Tego Calderon made us wait a long time for his last album, The Underdog/El
Subestimado. But this time? Fuacata—He's hitting us with El
Abayarde Contra-Ataca just a year after his last LP dropped—at the same
time he appears in John Singleton's new movie Illegal
Tender. We caught up to the new, workaholic Tego as he ran around a video
set, chased his kids, and answered our questions—all at once:
Latina.com: The Underdog took a long time, but you completed this
album relatively fast. What's different about this one?
Tego Calderon: The last album had a lot of people on it, but this one was
simpler to make. It's a different vibe, a lot calmer.
Latina: You've said you no longer consider yourself a reggaeton artist.
Tego: I've never said I was reggaeton, I always said I was doing hip-hop in
Spanish. The first album, El Abayarde, helped that sound go international
and people called it reggaeton, but my roots are in hip-hop and that's still who
Latina: The creators of Illegal Tender created a part in the movie
just for you. Yet at first you weren't sure if you wanted to take it. Why
Tego: I was in New York and they called me like a day before they wanted to
start shooting the film. I was a little scared because I wasn't used to the
stress of making a movie. But it came out great and I am really happy with it.
Actually I am going to come out in another film soon, a comedy, which I really
liked. I play the manager of a baseball team.
Latina: In Illegal Tender, you play a thug who aspires to rule Puerto
Rico's streets. How did you prepare yourself for a role that's so different from
your real personality?
Tego: I've seen a lot of that (thug) life. Maybe when I was younger, for a
short time I wanted to be that person. I thought I wanted to look for the easy
path. Later I changed, but it was still easy for me to play that role. But, it's
not the kind of role I prefer--it's too stereotypical. I did it because I liked
the director and producer.
Latina: You pop up as a guest on so many other artists' albums. So who
returned the favor this time around?
Tego: Some of them are Calle 13, Voltio, and some new artists like Chyno
Latina: You've been an outspoken advocate for Afro-Latinos, including when
you said Afro-Latinos need a civil rights movement. Do you think racism is
different in the United States versus in the Caribbean or Latin America?
Tego: Well, I'd say yes. In the United States, it's more obvious who is your
enemy. In our countries, it's more subtle yet more (pervasive).
Latina: We often hear now in the U.S. that there's a growing black-Latino
divide. Having worked with African-American hip-hop artists, what's your take on
Tego: Obviously a lot of Latinos have African blood. But now we are getting
to be so many here in the United States that maybe the African-Americans feel
displaced. We're seen as the competition. It's the same thing that happens in
Puerto Rico with the Dominicans who have come there, that people view them as a
threat or competition. I would like to see all of that change and relations get
Latina: Speaking of civil rights, what do you think of Barack Obama's
presidential race? Do you think we could see the first black president
Tego: Even though as a Puerto Rican I can't vote, I would say I like Hillary.
I think it's very important for Latinos to vote now, if they have that right,
because for every Latino who can vote there are a lot who can't. Those with the
right need to make our voice heard.
Latina: Did you hear Obama's reggaeton campaign song?
Tego: No, I didn't hear that. But he doesn't inspire confidence in me.
Latina: Critics are already calling reggaeton dead. What do you
Tego: It's true there are a lot of bad vibes, a lot of animosity against us.
People have the right to say what they want. But to me it's just like years ago
when critics were saying hip-hop was a fad that would die out fast. It's still
around and we will be too.
Latina: For the documentary Bling, you visited African countries
affected by the bloody diamond trade. How did that experience affect you?
Tego: I can't tell other people what to do, but I don't use diamonds anymore
and I feel good about that. My experience in Africa affected this album a
I saw so many atrocities there that it made me value everything I have much
more. The first song I put on this album, Alegria, is about
that--appreciating everything that I have.
Latina: Are you involved in other social causes?
Tego: I always help different causes but I don't like to do it in front of
the camera. If you want to give, it's shouldn't be to make a public theater of
it. I'm always involved in community causes, but I like to keep it quiet.