iLe: Songs Against Power | Translation
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Translated by Nick Perkins
[Daniel Alarcón]: Hello, ambulantes. I’m Daniel Alarcon.
[Silvia Viñas]: I’m Silvia Viñas.
[Eliezer Budasoff]: And I am Eliezer Budasoff.
[Daniel Alarcón]: This week we want to present you a special episode from our other podcast, El hilo. It is a conversation with the Puerto Rican singer and songwriter, iLe. It’s about the power of music to translate reality and address topics like colonialism, power abuse, feminism and intimacy. In other words, it is about how music can help us stop being indifferent to what is happening around us.
The conversation was recorded live at the Hay Festival in Cartagena on January 27, 2023. If you like it, don’t forget to check El hilo every Friday on your favorite podcast app. Here is the episode.
[Eliezer]: We’re going to start in July 2019.
[Archive Audio]: A people, united, will never be defeated. Resign! Resign!
[Eliezer]: For almost two weeks, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans on the island, and in the diaspora, took to the streets to demand the resignation of governor Ricardo Rosselló.
[Silvia]: The spark was the publication of almost 900 pages of Telegram chats between governor Rosselló and 11 other people. Some of them were members of his cabinet and others were close aides. All of them were men.
[Ricardo Roselló]: I used that chat to blow off steam after 18-hour days, sometimes with no vacation days, and receiving what I knew were unfounded attacks.
[Eliezer]: The messages are full of insults, swearing, and misogynistic and homophobic comments about opposition politicians. But for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a comment made by one of the governor’s closest advisors, the person in charge of Puerto Rico’s finances.
[Silvia]: He made a joke about the backlog of corpses at the Institute of Forensic Science during and after hurricane María. The message said, “Don’t we have some corpses we can feed to our crows?”
[Eliezer]: The underlying causes of the protests went much deeper, of course. The chats were just what sparked them off. The protests were a response to decades of apathy, mismanagement, corruption scandals, service cuts, school closures, and an economic crisis that had lasted over ten years. Basically, people took to the streets that summer because they had had enough.
[Silvia]: And a lot of artists joined the protests, alongside activists, teachers, union leaders, students and families.
[Reporter]: At the head of the march, as usual, there are top-class, world-famous artists like Ricky Martin, Residente, or Bad Bunny, who have become spokespeople for the protesters’ anger.
[Eliezer]: On the night of July 17th, our guest today, iLe, was among the thousands of people marching through old San Juan. In the middle of the protest, she did this:
iLe singing the revolutionary anthem.
[Eliezer]: iLe, tell us about what you were singing, and about what you remember about that moment.
[iLe]: Well, I’m singing the Puerto Rican national anthem. But it’s seen as a revolutionary national anthem because I think the one we have, the national anthem that everyone knows, is a submissive national anthem. But this one was actually our original national anthem. It was the first one that was written. It was composed by Lola Rodríguez de Tío, a Puerto Rican poet, but it was canceled for being too revolutionary for a country as colonized as Puerto Rico is. So, we had to make the national anthem we have now, the one that talks about Christopher Columbus and other stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with Puerto Rico. But, sadly, that’s our current reality.
[Silvia]: What do you remember about standing there, singing a cappella, in front of all those people?
[iLe]: It was super exciting, you know, a historic moment. I mean, we’d had large protests in Puerto Rico before, but this one was, I don’t know… It was very exciting for a lot of people, and it was also new. It was new for us. It was like a mix of all the anger and everything else we were feeling, and at the same time, “What’s going on? This is a dream!” It felt like our dream was coming true. And more than anything, it was beautiful to feel that togetherness, that closeness where political divisions broke down and we were just, like, at one.
[Silvia]: I read an article by Ana Teresa Toro, a Puerto Rican writer and journalist that we admire a lot. In her article, she says that, before you started singing, your brother, Residente, asked you whether you were sure. Why? Why would he ask you that?
