Diandra’s 2019 Music Highlights
Music from the studios and the streets resounded throughout the past year, and here are some of the most interesting tracks from what I managed to hear.
Album of the year: Ile – Almadura
The video for Odio [MV], directed by her sister Milena Pérez and released as a single in the previous year, reenacts the Cerro Marravilla murders of 1978, in which a group of independence activists were infiltrated and then killed. The deaths were covered up by government officials, but the truth came out to much public outcry. Even the romantic aura of the bolero Temes [MV] contrasts with its lyrics condemning misogyny and the violence it produces. The victim character turns to asks her attacker, “Why are you scared of me?”
There is a softer and sensual side in Tu Rumba [MV] and fast percussive rhythm throughout Curandera. Ile and her team fuse rhythm, melody, and machete-sharp poetry in seamless fashion. It’s astounding how this revolutionary album honors tradition and the modern moment in its lyrics and sound; weaving together electronic and urbano influences with a knowledgeable variety of classic styles like palo dominicana and Puerto Rican bomba. Legendary salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri is featured on Déjame Decirte. His own composition for the album, A Mi Novia, was written for his late wife.
Up-and-coming pianist Julio Boria gets his own piano solo during pissed-off protest plena Ñe Ñe Ñé [here], which criticizes corruption and colonialism and asks her fellow Puerto Ricans to finally wake up to the situation.
Ile joined others in the protests that ousted then-governor Ricardo Rosselló in July. A day of work with Bad Bunny as well as Ile’s brother Residente produced Afilando los cuchillos (Sharpening the knives), a song that spoke about many of the concerns of those demonstrating.
During one night of the protests, she led the crowd in singing the original lyrics of the Puerto Rican national anthem. This version was banned (along with other patriotic displays) by the United States between 1948 and 1957, and the lyrics were changed for the official version afterward.
The protests in July and onward were fueled by chants and cacerolazos as well as bomba and plena, centuries-old Puerto Rican music and dance forms that had a history of defiance and criticism of the status quo. Reggaeton’s beats and street origins were also a perfect fit, especially in the final afternoon that saw the emergence of perreo combativo.
As Verónica Dávila and Marisol LeBrón summarize:
On July 24, Puerto Ricans made history when, after nearly two weeks of massive public protests, Ricardo Rosselló finally resigned as governor. Puerto Ricans found increasingly creative ways to gather people in the streets to demand this change. They protested on horses, motorcycles, jet skis, kayaks, yoga mats and by banging pots. Yet it was the young people dancing provocatively on the steps of the oldest cathedral in the New World to the boom-ch-boom-chick-boom-ch-boom-chick of reggaeton beats that may have finally forced Rosselló out of office.
This “perreo combativo,” as dubbed by queer, trans and non-binary youth, used perreo, reggaeton’s dance style, to create a sensuous and liberated communal space that generated political power. After Roselló’s resignation, people on social media said: “El Perreo ganó” (perreo won) and “Sin Perreo No Hay Revolución” (There’s no Revolution Without Perreo), pointing to reggaetón’s dance as the knockout blow to the corrupt governor.https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/08/01/how-music-took-down-puerto-ricos-governor/
Later, in August, Residente and Bad Bunny debuted Bellacoso [MV], a reggaeton single with positivity vibes riding on some of the messages of the protests and perreo combativo. Apparently based on the brainwaves of Bad Bunny himself, the running sample is Lotiuma’s “Ievan Polkka,” known to many via the anime Hatsune Miku.
On the song and its video:
“Filmed on one of Puerto Rico’s many idyllic beaches, dancers of all shapes, colors and gender expressions flaunt their bodies (and armpit hair) in the sunshine… “Bellacoso” is a heightened version of the word “bellaco” — which, in English, is analogous to “horny.” But when Residente sings, “Bellacoso pero sin acoso,” he tells Rolling Stone, “It’s about being horny without harassment — it’s consensual.”https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-latin/residente-bad-bunny-bellacoso-video-interview-857951/
When they performed the song on the Tonight Show, the sample was performed live by a group of Finnish musicians who also substituted for the expected dancers. The official performance video has been taken down, but there are places where it can still be seen.