“It’s so important to go out and protest," iLe tells People CHICA. "People believe that there is no reason to organize and hit the streets, but without protest there will be no true change.”
The idea that artists shouldn’t speak about politics is not one that Puerto Rican singer iLe entertains. As one of the most political artists from the island, creating outspoken music post–Hurricane Maria and pre–#RickyRenuncia, she is not new to this conversation. “There are many forms of being political,” she tells People CHICA. “I think it’s very important to be honest and express your emotions.”
Born Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar, iLe’s latest album, Almadura, projects the anger the singer felt after Hurricane Maria. The singer believes that mainstream media has a way of confusing the masses into believing what music should be, but to her it’s mainly about expressing life in all its dark complexities. “One thing is for you to create music and monetize it,” she explains. “Another thing is to use it for artistic purposes.” From the simplest, most superficial thought to deeper, serious meanings, it’s important to iLe that she express everything in an honest way, that it comes from the heart and reflects her true feelings.
Almadura, released in May, infuses rhythmic, diasporic music with classic bolero sounds. “The album in general explores the Afro-Caribbean roots that connect us,” she explains. “In Puerto Rico there’s one version [bomba], and throughout the Caribbean there’s Afro-diasporic music in all [genres].” You can hear this blend in her song “Curandera,” a track that’s influenced by Yoruba rhythms, West African sounds, Dominican palo and Puerto Rican plena. In her latest video, “Tu Rumba,” directed by Alejandro Pedroza, iLe embraces the Puerto Rican folkloric style bomba. “This song is not too pure, but infuses all bomba sounds,” she says.
The video, which centers around the flirtation and movement between a drummer and a dancer, is the brainchild of iLe and her creative team, which consists of her brother Gabriel and sister Milena. Growing up, music surrounded the singer, so it’s no surprise that her family is still involved. She caught the industry’s attention as a teen singing alongside her brothers and Calle 13 members, René Pérez Joglar (Residente) and Eduardo Cabra Martínez (Visitante). “It was many of us in the house,” she explains. “My mom is an actress and my dad was a musician, so there was always art. As an adult, my team is still my family. We are constantly giving one another feedback.”
It’s been alongside her brother René that she’s developed her political voice as well. When news of former governor Ricardo Rosselló’s offensive messages hit the mainstream, emotions were at an all-time high, causing thousands of Puerto Ricans to organize in days of protests. “It’s so important to go out and protest,” iLe says. “People believe that there is no reason to organize and hit the streets, but without protest there will be no true change.” The siblings, along with Bad Bunny, released “Afilando los Cuchillos,” which translates to “sharpening the knives.” The song was specifically created as a diss track toward the governor and other political figures that lied to their people. “It was a reaction to what we were all feeling,” she says. “I was in Puerto Rico, my brother René was leaving NYC to come to Puerto Rico, and Benito [Bad Bunny] was in Europe.” Though they were all in different places at the time, they shared the same sentiment. “Both came up with the initiative to write the song, and they called me to create the chorus and sing it.”
They also joined their people in protest and were photographed together in several powerful images. Today, she feels like her people have been blinded. “We’ve enabled these people to take advantage of us,” she declares. “This is a massive awakening. If it never happened, we would be in the same place [we were before].” There, surrounded by Puerto Rican Flags, the singer stood with her people, all united by one wish. “It was very emotional. I still can’t believe it’s all happening.” She’s hopeful for her island, but understands that there’s still work to be done. “It’s complex — it’s reconstruction of the country from the ground up. It will be a long process, but we are learning. We are sending the message clearer and clearer.”