[iLe]: Well, everyone, at least everyone in Puerto Rico who knows us, knows that we want an independent Puerto Rico. And obviously, the majority of people in Puerto Rico, or what I believe to be a majority, I don’t know, want Puerto Rico to be a state. But I think it’s got a lot to do with misinformation. We’re still not clear about what either of these concepts would mean. So René asked me to avoid confusion, you know, because in the moment people can confuse things and they might say, “Right. Now she wants to make it about independence.” But the truth is that I told him, I said, “Brother, you know, the people are singing it.” I mean, it was me who was surprised, because I went out and I heard people signing the revolutionary anthem. And in that moment, it was our only tool. It was the only song that represented the moment we were living in. It was like, sometimes we sing Preciosa, that’s another one, my grandmother used to call it patriotic orgasms! And it’s a beautiful, marvelous song, but it’s not crude, it’s not direct. It’s like it’s still a bit scared, and so, you know, in that moment I think we were looking for something more convincing, bloodier… Not violent. Bloody. It’s not the same.
[Eliezer]: iLe, your first album came out three years before the protests started in Puerto Rico, and your second album, Alma Dura, about two months before, right? It’s got a certain political outlook, a feminist outlook, and we want to ask whether, when you sang Borinqueña during the protest, that could somehow be the moment when something came together that you’d been developing since your adolescence, as a musician, a citizen and an artist.
[iLe]: In a way, you know, yes. It could be. At home –we’re a big family– I remember that social and political questions were always present in some form, and most of my family believe in independence. But also, my paternal grandfather believed in statehood, if you can believe it! But I also remember having the freedom to ask my own questions. Because there was a moment in my adolescence when I said, “Hang on. Do I really believe in independence? Or am I just repeating a pattern, because my family believe in it?” And that really happens a lot in Puerto Rico. A lot of people follow a certain party simply because their families do. And some people, not many, but some people who come from a statehood background start believing in independence. And it’s precisely because they had an opportunity, like I did, to truly study, analyze and ask myself whether I shared that sentiment. And I did. I really did. I mean, it’s all wrapped up in a lot of emotions that I try to manage and control because I get really frustrated, I feel really impotent. Not just the situation, the political reality we’re living in, but I also think that us Puerto Ricans, I don’t know, I feel like we resign ourselves a little to everything. We resign ourselves to poverty, humiliation and abuse. It’s like we got used to it, and that’s that. So that’s why moments like these are so exciting. It’s like, “Yes! This is who we truly are!” It’s like we’re actually a country that fights. I mean, you’d imagine that we’d be speaking English by now, after everything that’s happened. But we’re still here. Our identity is still here, you know, in the way we communicate. Of course, we’ve been fighting and it’s been harsh, but we’re still here, standing firm.
[Silvia]: Now we want to talk a bit about your musical journey before those protests. Way before. In your childhood, what role did music play in your family?
[iLe]: There was loads of music. Loads of music. I’m the baby of the house we grew up in, and one of my brothers says that I’m a sponge, because I absorbed all that musical library, and everyone’s changing tastes, you know? At home there was my dad’s music, my mum’s music: trova, salsa, bolero, rock. One of my brothers was into heavy metal for a while as well. And there was rap and reggae. And I also listed to, like, NSYNC, Britney Spears and all those American things, and whatever… So, while we listened to one thing at home, I had my space, my room with my music. But when I opened my door, I heard a whole load of other music that I also enjoyed. So, yes, it was a very musical home.
[Eliezer]: And how did you start working with your brothers? And what impact did that have on your career?
[iLe]: It really had an impact on the whole family. I remember back then Eduardo had a reggae and ska band called Bayanga and René was studying at Sabana. I remember that he was always in his room, writing. It was like a hobby. But he was really wrapped up in his work back then, in animation. I remember that he also loved the movies. It was always those things. So, I was in school choirs, but I started playing the piano when I was 7 or 8 years old. And for me… I always knew that I’d get involved in music. That was always clear to me. But when I found the piano, I was like, “That’s it! This is my path,” because it was serious. I had to learn everything. I practiced. For me singing was more of a hobby, and that made it more fun. And when I was about 16, whatever, I always tell this story, René came to pick me up from school one day without telling me, and I knew he wanted something because, “You? Voluntarily picking me up from school? No! What do you want?” And so, whatever, he walked along with me, and he showed me a chorus and said, “Sing it!” Because I liked to imitate a lot. That’s why I didn’t take it so seriously, because I imitated loads of voices and I enjoyed, you know, “Ah! Listen to how it sounds.” And it made me happy.
