SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Under intermittent torrential rain, René Pérez Joglar, best known as Residente, delivered an epic musical production–arguably of historic dimensions. An estimated crowd of over 40,000 fans flooded the Hiram Bithorn Stadium last Friday to welcome the Latin alternative star back home.
The show, titled “Hijos del cañaveral” (which roughly translates to “Children of the Cane Fields”), opened with DJ Trooko playing Residente’s debut album as a solo artist’s intro “ADN/ DNA” rapped by Pérez Joglar’s cousin, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“ADN/DNA” was mixed with the Hamilton Mixtape hit “Immigrants We Get the Job Done,” where Residente contributed a Spanish rap. After hyping up the audience with electronic and dance music, Trooko made way to the opening act: Pedro-Juan Vázquez Bragan, best known as PJ Sin Suela.
His infectious, quasi-rebellious raps and on-stage persona set a patriotic, upbeat tone for the night.
With graphic imagery and colorful visuals, Residente’s three-hour-and-fifteen-minute show started with a beating heart, anticipating Residente’s arrival. Opening with “Somos Anormales,” the performance covered every song from his self-titled album. As expected, he also performed some Calle 13 hits and audience favorites–the new interpretations of “Baile de los pobres,” “El Aguante,” “Atrévete,” “Cumbia de los aburridos,” “No hay nadie como tú,” were tailored to fit his band.
Different from his Calle 13 days, the concert showcased a more mature Residente, keeping his signature dry humor to a minimum. In fact, recognizing the lack of satirical and sarcastic remarks, he made a brief speech about how comedy is needed, before erupting in the hit “Una Fiesta de Locos.” Most of the repertoire, however, was preluded by seemingly uncensored speech. For “Guerra,” he explained how he is against any kind of war, but agrees with acts of resistance, especially when they’re in self-defense. For “Adentro,” he shared advise his mentor Rubén Blades gave him: to write while angry. As a result, he wrote the song against the gangster lifestyle celebrated by some rappers. Residente was recently criticized for this position and what some have called an attack on the reggaetón genre after he spoke about the topic at a 2017 Latin Billboard panel. At the concert, he stood by his opinions.
“Is great to tell stories in first person about our hoods, because we can tell all our stories. We can be strong and use all the words we want, but always in a way to help; to benefit our young who sometimes believe the ‘gangster movies’,” he said during the concert.
The connecting thread and main message of the entire show was “Puerto Rico está de pie” (“Puerto Rico is standing”). Residente constantly invited people to wave the flag to remind the world that Puerto Rico rises, after the devastation Hurricane María left. “One day we’ll have the right managers for us to be an independent free nation. For us to push forward being in association with whoever. But owning our land, because we’re owners of our house,” Pérez Joglar expressed to screaming fans.
No matter what his lyrical content boasts, one thing seems to remain: quality music. While mass audiences jumped and danced to their favorite songs, there were sublime moments of Jazz fusion, funk, rock and world music. The all-immigrant band unites masters in their fields, making the live show a true merger of entertainment and art as evident by the crowd’s reactions.
Argentinian pianist Leo Genovese hypnotized the crowd with his solo introduction to “Desencuentro.” German immigrant Elias Meister electrified all with his Jazz funk guitar solos. Moroccan maestro Brahim Fribgane’s ethnic instrumentation provided the world music trait palpable throughout Residente’s debut album. Guitarist Justin Purtill performed a rendition of “En Mi Viejo San Juan,” prompting a massive choir, leading into the song “Latinoamérica.” Most notably, former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Armon Pridgen and Puerto Rican percussionist Daniel Díaz injected the entire concert with energetic beats. Kianí Medina’s powerhouse vocals were a show stopper, especially during her a cappella rendition of “Pa’l Norte.”
At one point, Residente shared the stage with young students fighting for free and quality public education in Puerto Rico. With a sign that read “Contra la Junta Rebélate” (Rebel Against the Junta), four students expressed their disgust with the current education crisis Puerto Rico confronts and the austerity measures proposed by the island’s fiscal control board. They also demanded a stop to the pension cuts and to abolish the board.
Joining Residente for “Hijos del cañaveral” were the legendary singer Jerry Medina, guitarist Héctor ‘Melé de María’ Meléndez, and renown cuatro musician Luis ‘Luisito’ Sanz. The arrangement incorporated a guitar introduction of “Lamento Borincano” composed by Rafael Hernández. Melé mesmerized the audience with his techniques while maintaining the sorrowful and emotional delivery the song evokes. Luis Sanz cuatro’s solo —which included some instrumental acrobatics as he played it behind his neck- highlighted the importance of developing and fostering Puerto Rican music and ethnic instruments.
Speaking with Latino USA, Sanz said, “The Puerto Rican cuatro represents that unique voice of our people, that despite the adversities, never give up. It was a magical moment with different emotions. I remember listening to the crowd singing the song almost like a prayer. ‘Hijos del Cañaveral’ has become our anthem.”
Bringing a lighter note to the politically charged concert was “Sexo.” Residente invited the song’s collaborators —former Calle 13 singer, and René’s sister, Ileana ‘Ile’ Cabra, and Dillon Francis— on to the stage. After rehearsing the choreography, the climatic performance brought hilarity and collective laughter. Ending the show in a defiant note was “Vamo’ a portarnos mal,” an invitation to take over the streets and partake in civil disobedience.
The entire production was an entertaining, unifying, and artistically driven political manifestation, aligned with Residente’s proclamation during the show: “We all want the best for our nation. We all need to do these manifestations intelligently, and we need our country people to unite, because we need change. In the end, we’re all Puerto Ricans. It doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, we need to unite and manifest for things to get better. We need to take this with our hearts.”