Calle 13 Lights Up Miami Skyline

Rene Perez burning up

There weren’t nearly as many people at the Calle 13 show Saturday as I thought there would be – about 800, I’d guess. The rain probably kept a lot of people away (it drizzled a bit on the Plaza by American Airlines Arena, but not more than you’d want to cool you off on a steamy Miami night).

But I’d have thought Calle 13, one of my all time favorites for Rene Perez’ smokin smart, politically rad (if only the Occupy Wall Streeters understood Spanish, what an anthemist he’d be for them!) lyrics and Eduardo Cabra’s jumpin jam band music, would pull a bigger crowd.

Maybe radio airplay still counts for a lot in Miami – and you never hear Calle 13 on calcified Latin music radio. Clearly, their ten Latin Grammy nominations  didn’t count for much either.

In Latin America they play for crowds of five to twenty thousand.

Ah, Miami.

Still the crowd that was there was an ardent one – they knew the songs, knew the lyrics, screamed and pumped their fists and sang along. The size of the audience didn’t make Rene any less energized or sincere – or insistent.

“A country without culture is a country without a soul,” he said to introduce LatinoAmerica, the beautiful tribute to the continent from Entren Los Que Quieren. Then he poured his heart out as if the continent was his perfect lover – how often does a pop band do a love song to a culture?

There were plenty of dancefloor rabble rousers too, both new – Baile de los Pobres, Vamos a Portarnos Mal – and old – Se vale to-to, and yes, oh yes, Atrevete te te. Though he wasn’t sanctimonious either. “Too bad for anyone who came perfumed and made up for a Calle 13 concert,” he said, and “Anyone who’s not jumping is a cabron”.

No worries – they jumped, and screamed, and jumped. The band is loose and cookin, most of the musicians (trumpet and trombone players, two percussionists, drummer, bassist, guitarist, plus Cabra on assorted keyboards and synthesizers) have been with the group since the start, and they’re TIGHT. New Orleans jazz meets classic Fania-style salsa meets jam band funk.

But the mezcla of Calle 13’ music and the hipster-friendly radicalism of their politics didn’t translate to a mixed audience. There were almost no Anglos – me and my companion looked. I tried a nerdy-hip couple. “Are you American?” Yes. “But are you gringo?” No. One guy said his friend was half-Colombian, and half norteamericano. Nope, doesn’t count, I told him, it’s like being Black, if you’re half Latino, you’re Latino. Ask the president. I did find two adventurous middle-aged Gringa moms, pulled by the music and the videos even though they didn’t speak Spanish. “I don’t want to let the language barrier stop me,” said one. “I’ll figure it out as I go along.” We found one other Anglo, girlfriend to a Latino guy.

Maybe Calle 13 is too integrally, intensely Latino, in whatever language, to translate. Or maybe Miami is still too segregated.

The plaza at the AAA is an excellent place for a concert, btw, circled by downtown lights and the moon gleaming off the bay – though the setting was marred by obscenely priced food ($8 empanadas!) and drinks ($9.50 for bad domestic beer!). DJ Pauer aka Toto Gonzalez (he’s got his own Latin Grammy nomination, for his first CD, Soundtrack) kicked in an opening set, going from Manu Chao to Chilean Bollywood to Joe Arroyo to Colon/Blades’ Murga de Panama to churning reggaeton.

That too was only in Miami.


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