Anyway, he showed me the chorus and said, “Sing it like La Lupe,” because back then I was all about La Lupe. So, I sang it. “Now sing it like whatever…” and I imitated, and I sang it. “Now, sing it like you.” And I was like, “I don’t know. What do you mean ‘like me’? I don’t know. I don’t know how. I don’t understand.” All the way, he hardly said anything to me, all the way to my brother Eduardo’s mum’s house. And it turned out to be the chorus of La Aguacatona. And, I mean, it was basically right there in the closet – I don’t know how you say closet in Spanish – one of those old colonial ones. And so we started to record the demo. But it was like, “Look, do it! Sing it like this!” And I was like, “Damn! What do you mean like this, with no warning?” And in that moment, I started to let it flow. I always say that my female reference point was Ivy Queen; she was really like the only one, you know? So, I said: “Oh, God! Wait a second.” Whatever. And then I tried to let it flow that way, and that was when that song was born. Honestly, we basically just let it flow like that. Because obviously I liked it, I mean, it was cool, we were having a good time. But we never thought it was going to become what it did, ever. That was a surprise for everyone.
[Silvia]: And when did you realize, or when did you decide to do something solo, independent, as a solo artist? What made you do that?
[iLe]: Well, I always say that from day one, from when Calle 13 started, René, mostly René but also Eduardo, always said that I would have a project, that I would make a record. And I was like, “Look. Enough. I know I’m your little sister, but it’s not a big deal. I mean, stop telling me that I’m going to make a record, because I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m 16 years old. Wait a second. Let me process this. I don’t know what’s going on!” But whatever, I really wanted, you know, not to feel the pressure of them telling me what to do. I wanted to see whether I really liked it. Because this world, the music industry, is really overwhelming. It’s confusing, and it can give you false illusions. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to go along with how I was feeling. The truth is that I was enjoying it more all the time, but I knew that I needed that experience. I needed to process it. I needed to refine myself, to develop my voice, loads of stuff. And so, whatever, I flowed along with the group. And then all of a sudden it had been 10 years, and that was it. One thing led to another, and that was when I felt it. I said, “Let me start letting go. Let me see how I feel. And if I release a record, great. If I don’t, I’ll work out what to do.” And so, iLevitable was born.
[Eliezer]: And when you finally decided what you were going to do, that you were going to go solo, where did you start, where did you look and how did you decide what you wanted to sing?
[iLe]: Well, in my adolescence, especially when I transitioned away from Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and all that, it was my dad who introduced me to La Lupe, to La Lupe’s music. And it was really, really powerful for me. It was… I don’t know, in that moment it was like those songs that were so heartbreaking, so passionate, sung with so much rawness and so much energy, they really captivated me. And I also remember my dad telling me that one of her really famous songs – it’s called La Gran Tirana, La Tirana – was originally written for a man. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but La Lupe ended up singing it. And to me it was clear, I mean, she had to sing it. It’s so much stronger, like it means so much more. So I started to fall in love with bolero. And I loved her attitude, the determination and strength she had when she sang. And at Calle 13’s first huge concert at the Coliseo in Puerto Rico, I sang Puro Teatro live, and it made all the sense in the world to me. I loved bolero so much, and it had become super important to me… And I was clear that although I was with Calle 13, and I loved all of that, I was a total fanatic, I knew what I wanted to do when it was my time, you know? And when it was my time, I wanted to explore bolero, its orchestral arrangements and that side of things, I don’t know, that musical richness that’s also part of our Boricua [Puerto Rican] musical past.
[Silvia]: You mentioned Ivy Queen. What artists did you see as a point of reference back then? Not just musically, but also the way they built their identity and their place in the industry.
