iLe’s Third Studio Album “Nacarile” is a Melodic Experimentation filled with Feminist Protest Songs
Two years ago, Ileana Cabra found herself adrift, floating in an emotional abyss. The COVID-19 pandemic had just begun to radically transform the planet, and a sense of perpetual uncertainty weighed heavy on her. Those first months of quarantine warped time and space, twisting the days into a ceaseless, indistinguishable drag. iLe turned to music, seeking some form of respite.
“I felt like I was in this state of emotional madness: confused, lost. I had to let myself go without knowing what I was going to do or write. I was confused and lost, but at the same time, songs kept coming out of me. I kept writing. I kept composing.”
The result is Nacarile, her third studio album and an expansive 11-track project. It draws on iLe’s affinity for classic Latin American genres and Puerto Rican folk percussion, and even dabbles in the hip-hop she performed in her youth alongside her half-brothers in the iconic group Calle 13. But Nacarile also incorporates new genres, collaging astral synths, irreverent art pop, and prismatic melodies into iLe’s most imaginative, prescient project yet. iLe says the focus of Nacarile was melodic experimentation. Lyrically, Nacarile explores how the personal and the political intersect. There are searing feminist protest songs (“ALGO BONITO”), condemnations of colonization (“donde nadie más Respira”), and reflections on the scars of patriarchal love (“traguito”). The album includes the previously released single “donde nadie más Respira,” which arrived in 2020.
“I was completely overwhelmed by the poor handling of the pandemic, government indifference, and all this dehumanization. I felt like we were still in this political limbo in Puerto Rico.”
Here at Galore we had the immense pleasure of interviewing iLe on numerous subjects; from her influences, Grammy Awards, to the evolution of her musical compositions and her feminist critiques. We even got to know more about her work with Villano Antillano, one of the pioneers of the queer movement within the urban genre in Puerto Rico. Villano Antillano considers herself a transfemme person whose approach to music is as challenging and irreverent as she is magnetic and revolutionary. It is no wonder iLe and Villano Antillano joined forces to release the song “Mujer” on Villano’s new album “La Sustancia X”. We are honored to share the works and the profound thoughts of iLe in our latest feature interview.
Hola iLe! For those of us that dont know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How has being from Puerto Rico informed your sound?
Hola! My name is iLe and I am singer from Puerto Rico. Well, sometimes the reality of being a colonized country can bring frustration and hopelessness but I have always loved the way we release that energy and transform it into strength through rhythm, chanting and movement. It makes us closer to each other and it reminds us constantly about our own identity and that is something beautiful and definitely very inspiring for me.
You have won multiple Grammys such as; the Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album & Latin Grammy Award for Best Alternative Song. What is some advice you would give to a new artist unsure how to navigate the industry?
Just try to be centered on your real purpose and your profound love for what you want to do. Nothing in the industry is ever certain, so your music is the only thing that should make sense.
You have a gift of being a singer, composer and vocalist. As a musician you fuse together genres such as Bolero, world and urban music. Apart from synthesizing these different rhythms, how do you feel you set yourself apart from other artists?
Well, I don’t like to compare my work with other artists because everyone has their own way of expression. For me art is about connection and I feel grateful that I can expand that connection through my music. I try to understand and respect my own process, even if it changes sometimes, and enjoy what I am working on.
Tell us about your third studio album Nacarile, how has your sound evolved?
With this album in particular it was very difficult for me to keep focus in the way that I was used to. Maybe because I was feeling so dispersed and kind of all over the place it made me flow a little better with everything because I didn’t know what else to do, so I just kept going and trying to have fun with it. I think that sort of state where I was at gave a lot of flexibility to the sound of the album and also to myself.
Tell us about your new single and music video that is coming out on March 2nd, what can audiences expect?
The new single is “ALGO BONITO”, a song which I had the honor to collaborate with Ivy Queen. It is a powerful song with combative female vibes and maybe a little playfulness as well. It is an expression of anger and weariness towards the patriarchal system we still live in and how it always seeks to diminish our fight against it. The video was directed by Claudia Calderón. It has beautiful artwork and imagery that, with a minimalistic approach, gives a lot of power to the video.
What is your song writing process? What are some of your favorite effects to add to your voice (i.e. reverb, distortion, delay)?
It depends on the song and the energy at the moment but I usually try to connect with a vibe or an emotion and from there I see where it takes me. I used to not use so much effects on my voice but now I probably use reverb the most.
What was your favorite part about working with another Puerto Rican icon such as Villano Antillano on the song “Mujer” on her new album “La Sustancia X”?
I respect and admire Villana a lot. I love that she is very clear with what she wants to do and how she sends her message so just having the experience of working with her was my favorite part. I will eternally feel honored that she invited me to be a part of this album.
What does feminism mean to you? How do you incorporate your feminist beliefs in your music?
Feminism to me is a reminder of how unbalanced it still is for us as women to live in this world. There are many toxic patterns that we keep dragging throughout generations that have been normalizing violence towards women to the point where it becomes almost unnoticeable. It is important to be aware of these patterns to try to unlearn them somehow, so my way of expressing how I feel about this is through music.
What are three songs or projects you’re currently listening to that you can’t stop playing?
Muerte en Motilleja from Rodrigo Cuevas, Kaleidoscópica from Villano Antillano and Kill Bill from Sza.
If you could collaborate on a track with one of your favorite artists, who would it be?
I always daydream about how it would be to collaborate with artists that I love and admire that unfortunately are no longer with us, so I would say Ismael Rivera who was a salsa and bolero singer from Puerto Rico.
What’s one city you haven’t performed in that you look forward to performing at in the future?
Well, there might be a lot but I was going to perform in the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which I was very excited about because I was also going to celebrate my birthday, but it got canceled because of the pandemic so I hope that can happen again sometime.
You are a Taurus, do you think astrology influences your personality and artistry?
I might reflect some characteristics that are associated with my sign. Sometimes it might help me a little to try to understand better how we can channel our emotions, but I try not to categorize anyone through that although it can be funny when you connect personalities and signs. It’s something I can play around with sometimes.
If you could have your own festival, what would the name of the festival be, and who would be on the line up?
Maybe it would be something like “Resucitando” or “Resurrecting” in english and it would be a line up of late artists that I wish I could’ve seen live.
What do you have in store for 2023, can we expect any new songs or collaborations?
I’ll be on a US Tour now in March that I am very excited about and looking forward to playing this new album live on stage. I always try to find time to keep creating songs so let’s see how the year goes.
Photo credit: supakid @supakid
Photo Shoot Production: Séptimo Piso @septimopiso7
Stylist: Daniela Fabrizi @lechatcostumier
Makeup and Hair: Louis Angel @makeupbylouisangel