Reggaeton might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Cultural Capital, but this band has challenged the notion that popular music cannot be educative as well as entertaining.
Calle 13 is a popular band from Puerto Rico who plays a style known as Reggaeton, which is a musical style that often embraces offensive or sexist themes. Yet in 2012 they launched “a joint venture with UNICEF” with a music video aimed for a “call for global awareness about gun violence.” (UNICEF, 2012)
How can a band that plays music with such a “low cultural capital” be at the forefront of such a humanitarian campaign?
By being smart.
I don’t know if this was an elaborate plan or just a coincidence, but it seems to me that Calle 13 had effectively grabbed attention of millions of people from all social classes with their Reggaeton tunes, and once they had them in their pocket they took afloat a socio-political message that cannot be ignored: the Latin American reality check. Calle 13 constantly addresses social, economical and political realities of Puerto Rico, and Latin-America, in their lyrics and they are strong supporters for education.
If you look at the evolution of this band you might wonder if this is the same band we are talking about.
Fig. 1 Calle13VEVO (2009) Calle 13 – Atrevete te te (Explicit)
Fig. 2 elveindariocalle13 (2011) Calle 13 – Latinoamérica
Lets see these two music videos as an example: Atrévete Te, Te (Fig. 1) and Lationamérica (Fig. 2). It’s clear how different both music videos are and for those who do not speak Spanish, allow me to underline some of the lyrics. Atrevete Te, Te has a very catchy tune, which I confess I really enjoy myself, but it mainly objectifies women with lines like:
I want to eat from your Parsley
And you came Amazonica like Brazil
Raise your mini skirt
Up to you back
Raise it, stop pretending, higher
Don’t get picky with me
This is all the way, get the trick
Arguably this song has very little educational value except for pointing out how hegemonic masculinity can be in Latin-America. But jump a few years forward and Calle 13 looks like a completely different band. Latinoamérica embraces much variated and deeper themes.
I’m the photograph of a missing person.
I’m the blood in your veins,
I’m Latin America,
People without legs but who can walk
You can’t buy the sun.
You can’t buy the rain.
You can’t buy my life.
My land is not for sale.
There is a social depth to these lyrics with references to social inequality, capitalistic colonisation, melancholia and much more. In Atrévete Te, Te all women are presented as objects going as far as literally dressing them as white dolls. In contrast, Latinoamérica presents women in a completely different light and furthermore the song features additional vocals from female Latin American artists: Peruvian Susana Baca, Colombian Totó la Momposina and Brazilian Maria Rita.
I sometimes wonder what is the purpose of a great idea if no one can understand it or even access it? A good idea needs to be heard and understood. Although I was never a big fan or Reggaeton I came to appreciate this music and I learned to see it with a different perspective. Reggaeton is accessible. What Calle 13 has done effectively is to spread a message using an accessible medium like Reggaeton.
I think that being accessible and understandable to your audience is an important step on promoting your work. I can only dream about becoming as popular as Calle 13 but what I can learn from them is that you have to be accessible.
UNICEF (2012) ‘UNICEF and Calle 13 join forces to raise global awareness about rising violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, and beyond’. UNICEF. [online] Available at: Unicef [Accessed: 28 February 2015].
List of Videos
Fig. 1 Calle13VEVO (2009) Calle 13 – Atrevete te te (Explicit) [online] Available at: YouTube [Accessed: 28 February 2015].
Fig. 2 elveindariocalle13 (2011) Calle 13 – Latinoamérica [online] Available at: YouTube [Accessed: 28 February 2015].