[iLe]: Well, the truth is that I listen to a lot of music from the past, so, sadly, most of them are already dead. All of my role models. But when I started listening to La Lupe, at the same time my dad taught me… he gave me a record of female Cuban singers that I also loved. I was used to listening to so much salsa, so much bolero by men, that I also loved. Ismael Rivera fascinates me, Cheo Feliciano, Gilberto Monroy. There are loads of male voices that I love and I listen to all the time. But at that moment I needed another… another voice, I don’t know, another mentality, something else. So I started listening to female bolero singers: Celeste Mendoza, Blanca Rosa Gil, Elena Burke and a lot of other powerful singers. And I was like, “Wow!” And I definitely admired them a lot, especially the way they made the songs their own. At that time, I was also studying and searching for different versions of the same song. Like, “This version!” Or “This person really sings it like it’s their own!”
[Eliezer]: There’s a video taken from a short documentary of the making of your first record, iLevitable, in which a musician says this beautiful phrase: “The past is always in the studio and in Ileana’s arrangements.” And we asked ourselves about this idea of your roots taking over the recording process. They’re everywhere, right? They’re always visible. Do you believe that the record can be seen as an exploration of what’s inside, but also of the past, as if it’s a recognition of each bit from each place that makes you who you are?
[iLe]: I think I was very aware of that. I mean, I try to be aware of that fact that, although I’m fanatical about music from the past, and I feel like it’s a part of who I am and I identify with it, I’m clear that I live in a different time. I live in the present, and I wanted to try combining both things. So, especially on this record, on iLevitable, I said, “OK. I want an orchestra. I mean, I know that I want a lot of instrumentation.” I wanted… on some of them I wanted to go totally classical. So there were also my grandmother’s songs, some of them written in ‘55, others in the 60s, and it was like a different energy. But to me, my grandmother was well ahead of her times. She was a person who didn’t submit to her relationships. Her will was very strong. But that was a good thing, because when she felt that something was a no, it was like… Although she put up with a lot, because sadly she did suffer, at the same time she let it go, and she was like, “No. I’m not going to…” Sometimes we get used to seeing older couples who’ve been together for years, but in a super toxic pattern, or super abusive, and, “Oh. What a lovely old man,” but they shout uncontrollably at each other. So I wanted to express that a bit from another perspective, because a thing that happens to me listening to boleros is that I say, “Ay, nearly! It almost says what it really wanted to say.” It’s like it’s all very poetic. So, I wanted to go further, like saying, “Great. But now I want to say it like this.” Like, “Now I don’t care.” So I tried to achieve a combination that sounded very classical, but the lyrics, the message and how they’re transmitted are more direct.
[Silvia]: We’ll be right back with iLe after this short break.
[Silvia]: Now, your first record, iLevitable, won a Grammy in 2017. Two years later, your second record, Alma Dura, came out, and it’s like a shift from inside to outside. You say things to the world and about the world, and it’s incredible that this record came out two months before you blew everything up in Puerto Rico that summer, right? The first single you released before the album was Odio. It tells the story of the young pro-independence campaigners who were assassinated at Cerro Maravilla.
[Silvia]: So, do you think the sense of frustration that led to the social unrest that summer in Puerto Rico was already in the air when you were composing? Did you think about that coincidence during the protests?
[iLe]: A lot of people said that to me. I think that Puerto Rico has always been in a critical situation, that constant battle against colonialism. And obviously I wrote that song, Odio, thinking about a broader theme, like the fact that hate is everywhere. But yes, when it was time to make the video, I think that although my record Alma Dura could connect with the situation in other countries, as a Puerto Rican, yes, it is very rooted in the Boricua [Puerto Rican] reality. And so, when we were working on the video, it was important to me to show the reality of what goes on in Puerto Rico – I know that there are new generations that don’t even know this happened – and at the same time to reactivate, I don’t know, the memory, as if this really important event in our history was right in front of you. I think it was the first televised case. It happened in the 70s, but the case wasn’t dealt with until ’83, I think it was. So it was the first televised case, and it was a historic moment. Everyone was sitting in front of the TV watching the case. But I know that there are new generations that don’t know what happened. Even me. I was born after that. Obviously, I know about it because of my family, but I know there are a lot of people in my generation that weren’t told about those events, because it’s better, you know, to hide them away in silence. So it was important to me to capture in this video, you know, a representation of the hate that was present in that sad situation.
