Calle 13 and their vision of “Latinoamérica”

To get an idea of what many Latin Americans identify with, what they believe represents them, check out this music video by ‘Calle 13 ’. ‘Thirteenth Street’ is a Puerto Rican alternative hip-hop group composed of stepbrothers René Pérez Joglar (b.1978, lead singer, songwriter), Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (b.1978, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, beat producer) and their half-sister Ileana Cabra Joglar (b.1989, backing vocals).

The music video (below) has English subtitles, but they are hard to read. I’ve posted the lyrics which I modified slightly and some references to, in [ ], to aid your interpretation. The respective singers are also noted.  Acclaimed Argentinean composer/producer/instrumentalist Gustavo Santaolalla played several instruments for the recording, but does not appear in the video. I adore his compositions for ‘Diarios de Motocicleta’ (‘The Motorcycle Diaries’), a film documenting a tumultuous trip via motorcycle and hitchhiking by the future ‘Che’ Guevara and friend, Alberto Granado. You may know Santaolalla’s original compositions as featured in ‘Brokeback Mountain‘ and ‘Babel‘.

I first watched this music video a few weeks ago with some Peruvian friends, but can now appreciate more than ever what the lyrics of this poetic song mean after my trip to la sierra (in this case, the Andean mountain range): the Sacred Valley (Cuzco, many towns and villages, and Machu Picchu), and Lima. The video’s images are striking, and the fast pace allows it to capture so many faces, places, foods, beverages, customs, struggles, successes, lives, losses, people…diverse individuals that represent a vibrant collective. This song stands for resilience.

IMG_9566 2

(a local woman I saw making the hike up towards the ruins of Chinchero, Urubamba province, 3762 m/12342 ft.)

Although Calle 13 originally considered filming this music video in various Latin American countries, they ended up filming the entire project in Peru, which in itself captures much of the rich cultural and geographic diversity of Latinoamérica. Peru is a patchwork country that was created by attempting to unite hundreds of indigenous groups that tried to resist colonization. [Depending on who you ask] Between 47 and 72 incredibly distinct languages other than Spanish are still spoken widely, on a daily basis, in Peru alone. [Update: 2019 is the Year of Indigenous Languages, thanks to UN support]. Thus, the struggles for equity in Peru represent many of the broader Latin American region. The video was filmed in cities including Chincha (along the central-southern coast), Cuzco (southeastern mountains), Iquitos (northeastern city in the Amazon rainforest), Piura (northern desert), Puno (on Lake Titicaca, shared with Bolivia) and Peru’s sprawling capital, Lima. See where I mean, and note the coastal, mountainous and Amazonian regions of Peru through colours and elevation on this map:


Here’s Calle 13’s song and music video ‘Latinoamérica:

The video starts out with a radio announcer introducing Calle 13 to his listeners:
“Good morning to all of our friendly listeners, this beautiful morning to your radio Inti Rayti [Inti Rayti is Quechua for ‘fiesta del Sol’, or celebration of the Sun, an ancient Andean religious ceremony in honour of ‘Inti’, the father sun, carried out every winter for solstice in the Andes].
I hope you are all doing well, my Cuzco brothers. Now, for the good news this morning: we are joined this morning from brothers from afar, to delight us with the singing all the way from Puerto Rico, ladies and gentlemen. They are called Calle 13 and the name of the song is Latinoamérica (Latin America), have a listen…”

Song Lyrics: [Calle 13]:
“Kankunapa” (Quechua for ‘for all of you’)

I am,
I am what they left behind,
I am the leftovers of what they’ve stolen from you.
A hidden town at the summit.
My skin is of leather, that’s why it withstands any climate.
I am a smoke factory,
but not peasant labour for your consumption.
A cold front in the middle of summer,
Love in the Time of cholera, my brother! [‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, a famous novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a key figure in the Latin American literary “boom”]
I’m the sun that rises and the day that dies,
with the best sunsets.
I am development in raw flesh,
a political speech without saliva.
The most beautiful faces I have ever met,
I am the photography of a missing person. [this last line makes reference to the tens of thousands of desaparecidos, or ‘disappeared’ people taken by their governments, police and militaries for political reasons during dictator rule in many Latin American countries. You have probably heard of la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, where mothers and grandmothers became famous for protesting the return of their husbands and sons].
the blood in your veins,
I am a piece of land which is worthy.
A basket of beans,
I am Maradona against England,
scoring two goals. [Diego Armando Maradona Franco, b. 1960, an Argentinean football/ soccer player, considered to be the best of all time. Argentina beat England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, just after the Falklands War].
I am what holds up my flag,
the planet’s backbone is my mountain range.
I am what my father taught me.
Whoever doesn’t love their country,
doesn’t love their mother.
I am Latin America,
A people without legs, but one that walks.

