Puerto Rican singer wants fans to question relationships with government

Olivia Wilson

Ileana Cabra Joglar, more commonly known by iLe, is no stranger to fusing politics and music together. The Grammy-winning Puerto Rican artist's collaboration with her brother Residente and reggaeton star Bad Bunny became an anthem for protesters in Puerto Rico, which led to the resignation of former governor Ricardo Rosselló.

In an interview with CBS News, iLe discussed her latest single, how her music helps her process what's happening around her, and why she wants her listeners to question their relationships with government.

"We have to send the right message and it doesn't matter what it will take. What matters is that we make people question that there is something going on that we need to fix," she said.

Her new single, "Donde Nadie Más Respira," or "Where No One Else Breathes," was written for people around the world who might feel like they don't have the power to fix broken governmental systems. She says that now is the time to bring the change in Puerto Rico.

"It's not until it happens to us directly that we actually understand the gravity of the situation and how critical it is, but it shouldn't be that way. We are so used to governments that do work like that. We don't have to settle with those ways of administrating or governing," she said.

Governor Wanda Vazquez took office after messages between former Rosselló and his colleagues were leaked to the public. Rosselló made offensive remarks about women, the LGBTQ community and Hurricane Maria victims. The leaked chats sparked a revolution on the island and gave many Puerto Ricans hope that change was on the horizon. But that hope was deflated when it was announced Vazquez would take over, with many questioning her qualifications for the position and her close relationship with Rosselló.

Her critics became louder when Vazquez endorsed President Trump and when activists called on her to issue a state of emergency over violence against women. Vazquez has not mentioned a possible emergency order but has publicly acknowledged the violence and has released a draft of an executive action to address it.

In iLe's song, "Temes," she addresses femicide and the roots of patriarchy. She said her music helps her process what's happening around her, even though it's challenging to get a grasp on these critical moments in history as they happen.

"It's very important to recognize that we are responsible as well, for being a voice to a lot of people that have died in movements and are not with us anymore," iLe said, "It's all our responsibility to expand that voice and empathize."

iLe / Credit: Eric Rojas
iLe / Credit: Eric Rojas

The Puerto Rican native remains cautiously optimistic ahead of Election Day but understands that change doesn't happen overnight. She hopes people are willing to vote differently in Puerto Rico in order to break the long-standing two-party system she feels has not worked for the people in quite some time. "There's a lot of people that are afraid of change, but for me, it's more terrifying to have another four years with the same people. It makes me less fearful to try something new, and then we learn from it if we have to," she said.

Puerto Rico has a long history of political strife. Since it was forced to become a commonwealth of the United States in 1898, it has struggled to regain its economic footing. More recently, Puerto Rico has fallen into an economic recession, which was exasperated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Despite highlighting these issues in her music, iLe doesn't consider herself to be an activist. She feels her music is a tool to not only make her listeners question their relationship with government but also as a bridge to connect others with different views and opinions. And even though she feels misunderstood because she supports independence for Puerto Rico, iLe believes it is possible to live in harmony in times of extreme hardship.

"We don't have to think alike, but we do have to understand that we want to feel good and we want to feel happy. We weren't taught here in Puerto Rico and the United States that it's basically all about love."

She has no plans to leave Puerto Rico any time soon, instead, she's continuing to work on her third album, while taking breaks from the constant, and at times, overwhelming, news cycle. Her song "En Cantos," which features Natalia Lafourcade, was recently nominated for a Latin Grammy in the best alternative song category. The award show is scheduled for November 19, and even though iLe won't be attending, she does have an idea in mind for how to celebrate.

"I might have a little drink in my house," iLe laughed, "I like to celebrate, no matter the excuse for a celebration."

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