Puerto Rican Duo Calle 13 Dominates Latin Grammys

Calle 13, the Puerto Rican hip-hop duo acclaimed for its politically charged lyrics, Afro-Caribbean beats and raunchy dance anthems, emerged as the new darling of Latin music Thursday night after sweeping the Latin Grammy Awards and collecting its 19th award from the Latin Recording Academy.

The recognition saw brothers Rene Perez Joglar and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez break the records for the most awards collected over a career and the most awards won in a single night, even as the anti-establishment rappers blasted the mainstream music industry and urged musicians to fight “the easy and what sells.”

“It’s a triumph for music and art,” said Joglar, the group’s frontman, in Spanish after breaking the record previously held by 17-time-winner Juanes for most overall Latin Grammys.

Photo: AP Photo
Accepting the award for best tropical song for "Vamo’ A Portarnos Mal" at the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.

In all, Calle 13 was nominated for 10 awards during the 12th annual Latin Grammys in Las Vegas Thursday, and took home all but one because the rappers were nominated twice for album of the year for their work on Shakira’s Sale el Sol. The awards recognized three of Calle 13’s songs from its most recent album Entren Los Que Quieran and cast a political overtone over the annual music celebration. The rappers are frequent government critics and their lyrics aim harsh words at the White House and the Vatican, while espousing the joys of poverty and Latin American culture.

“For me, this is a gift I’m giving to everyone so that they can feel proud of their roots, of their homeland,” Joglar said. “That’s really lacking here in the United States.”

One of Calle 13’s more controversial songs, “Calma Pueblo,” won best alternative song, with its lyrics that proclaim the Vatican the largest mafia in the world. The group also won producer of the year, best short-form music video and best tropical song for its ode to behaving badly, “Vamo’ A Portarnos Mal.”

Calle 13’s ultimate domination seemed predestined as the rappers opened the show with an emotional rendition of their anthem “Latinoamerica” after picking up four awards during the pre-telecast ceremony.

“May this transport you to your roots, your streets … and may you feel it here in your heart,” Joglar said in Spanish before the rousing performance dedicated to Latin Americans.

No other nominee came close to matching Calle 13’s success, not even Shakira, who was recognized as the youngest recipient of the Latin Recording Academy’s Person of the Year award and also won best female pop vocal album. Shakira attributed the accolades to her fellow stars.

“With their voices and their music, they cure all our pains and make us forget our sorrows,” she said in Spanish.

The awards show was a blend of genres and talents, as performers from nearly 100 countries gathered at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip for a night of Spanish pop, rock, salsa, rap and country. Crossover stars Sean Kingston, Usher and Demi Lovato were among the dozens of pop stars who shared the stage, along with Mexican rocker Alejandra Guzman, Puerto Rican rappers Wisin & Yandel and Bronx-born crooner Prince Royce. Award presenters included Erik Estrada, Zoe Saldana and Sofia Vergara.

Photo: AP Photo
Performing at the 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.

The international lineup made for a Spanglish flair, with Vergara, whose Colombian accent is a staple punch line on the hit TV series “Modern Family,” welcoming English viewers in her adopted tongue. Kermit the Frog also spoke in both Spanish and English, introducing Mexican band Intocable.

“Many frogs love Latino music because we get to hop around,” Kermit said.

Calle 13 has a long history of lacing social messages over bass-thumping beats and its latest album continued that tradition, riffing on the exploitation of dark-skinned workers and corrupt governments. Joglar said he hoped Thursday’s recognition would encourage other musicians to “break with the existing system.”

He noted several times that Calle 13’s music is often shunned by radio stations across the Western hemisphere, before recounting advice a famous musician once gave him: “‘The day you are on the radio a lot, worry, because you are doing something wrong,’ and so we have listened to him,” Joglar said.

Calle 13 first perfected its Latin Grammy supremacy in 2009, when it won all of the five nominations it earned that year. Martínez said the internet has helped Calle 13 expand its audience, but he lamented that many people in poor nations do not have computer access.

Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation, said academy members had chosen to honor Calle 13 perhaps because of its raw lyrics, and mused that the group could soon add to its two Grammy awards.

“Musicians are creative people who are not afraid of controversy and they speak their minds, they speak from the heart,” Portnow said backstage.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rican newcomer Sie7e took home a Grammy for best new artist. He performed his Spanglish love song “Tengo Tu Love” with Mexican-American rapper Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas and cited Calle 13 as an influence.

“Another one for Puerto Rico,” Sie7e cried in Spanish after accepting his gramophone trophy.

Mexican rock legend Maná gave the first duet of the show, performing with Royce “Lluvia al Corazon” and “El Verdadero Amor Perdona” as the image of a beating heart adorned with thorns graced the stage.

“My mom is a big Mana fan. Never would I have imagined being in the same room as them,” Royce said backstage.

Mana went on to win best rock album for Drama y Luz, with frontman Fher Olvera proclaiming that rock lives on.

Pitbull and Marc Anthony also shared the stage, pumping out their bilingual club banger “Rain Over Me” as dozens of Las Vegas burlesque dancers shimmied under an indoor rain shower.

Wisin and Yandel were joined by Kingston on stage. They spit out three hits: “Estoy Enamorado,” ‘‘Fire Burning” and “Fever.”

Photo: AP Photo
Performing at the 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas.

Kingston, who is Jamaican-American, said backstage that he didn’t understand what was being said at the show, but called himself a “huge fan of reggaeton,” or Spanish hip hop.

“I’ve dated a few Latin ladies so I understand a little bit, un poquito,” he said. Of Calle 13, Kingston added, “I don’t know his name, but he was real good.”