With its message of unity and equality, Residente's first solo album post-Calle 13 — and an accompanying documentary — seems fitting with the political climate in America. But the Puerto Rican rapper says his project started way before the era of President Donald Trump.
"I think that ... the topic now is even more relevant because of what is happening with Trump and not only Trump, because there's a lot of racism around the world," Residente, born Rene Perez, said in New York during a recent presentation of his new film, which is about him making his album while tracing his origins based on his DNA.
The album "Residente," out Friday, includes 13 songs that Perez wrote and recorded over two years traveling around some of his ancestors' countries of origin. He started in the Russian province of Siberia, and also visited China, The Caucasus and West Africa.
The self-titled documentary, directed by Residente, starts with his childhood in Puerto Rico, his struggles as a young student and his rise with his Grammy-winning band Calle 13. The film debuted last month at South by Southwest.
In it, he explains that he decided to leave Calle 13 — the most decorated act in the history of the Latin Grammys — at the height of its career because he needed to do something new to get inspired. He decided to spend time with local artists — mostly amateur or unknown — many who live in great poverty or have been affected and torn by war. The film shows a series of moving encounters that translate to his music and incisive lyrics, highlighting the human condition and its diversity.
"This is not a world music album," Residente said. "I traveled the world, but I wanted to do something new."
In China he got to work with the Peking Opera, one of Beijing's finest monuments, where he challenged a group of performers to get out of their comfort zone and put melody to his lyrics.
"When I went to China, first of all, it was very difficult to communicate because they couldn't speak English and at that time my English sucked, and my translator, his English was OK, but he wasn't like (an) English professor," Residente said. "So it took us a while to get there and to translate first the lyrics ... from Spanish to English, and then from English to Chinese."
"I wanted them to change it a little bit because I'm coming into their world," he said of the Peking Opera, "but I wanted them to also come into my world."
He said that when he started his journey, he did it thinking mainly about music, but that listening to the stories of the people he met made him think more about the topic of race.
"We all came from the same place," Residente said. "Even though we are different, we are equally different."
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