[Eliezer]: And thinking about something that you say really directly, the same day that you sang the revolutionary anthem a cappella, you also released Afilando los Cuchillos with Residente and Bad Bunny.
“Afilando los Cuchillos”.
[Eliezer]: How did that collaboration come together, and how did you get it out so fast? Because it was just days after the protests started.
[iLe]: Yes, some had started, I think, or… I don’t remember. But things felt like… Hmm… I remember I was playing in New York when I heard about the chat, and it was like… Ah. No. First they arrested six people. Before the chat. They arrested six people, and I was like, “Fuck you!” Because they were kind of important people, among people like that, important government people. Quote-unquote important, you know? It was like, “Wow!” And right after that, the chat happened and it started getting bigger and bigger. It just snowballed. And so, the protests started in Puerto Rico, I think, and René called me and he said, “Look, we’re making a song,” and so on. And I was like, “Go for it.” And he said… He didn’t really say much. I hadn’t heard his part or Benito’s part, or anything. But he said… I think he only told me about the knives. So I didn’t have any point of reference, but obviously, I mean, the three of us had the energy. It was like, “Arrrgh.” And that was it. I started working out how it would be, I did the chorus, and he was like, “Go for it.” And I heard the whole song. But it was exciting, because suddenly everyone on the street was listening to it, and it accompanied the revolutionary anthem, and everyone was pumped up listening to that song. That was beautiful.
[Silvia]: So, after days of marches, Roselló resigned. What did that mean to you? [Laughter] You’re already answering the question, but what did that moment mean to you? And, in general, all the social commotion that summer?
[iLe]: Well, it meant a lot. Because Ricardo Rosselló is also the son of Pedro Rosselló, who was another super corrupt governor of Puerto Rico. So, it was like, “Wow!” And his whole personality as well. There are rumors about stuff Ricardo Rosselló did when he was young. Stuff people were saying. Supposedly when Pedro Rosselló passed away, he spread poop, or something like that, around the house. There are loads of stories that I don’t know whether they’re true or not, but like, yes. He was like a spoiled child who thought nothing bad would ever happen to him, that he had everything under control. He tried, he tried to come out on top, but he couldn’t. And I think it had to do with a lot of things, like we were super creative when it came to the protests. There was a bus drivers’ protest, a motorcycle protest, a twerking protest. There were loads of themed protests that motivated us to stay out there. It was like, “Nothing you can do will make us leave. We’re going to stay here until you fuck off!” So, it was super exciting to have achieved a moment like that. And then… Well, we went back, back to the same toxic pattern. But we’re… we’re working on it. We’re working on it.
[Eliezer]: We wanted to ask you about that. The reality was that the protests in Puerto Rico were accompanied by a whole series of protests. The continent seemed to go up in flames everywhere at the same time, for different reasons, but everywhere, all at once. And then, seven months later, the pandemic started.
[Journalist]: The threat of COVID-19 creates ghost towns in Colombia.
[Alberto Fernández]: You must adhere to preventative and obligatory social distancing. No one can leave their home.
[Host]: Without doubt, we have to give credit to governor Wanda Vasquez for being the first governor in the United States to impose a curfew. An extreme but necessary measure.
[Eliezer]: In many countries these measures extinguished the social uprisings we’ve been talking about. But how did the lockdown affect your creative process? Had you already planned to focus on writing a new record, or was it your way of channeling the lockdown?
[iLe]: I mean, I always try to keep myself busy, you know? Composing and all that. But, without doubt, between the protests that year, and the Puerto Rican elections the year after the protests, plus the pandemic, it was like a combination of things, I don’t know, really intense things, that really unfocused me when it came to writing. So it was hard work for me, hard work, that last record. But in the end, whatever, I gave it time. I don’t like forcing things, so I don’t like writing something if my mind, my heart, is somewhere else. So I prefer to let go of what I’m feeling, and then the songs started emerging little by little.
