“There was the feeling that a lot of people left the island,” said Candy Cintron, the program director for Spanish-language radio station El Zol in Washington. The song “has given people hope.”
“Calma” has become a global hit, appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping several countries’ charts. It has been played on El Zol 2,531 times (and counting) since Oct. 30, 2018. And now it’s being used as a specific kind of anthem: the unofficial celebration song for the Washington Nationals baseball team.
Overjoyed Nats players have celebrated their recent big postseason wins by spraying beer and champagne while singing and dancing to the tune. Videos of the festivities have gone viral online (boosted at first by Washington City Paper reporter Kelyn Soong). At the center of several of them: second baseman Brian Dozier, a white man with a Mississippi accent, who often offers a slight twerk as he recites the Spanish lyrics.
Dozier decided to learn Spanish after he saw how much his best friend and former teammate, Eduardo Escobar of Venezuela, struggled with English. “A way for me to learn more Spanish and interact is through music, Spanish songs,” Dozier said. “We have some Latinos obviously on the team, and so they let me know the number ones out and stuff, the best songs to dance to listen to. And so I just go and try to learn it, and you learn words through that way.”
Pitcher Aníbal Sánchez introduced Dozier to “Calma” during a plane ride, and throughout the year, Nationals players have posted videos on their Instagram stories that show Dozier cutting loose and singing along to it at parties and while traveling.
The “Calma” and reggaeton postgame celebrations started with players like outfielder Gerardo Parra, who controls the clubhouse playlist, infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera and Dozier. “The Latino players brought that energy, and we liked it and kept doing it,” center fielder Victor Robles said in Spanish. Now the team has a routine, playing “Calma” whenever they win.
“It’s a type of music, you know, of a lot of movement,” Robles added. “That’s why we like to listen to reggaeton, because it energizes us.”
The reggaeton song allows you to dance and have a good time, pitcher Roenis Elías said in Spanish. “Even non-Latinos are now dancing and enjoying it. Since they see we like it, I think they feel the same way. … We’re a family, and we’re all trying to do the same thing.”
Players who can’t sing along with Farruko and Capó appreciate the party vibe. “I don’t really know what they’re saying, but I love the energy, and it gets everybody in the clubhouse going, gets everybody dancing,” pitcher Sean Doolittle said. “I think we’re lucky to have guys like Parra, Aníbal [Sanchez], Fernando [Rodney], these guys that have come here and changed the culture in the clubhouse and got a lot of guys in here to kind of loosen up and play the game with a little bit more fun, to be honest.”
Videos showing players of many backgrounds — Dominican, Venezuelan, Cuban, North American — partying to the track have become so popular that the Nationals’ official social media accounts have been posting “Calma”-related content. A photo of a “Calma” celebration graced the front page of The Washington Post’s sports section after the team clinched a spot in the World Series, which starts Tuesday night. Capó has been enthusiastically tweeting about the team, as well.
The popularity and vibe of the song, Cintron said, “ranks up with there with ‘Despacito,’ ” the popular track by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee that became a worldwide sensation in 2017 after Justin Bieber jumped on a remix. But whereas the viral video of Dozier singing “Calma” in a clubhouse shows off his linguistic prowess, the viral video of Bieber singing ‘Despacito’ in a club doesn’t demonstrate a similar command of Spanish. “I don’t know the words, so I say 'Dorito,” Bieber sings, then adds, “Abba Abba Abba.”
Dozier used to dance a lot with Escobar when they both played for the Minnesota Twins (their signature handshake was a dance). “I just think it’s something for an American to dance to Latin songs, just because a lot of people don’t even know what they’re saying,” Dozier said. “Reggaeton is a very, I guess, flowing-and-moving-of-the-hips type of genre.”
In some ways, “Calma” serves as an odd choice for a postgame celebration song. It doesn’t have a hard-core, intense beat. But its laid-back vibe and slow energy provide a nice release valve for the pressure built up over needing a win. “Vamos pa’ la playa,” goes the chorus, “Pa’ curarte el alma.” (“Let’s go to the beach, to cure your soul.”)
“For the Washington Nationals, they’re having a good time while they’re playing, and they’re definitely taking the song to heart, because it’s like, easy does it,” Cintron said.
The original “Calma” remix (Alicia Keys has one, too) turned into Capó’s first Billboard Hot 100 hit, peaking at No. 71 in May, and the music video has amassed 1.6 billion YouTube views. On El Zol, “Calma” became especially popular in January. “Somehow it spoke to our people, our listeners. I guess it just makes them feel a little warmer,” Cintron said. Now it’s played no fewer than five times a day. “It’s a song that, a year later, I cannot take off from my playlist.”
Capó explained that nostalgia helped inspire the song. “We were trying to re-create this familiar scene [in Puerto Rico] where we go to the beach, disconnect and be present,” Capó told Billboard in June. After the singer released the original version, reggaeton artist Farruko direct-messaged the singer on Instagram, telling Capó how much he connected with the song as a fellow Puerto Rican.
In the remix, Farruko references “Despacito” and raps about beach-hopping and the warmth of the Puerto Rican sun. “What he put in the song was his true feelings,” Capó said. “I feel that his honesty and the way that he opened up, almost vulnerable, and connected with the song has a lot to do with [its success]."
Cintron, who hails from Puerto Rico, first heard “Calma” during a trip there last year. Since then, she witnessed hundreds of thousands of fans at a massive music festival in Chile — “a world away” from Puerto Rico — join Capó in singing a joyful song about her home island.
“It was a lot with Maria: not being able to get in touch with your family or your cousins for three weeks, and all we could do is run around and get water and all these different things to send to Puerto Rico,” Cintron said, holding back tears. And now, “to see the Nationals bring another life to the song, it’s pretty emotional for me.”