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Residente Talks Globetrotting Ancestral Countries, Launching a New DNA Podcast & Rebuilding Puerto Rico

Residente
Krista Schlueter

Residente

René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente of Calle 13, spent all of last year globetrotting new terrain and tracing the links to his lineage. The culmination of such a journey, which spanned Niger, Ghana, Antigua, China, England, France, Spain, Siberia and Moscow, among other countries, was Residente’s same name album, his debut solo studio project. The 13-track opus, which received a leading nine nominations for this year’s Latin Grammys, also resulted in a book and documentary based on his travels and commissioned by Fusion Media Group.

Given our current political landscape and racial unrest, Residente is now prepping a continuation of his work with ancestry and launching a new podcast dedicated to discussing genealogical results with public figures across politics, music and entertainment. Not yet titled, the podcast aims to “compare and contrast DNA results,” while building on the concepts that “bind us, despite racial and cultural markers.”

After embarking on a world tour with stops in each of the countries Residente learned he has roots in, a pair of unprecedented natural disasters prompted the activist-rapper to return to his most immediate motherland, Puerto Rico. While Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez’s concerted effort gave rise to the Somos Una Voz relief campaign, which garnered hefty monetary donations from some of the biggest names in entertainment, René took what he had in front of him, and without so much as a single press release, took to the grounds of his native island with food, water and the monies and hands readily available to him.

 

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Billboard: What kind of work are you currently doing in Puerto Rico?

Residente: The job I’m doing is the job that a lot of people on the island are doing, and it’s simply helping those affected by the hurricane. I’m helping monetarily, and by bringing food and water to communities that need it most. I wanted to go alone, without any big coalitions or press releases, because the way I understand it is anyone who wants to help their own country, there’s no need to make an announcement of it. You just do it. That’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I’m still doing.

Where in Puerto Rico, exactly?

I went to Utuado, Puerto Rico, a town that was totally devastated by Hurricane Maria, and is far away from the main city, so it’s practically forgotten about. They needed help, so I went with all the resources that were readily available to me.

I didn’t just go to help with food and water and material goods. I went to document what was happening as it was happening on the grounds and share it via social media, so that the people could see for themselves what was going on.

Some people lost everything, all their belongings, loved ones, their homes …

Right. I’m also working on a housing program.

Yeah?

I am partnering with architects to build homes for families who lost everything, who no long have a roof over their heads. That’s in the works now, but it’s going to take some time because the politics and bureaucracy of the island might not let me bring in help. It’s been very complicated to say the least.

 

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Which families will have first dibs? How will you go about selecting who gets to live in these newly developed homes?

I’m simply going to select a town, the same way I selected Utuado. I’m going to elect to work with communities impacted most by the natural disasters, because some towns need more than others. I’m just one person planting a seed. The idea here is for others to take note and follow suit. If another person, another artist, or someone with great means can select a town and go to work with them, it would make all the difference. And there are people already doing what they can with what they have for Puerto Rico. I’m doing my part.

Why was it so important for you to trace your lineage, and to make that experience the fabric of your new album?

It was important to me because I arrived at a place [in life] where I needed something more than the music. I needed to explore another level of reality, outside the confines of the studio. I needed to connect with the people in a way that I hadn’t before. We often connect through music, [but] I wanted to be precise with what I was doing with this new album. What I mean by “precise” is if, for example, I needed vocals from Africa, I traveled to Africa and worked directly with tribal voices.

Is music no longer fulfilling?

I’m really just jaded with what’s going on in music, where you can sing about a place like New Orleans, but record the song or film its music video in Los Angeles. So I just feel like music’s lost a sense of reality and identity. I wanted to create an album where I tackled certain themes, and follow through on its authenticity by traveling to the countries I have roots in. If I talked about war, I traveled to a specific country where I could collaborate with those directly affected by the ramifications of war. That reality -- that’s what carries the album.

Back then, with the OGs of salsa, for example, when they recorded a song that was festive or about partying, they would bring in the people, they would bring in women into the studio with them to dance and join in on the experience, because that’s what they were creating, that sense of reality. The main point, for me, was to create something real around the music; to evolve the music so it can grow.

 

 

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With traveling to so many countries, ones where you have roots especially, has the concept of humanity changed for you in any way?

It’s not that it changed the concept of humanity for me more than it confirmed what I already knew: that we’re more alike than not; that we have many differences but also are the same in the grand scheme of things. It also confirmed things I imagined about the state of other countries. In Africa, for example, despite it being such a powerful continent, there are parts where people literally have to fight to survive. Africa is a place that’s been robbed of, so when I visited, I saw that in person.  

What was your greatest takeaway?

The whole experience really just taught me about the human race, what that is in its most basic sense, the fundamental principles of what it means to be human. And I’m really talking about the basics of life; the things that make us all cry and the things that make us all laugh or be happy. In that sense, we’re all very much alike.

And you plan on building on this concept with a new podcast?

It’s a continuation of my work with DNA, with tracing your lineage. I want to work with and interview other public figures, people that are wildly varied and from different walks of life, interested in finding out about their ancestral roots, so we can unpack what all of that means and bring to light not just our racial differences, but really our similarities across cultures. It’s sort of my own response to today’s political landscape and the classism and racism that’s being perpetuated, because it’s become almost like a trend.

Racism?

It’s always existed, we know that, but now it’s more visible than in prior years I think. The point of the podcast is to compare and contrast DNA results, and to build on the concepts that bind us, despite racial and cultural markers. 


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