[Silvia]: So this third record, Nacarile… As you said, it was born out of these dark and uncertain times. But it’s not a record about the pandemic, obviously. It’s an album that touches on many themes, like intimacy, but it’s also political, right? It’s feminist. So my first question is very basic: What does Nacarile mean?
[iLe]: Nacarile is an expression we use in Puerto Rico, and maybe in other places. The complete phrase is “Nacarile del Oriente,” and we use it a lot to say “no”. It’s a “no” with a lot of attitude. Or like, “Did you find it?” “Nacarile.” Like, “No, it wasn’t there.” Sometimes we say, “naki naki.” We shorten it. But it’s like a “no” with a lot of attitude. To me, it’s a motivational “no”!
[Silvia]: Right. Now we want to ask you about the song you did with Ivy Queen, called Algo Bonito.
[Silvia]: We love it! What inspired you to write that song? Because it’s hardcore!
[iLe]: Yeah! It started out as a combative song, and I sort of perfected it little by little. And my brother, Gabriel, had said, “It’d be cool if you did something with Ivy Queen.” And I was like, “Damn! Yes. But I don’t know whether she’ll hit it off with me. I don’t see how.” I always think the worst. So, whatever, I carried on working on the song and visualizing her in the song, and it became… I mean, I wanted it to be angry, to have that energy, and when I started to imagine her, it got even more furious. I wanted it to feel like that, really direct, but with a certain calmness at the same time. Because the chorus, I mean, yes, it plays a bit with redefining what us women find beautiful, because, you know, it’s like the patriarchy imposes even those things on us. So, that side of the song is a bit calmer, but it makes you question things at the same time. It’s almost confrontational, like, “Tell me something beautiful,” but confrontational. So having her there was super incredible. I couldn’t… I also loved feeling her pumped-up about the song. She was intrigued, and she was like, “Wow. I love it!” So, super exciting having her there as a star, but more than anything, as a female voice.
[Eliezer]: And talking about the patriarchy, there’s another song you did with the Chilean Mon Laferte, called Traguito.
[Eliezer]: Nacarile has more collaborations that any other album you’ve released. Collaborating with other artists has been a constant throughout your work. And sometimes it gives the impression that it marks this age. It’s like the new generations of artists work much more collaboratively. They admire each other publicly, openly. They influence each other. They invite each other to do things. Do you think it’s like that, or…?
[iLe]: I’m not sure. There’s a bit of everything, I think. But yes, I think we’re opening up more all the time now. I can be, like, really shy about those things. And, in fact, when I met Mon Laferte, it was because she came up to me. She already knew about me. I was promoting my first record, and I was like, “Thank you!” It was like super unusual for me. I don’t know. I find it hard to open up, you know, so it was great that we’d already met each other, and we’d seen each other a few times. I felt a little more relaxed, you know, about inviting her, because it’s a huge process for me, although it’s not like that for everyone. Just imagine, in reggaeton nowadays everyone works with everyone else. I don’t know. I’m more, I don’t know… I start overprotecting what’s mine and, you know, whatever… But this record taught me a lot, especially because there are voices that I admire, and it was the right time to experiment with not having to do everything myself, to let myself go, to let myself open up, like, to imagine other voices, other colors. So it was a really beautiful experience to give myself that opportunity. I’m super thankful.
[Silvia]: Well, we asked you earlier about your influences, your points of reference, when you started your solo career. Whom do you listen to now? Who inspires you?
[iLe]: Oh God! I don’t know. I’m always… I find it hard to choose these things. But, I mean, if I think about things that are playing now, I love Villana Antillano, a Puerto Rican whose work I admire a lot. We also connect through that angry side, wanting to say things as they are, convincingly, direct, and we don’t care! And, in English, I love Lizzo. I think she’s got a huge voice, and she’s also a really well-balanced person. I think she’s got a super powerful message and, I don’t know, I think people like that always captivate me, you know, it’s like they’re giving me something more. In spite of how amazing they are on stage, their talent and all that, I also identify with them. It’s like there’s a shared human side that I think is important, because there’s too much glamour, too much social pressure, too many things that aren’t real on social media, and it’s confusing for all of us there watching, you know, and they’re toxic. So, when you suddenly find another type of conversation, like something more, I don’t know, a more realistic space, I like it!
