Puerto Rican singer iLe (Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar) has never shied away from speaking up. Gaining notoriety as a young singer with her brothers Rene and Eduardo in the hugely popular Puerto Rican group Calle 13, iLe struck out on her own in 2016 with the album iLevitable. With the release of her second album, Almadura, the message is clear: Puerto Rico is strong and its people should be in charge of their own destiny. Tapping into the Afro-Carribean rhythm of the island, Almadura is a combination of traditional sounds paired with lyrics about the social and political situation in Puerto Rico.
Almadura is defiant and it is immediately obvious that this musical history filled with bomba, mambo, boleros, rumba is for her fellow Puerto Ricans. iLe says her people “are finally being their true selves” after Hurricane Maria, the #RickyRenuncia protests, and earthquakes that just won’t quit.
Written before, during, and after Hurricane Maria, iLe says that she wanted to express her frustration by transforming the familiar pulse of the Carribean with her lyrics. “I was very angry at the time when I was making the album,” she told HipLatina.
“The important thing we learned from Maria is that everything was more messed up than we thought it was. But I’ve always known that. I believe in Puerto Rico. I want Puerto Rico to be an independent country. I don’t believe in the colonial status we are in, I don’t want Puerto Rico to be a state. I know it takes time but in the end, it’s up to us to realize where we’re at. And that’s why the moment we are in now is so important because we needed to start somewhere. And I think Maria was that start and we finally noticed there is something wrong and we need to do something about this. No one is going to do anything about this we’re on our own.”
After so much loss in Puerto Rico, it’s easy to see where the anger comes from, but anger is just the tip of the iceberg. At the core, Almadura is an expression of grief and sadness left by colonialism and its legacy that continues on as a legal limbo between PR and the US. But iLe says it’s about how you use the anger and emotion that matters. Overall she describes the writing process as therapeutic.
“It’s ok to try to find ways to understand and express that anger. It depends on how you manage that anger. And it’s important to acknowledge it because sometimes we ignore emotion too much to the point where it gets out of control and we don’t know what is actually happening. That’s why I always recommend that my friends and everyone write everything down. It doesn’t have to be for anyone, it can just be for yourself to try to find ways to understand your feelings.”
When it comes down to it Puerto Ricans are making their voices heard and navigating backward through the lies of US superiority they’ve been fed for decades. Now with the discovery of warehouses full of aid that was never distributed during Maria, the people are back in the streets protesting. And it seems like it’s not going to end until there is real structural change. “We cannot permit bad things to go on. We have to do something about it. It doesn’t matter what it takes and we’re finally realizing it.”