copying the studio material). What I liked most about the track usage was that it made it possible to perfectly sync-up video material that was running on a big screen in the background. It really enhanced the show and gave it another dimension: it was so much more meaningful to have bespoke visuals for every song rather than just some floaty shapes or LED dances. Words were flung in your face at exactly the right time, collaborating artists who were not present were portrayed, and it was obvious somebody had a real think about the look & feel they were going for for the whole show. Time to shed the track-shame, maybe? And explore its artistic possibilities?
6. That contrived encore drama
Residente played a full two hours of music almost nonstop. There was one tiny break where most musicians left the stage, presumably to have a breather, maybe eat a couple of bites real quick and towel off, but the song kept going, and within a minute or so, everybody was back and ready for another 45 minutes of nonstop going-for-it. Later, at the end, it was.... the end! The last song was announced, good wishes were bestowed, the song was played, and as it was done, the lights came on, and the show was over. There was no encore, and none was needed after such a long and intense show. Everybody left happy, and I overheard many people talking about how awesome it was on their way out. This was the first concert of this calibre that I witnessed that spared the audience the ridiculous preconceived encore farce, where the band leaves the stage, lets the crowd yell for more, and then, out of kindness and mercy, comes back to play another song they had planned to play anyway. I know, it's a rite, a done thing, but that doesn't make it any less douchey. What bugs me about it is not the idea of people asking for more and getting more as a result of it, but more the artificialness with which this situation is usually created. If it's genuine on both sides - the audience really loved it and wants more, and even though the concert is really over, you draw something else out of your hat to go over and above what you planned to give - it's awesome. But don't save your best song(s) for the encore because you're banking on getting to play one. That's arrogant. Ok, rant over.
And finally, for your enjoyment, two handpicked videos to show you the range of emotions and imagery that Residente commands:
Residente: graphic, agressive and weird
NB: Can I just say how I love that there is a vagina featuring prominently in this video that is not sexualised?
Almost merits a tag of #Feminism! (But he can't have it because the vagina doesn't sport any hair. Sorry.) :D