[Eliezer]: iLe, to end things, we’d like to ask you about the way you work with reality. Something that seems to have remained intact from when you started your solo career until now is that everything that happens around you influences you. You feed off it. You feed off the past, but you manage to keep your inner self intact, right? In fact, you just told us that you always try to let things flow. So, how do you avoid the obligation to have to prove yourself? Firstly, because you’re Calle 13’s little sister, then for whatever reason. How do you avoid letting that recognition, or the expectations of others, stain, as it were, your inner self?
[iLe]: There’s a psychological process I have to go through all the time. Because, of course, very often you see something you don’t understand, and this industry is super confusing. There’s a lot of stuff that makes no sense about how things work. But for me, it’s important to always be as mentally healthy as I can be, and stay focused on what I’m doing, on my work, on my personal satisfaction as well, and on not letting anything external take away my hunger and desire to continue, because that can happen. There are people who get frustrated because of that. I always say that the Grammys don’t matter. We can’t work and make music and art to win prizes. That makes no sense. This isn’t a competition, just the opposite. It’s a way of connecting, of feeling less alone, of feeling accompanied, of showing solidarity, empathizing through art. I think that’s exactly why I do what I do, because I love feeling that connection, and I need it. And when I’m working on a song, it’s like therapy for me, because I’m also carefully working on my own things, and how I perceive things. I think this is necessary, because all the time more things emerge that want to distance us from each other, that want to separate us, that want to, you know, make… to normalize violence, to normalize loads of things that separate us from reality itself, and from our most human side that I think it’s the complete opposite. It’s supportive, its emotive, it’s sad, it’s happy. I think we need to let ourselves feel all those sensations, emotions, and not let other things dictate what to do with our lives.
[Silvia]: iLe, thank you very much for being with us for this special episode of El hilo that we’re recording here at the Hay Festival in Cartagena.
[iLe]: Thank you!
[Silvia]: We’re going to use the 10 minutes we have left for questions from the audience. There are some microphones out there, and there are already some hands up.
[Question from the audience]: Hello. Welcome to Colombia! We love being able to participate in this special live episode of El hilo. So I was wondering: Colombia is a polarized country where, whenever artists manifest their political position, especially artists and musicians who maybe manifest a left-wing thought, they get banned by the mainstream media, right? That’s what happens in our country, unfortunately. iLe, does this happen in Puerto Rico? If an artist manifests a political position, do they get banned?
[iLe]: OK, obviously, as I was saying, that thing about the anthem is revolutionary, it is an example of that mentality, right? It’s like, I think talking about politics intimidates us, confronting it intimidates us, and as artists as well. I always say it’s super important that if you’re not going to talk about it in your songs or, I don’t know, you find it hard, at least be informed. And I think that’s a big problem, you know? Sometimes it scares us to even stay informed, you know? We’re scared of feeling like we have a political opinion. So in Puerto Rico it happens a lot in Puerto Rico, because being a colony makes us dependent. And if we feel dependent, we feel like we’re not good enough, that we need someone else, right, and we can’t do it ourselves. So I think that people’s fear of that makes them say they’re pro-statehood, you know? It’s all very confusing. And obviously, if you say anything different to that, obviously, there’s a lot of censorship and a lot of manipulation. And you see it. We were talking about this outside earlier, about how lots of people who participated in Roselló’s chat are now political analysts. So that’s where you see the disrespect and the indifference. But above all, how powerful they feel when they say that people don’t care, that no one’s going to fight for it. So, as long as no one says anything, I have the right to sit here and talk about politics, even with everything that’s happened. So I think what makes me the saddest is that part of us that lets these things happen.
[Question from the audience]: Yes. Good Afternoon. That was loud!
[iLe]: You sound awesome! You sound awesome!
