By Maria Bakkalapulo for the Miami Herald
Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar, known as iLe, was in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit. The singer and composer was unharmed, but recalls retreating, terrified, to the interior of the family home as the storm smashed into the island. Despite the devastation, she sees some reasons to be hopeful. “Even though it is a disaster here, it is beautiful to see our people working together.”
She plans to use her upcoming tour to bond with fellow Puerto Ricans in America, including Miami on November 2 at the North Beach Bandshell. As Puerto Rico works through the painful recovery process, struggling to get back on the grid, she hopes the realization of their vulnerability will mean Puerto Ricans will become more open to independence. After the Trump administration’s missteps in sending aid, and even outright blaming of the islanders themselves, tensions are high, and the emergence of a new political landscape seems possible.
iLe began performing with Calle 13 (under the name ‘PG-13’) at the age of 16, riding the colossal wave of the band’s international stardom as a dancer and rapper. When they went their separate ways in 2015, she took the opportunity to develop her own artistic style. The result was her first solo album, “iLevitable.” iLe (her new nom-de-plume) takes us on a journey through her Puerto Rican roots, interpreting and celebrating family life from a feminine perspective. A huge musical departure from her past self, she uses classic instrumentation and composition with a distinctly vintage big-band flavor, and revealing a singing voice of remarkable maturity. Latin Grammy-winning “iLevitable” is a family affair, with songs written mostly by women, including her sister, and unpublished songs by her late grandmother.
She believes there is more to Puerto Rico than reggaeton. “I started noticing that I was very passionate about our Caribbean music. I loved boleros, salsas and mambos. Music that marked a lot of our history in Puerto Rico,” espouses iLe. It has become a personal mission of hers to make sure the young generation doesn’t forget that these classic styles are very much a part of who Puerto Ricans are.She says music is a tool for her. “You try to connect with that situation and transmit that song in a way that people can feel it,” she explains. ILe hopes her enthusiasm rubs off on her fellow Puerto Ricans on others and builds confidence. “Puerto Ricans are not used to recognizing how capable we are of making the country better because we have been dominated by people who believe the country should remain dependent, people that also believe they are superior,” says iLe. “It is just like a chain of inferiority for us as a country. I don’t believe in that at all.”
22% of Puerto Ricans voted for full statehood in June referendum, around 1% for independence – the remainder did not vote, mainly due to a boycott encouraged by all the major political parties. Without a mandate for change, Puerto Rico remains in a century-old political quagmire. iLe believes Puerto Rico should be independent, and believes many are furious over the Trump administration’s slow response to providing hurricane relief. “At least one thing that gives me hope is that people start to question it all – why we are not receiving the help, that is the first step. We have never fought for our country as a majority. We are very proud of ourselves and it is almost ironic how that pride transforms into dependency in other people who don’t even want our country to be part of them.”
She hopes her music brings a little bit of Puerto Rico to fans in America who feel a sense of desperation and disconnect to what is happening on the island. “It’s nice to feel Puerto Rico even if you are not there, and also to talk about what we are going through,” says iLe. “It is something I need, as well as they do.” She will be collecting first-need items and donations at the entrance of all her US shows