The Original Gallo del País, Tego Calderón
Jiggiri Records, Puerto Rico
by Carlos Reyes
Heavy metal drummer turned rap star legend Tego Calderón should be headlining every music festival in Latin America. Unfortunately, our “cultural” fests aren’t nearly as progressive or diversified as they're made out to be. But enough with the whining. That is the last thing Tego would want us to do. It’s been five long years since El Abayarde Contra-Ataca hit the shelves, and it seems unlikely El Que Sabe, Sabe will see the commercial light this year. Lucky for us, Calderon is a provider, one who has not forgotten his anxious followers. The Original Gallo del País (O.G. El Mixtape) is a transfixing 10-track mixtape that’s restrained of a linear narrative but is more than just an appetizer of what’s to come.
A euphoric rooster scream opens the mixtape at an alarming pace. Calderón’s introspective rhymes quickly blossom into the frame and, when you least expect it, the maverick pours as much multi-dimensional gestures and actions as Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Whether speaking of himself as a devoted family man or a modern “Robin Hood,” El Abayarde reinstates his class as a narrator and storyteller. On his recent appearance as a guest DJ at NPR’s Alt.Latino, Calderón pitched this set of songs as the most sincere of his career. There’s a structural freedom granted by the (often budget-less) mixtape format. Whereas most abuse that freedom, Tego approaches it with his heart on his sleeve. He won’t settle for anything nonchalant, and it shows. Promotional cut “El Sitio” is a boiling political track about the physical similarity of the “suffering face” across the globe. There’s no room for baroque fixing or traditional slanting, this is Calderón confronting the need for a macro-regimented discourse.
Not every track in O.G. El Mixtape is linked to budgets or foreclosures. Catchy track “Hablan de Mi” features Fonograma favorite Arcangel, who once again proves to be a rhythmic prodigy. The promising collaboration is only flawed by the artists’ avoidable need to make a tiraera piece (by now, neither Calderon nor Arcangel should sound as territorial). Closing track “Muralla,” featuring Puya (Puerto Rico’s heavy metal salseros) is a pantheon. Whatever fusion Omar Rodríguez-López and Calle 13 failed to craft in “Calma Pueblo” is accomplished here. The Original Gallo del País still sounds like a mixtape (a great mixtape). It struggles to find cohesion from track to track and has an overall pitchy production, but yet again, this is Calderón at his rawest–less about the goce and more about the mantra.