[Question from the audience]: Yes. A question: I get excited when people I admire musically, artistically, take such strong positions on the real issues in their societies. But lately there’s been a constant debate on whether this is an artist’s choice or a duty. So I’d like to hear your position on this: whether people who have a voice or some kind of recognition, who are listened to by a lot of people, have a duty to talk about the problems in their societies, or it’s the artist’s decision. What do you think about this?
[iLe]: Yes. That’s kind of where I was going just now. I think they should at least know what’s going on. I think there are a lot of artists, at least thinking about Puerto Rico, that I think feel really intimidated. Not everyone knows this, but education in Puerto Rico is terrible, and it’s not just terrible, but they’re also closing schools. And also, you know, we don’t get much information, especially about politics. So I think that, once they’re adults, and even more now that the internet gives us access to all the information we have, I think it’s important and super necessary that they search for information and reach their own conclusions. I mean, when I was little, I remember when I was an adolescent, to get me more interested in history class, my dad told me that history is like gossip. And I was like: “Wow, yeah. A bit!” I was an adolescent and it captivated me to see it like that. And it’s true, because we probably don’t know everything about what’s really happening, but if enough information reaches us, we might be able to put the jigsaw puzzle together and reach our own conclusions. So I think that’s it. But being alienated and uninformed is dangerous, because that’s when they treat us like idiots.
[Eliezer]: I think we have time for one more question.
[iLe]: It’s that microphone! Oh dear!
[Question from the audience]: iLe, you were telling us about how you like, and you feel good, singing or performing from a position of anger. And I think the patriarchy has taught women to hide our anger and try to look respectable. Did you have to go through some kind of process to reconcile yourself with that, with the anger and feelings that women have always been asked to hide? Or did it just happen? Or do you feel like you left it behind through some kind of process? How was that for you?
[iLe]: Totally. I think that all women and men are unlearning a lot of things, a lot of toxic patterns in our societies. And, you know, I’m just another person who’s unlearning. And I think it’s got a lot to do with coming from a large family with many women. In my case, I haven’t suffered any, you know, any kind of physical abuse or anything like that, but some of my close family have. So you see really disturbing things, things that are hard to even talk about. And also the debates we had at school… I always used to hang out with the guys, and I liked to give them perspective and then they’d empathize a bit more with things. And now, as an adult, I’m understanding more about some things, about patterns that are so normalized that we don’t even see them, not even us women. And it’s not until we talk about them that we say, “Wow!” I was talking about that earlier. Something as simple as going to the bathroom. We always feel that we have to go with someone else. Men don’t have to deal with that. They don’t say, “Hey, come to the bathroom with me.” No!… Exactly. You laugh because you know. But to us women, it’s super normal.
And so, something as simple as what I’m telling you is a critical problem. I’m scared that someone might rape me. I’m scared that someone might kill me. I’m scared of loads of things that might happen when I just go to the bathroom to urinate. And so, that’s when you realize that the situation is serious, and that’s why it’s important to keep talking about this and keep widening the conversation. And so, to answer your question, I don’t know whether I am or not, but I think these are things we realize when we find ourselves in the middle of a problem, and we say, “Hang on. I don’t have to put up with this. Why am I doing this? Why does this scare me? What’s going on?” And that’s when you start waking up, you know, more collectively to the situation. We have to talk about this. We have to act. We have to fight. And we’re not going to stop until the patriarchy simply disappears. And it’s all men, all women, all others. There’s really a lot of work to do, but it’s collective.
[Silvia]: Thank you, iLe. A round of applause.
[iLe]: Thank you.
[Silvia]: This episode was produced by Eliezer and me. Bruno Scelza fact-checked our narration. Sound mixing was by Elías González.
The rest of the El hilo team includes Daniela Cruzat, Mariana Zúñiga, Nausícaa Palomeque, Inés Rénique, Denise Márquez, Samantha Proaño, Paola Alean, Laura Rojas Aponte, Juan David Naranjo Navarro, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Camilo Jiménez Santofimio. Daniel Alarcón is our editorial director. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO of Radio Ambulante Estudios. Our theme tune was written by Pauchi Sasaki.
El Hilo is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios and Vice News.
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I’m Silvia Viñas. Thank you for listening.