[sung by Totó la Momposina, b. 1940 in the town of Talaigua Nuevo, Colombia, she is folkloric singer of Afro-Colombian and indigenous descent from her country’s Caribbean coast]:
You can’t buy the wind.
You can’t buy the sun.
You can’t buy the rain.
You can’t buy the heat.
[sung by Susana Baca, born in 1944 in Chorrillos, Lima, she is an Afro-Peruvian singer and composer]:
You can’t buy the clouds.
You can’t buy the colours.
You can’t buy my happiness.
You can’t buy my pains.

[Calle 13]:
I have lakes, I have rivers.
I have my teeth for when I smile.
The snow dressing my mountains.
I have the sun which dries me and the rain which showers me.
A desert drunk on peyote [a small, spineless cactus, with an active hallucinogen ingredient, mescaline and important in many indigenous cultures.]
and a drink of pulque to sing with the coyotes,
all that I need. [pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, traditional to central Mexico long before los conquistadores arrived].
I have my lungs that breathe clear air,
the suffocating altitude.
I am the molars of my mouth chewing coca [the same coca leaves used to make the mate de coca tea],
the autumn with its falling leaves,
the verses written under a starry night, [referencing works by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, perhaps his Poema XX]
a vineyard full of grapes,
a reed bed under the Cuban sun.

I am the Caribbean Sea looking after the little houses,
performing rituals with Holy Water [referencing presence of Catholicism],
the wind that combs my hair.
I am all the Saints that hang from my neck. [at 2’58, the main cemetery in Cuzco is shown for less than a second; I recognize it after visiting it with my Peruvian host parents last week].
My juice of my struggle is not artificial,
because my land’s fertilizer is natural.

You can’t buy the wind.
You can’t buy the sun.
You can’t buy the rain.
You can’t buy the heat.
You can’t buy the clouds.
You can’t buy the colours.
You can’t buy my happiness.
You can’t buy my pains.
[Chorus again, sung in Portuguese by Brazilian singer Maria Rita, born in São Paulo in 1977]:

[Susana Baca]:
You can’t buy the sun.
You can’t buy the rain. [Background: Let’s keep on walking.]
[Maria Rita sings lyrics about chorus in Portuguese.]
[Background: Let’s draw the path.]
You can’t buy my life. [Background: Let’s keep on walking.]

[Totó la Momposina]:
The land is not for sale.

[Calle 13]:
I work hard, but with pride.
Here we share, what’s mine, is yours. [This makes me think of ‘Mi casa es tu casa‘, my house is your house].
These people don’t drown with the waves.
And if it collapses, I rebuild it.
Nor do I blink when I look at you,
so you might* remember my surname. [*interesting, the subjunctive tense is used, te recuerdes, maybe to stress that foreigners might not remember their surname]
Operation Condor invading my nest,
I forgive, but I never forget!
Listen! [Background: Let’s keep on walking.]

[Operation Condor/Plan Cóndor / Operação Condor was a campaign of political repression and terror involving
intelligence operations and assassination, implemented in 1975 by right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. It was intended to eradicate Soviet or communist influence and suppress opposition movements. At least 60,000 deaths can be attributed to the program, many of whom were the aforementioned desaparecidos. The United States (CIA) provided technical and military support to the participants. Ecuador and Peru joined later in sideline roles.]

[Background: Let’s keep on walking.]
Here struggle is what is breathed. [Susana Baca] [Background: Let’s keep on walking.]
I sing to be listened to. [Totó la Momposina] [Background: Let’s keep on walking. Let’s draw the path. Also, Maria Rita in Portuguese.]
Here we stand.
Long live ‘the Americas’! [In Latin America, North and South America are considered one continent: ‘the Americas’, i.e. there are six continents in the world]

You cannot buy my life.

10 thoughts on “Calle 13 and their vision of “Latinoamérica”

  1. Gracias!! I teach Spanish in Arizona and am always looking for ways to have my students understand South American culture and appreciate the differences. This video has been part of my lesson plan for the past few years, and today I came across your blog and was able to share some more insight and depth to our class lesson. Great explanation and translation of the lyrics and emotion of this cancion! Quiero ir a PERU!!!!!!!

    • De nada, Jeff. I really love how much is packed into this song and the video is very well made. Glad it helped with your lesson! ¡Que le vaya bien, y ojalá que algún día pueda ir a Perú!

  2. Hi mate. First of all, I am amazed with this video, it gave me the goosebumps. I truly believe all of this, it describes some heritage, which I don’t know where it comes from, but it is of love for our land. Anyway, would you mind if I suggest a correction? Instead of saying “I am a smoke factory, peasant labour for your consumption” It says “I am a smoke factory but not a peasant labour for your consumption”. In Spanish it says: “soy una fabrica de humo, mas no de obra campesina para tu consumo…” Thanks a lot pal for translating this into English not word by word but using the meaning of each phrase.

    • Hi there.
      Thank you for this suggestion for the translation–I appreciate it!
      Your comment reminded me that I need to update this blog as it has been a while.

  3. Pingback: Latinx Heritage Month Activities – Oodles of Music


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