Months After Hurricane Maria, Musicians in Puerto Rico Still Need Help

We chatted with PRIMA Fund co-creator Raquel Berrios, whose band Buscabulla is playing a NYC farewell show Wednesday at Elsewhere to benefit the initiative.

|
31 January 2018, 10:25pm

Even though it's been several months now since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island is still going through a slow recovery. Water and electricity still haven’t been 100 percent restored since the storm hit in September, and unemployment keeps rising. But individuals and non-profit community organisations around the world have risen to the occasion by the way of private initiatives to help the affected people and make the reconstruction happen.

Puerto Rican celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, and Ricky Martin, as well as artists like Princess Nokia and Hurray for the Riff Raff, have been petitioning people to support these organisations, but there’s only one initiative so far created to aid musicians struggling after the calamity: the PRIMA Fund.

The Puerto Rico Independent Musicians and Artists (PRIMA) Fund was created by three Boricua artists—New York-based electronic pop duo Buscabulla, composed by Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle; and singer-songwriter Ani Cordero—who partnered up with non-profit organisation Pregones to provide financial relief to musicians and artists connected to the Boricua music scene by issuing $500 emergency micro-grants. “It’s only $500, but still, it means something when you lose your job and you need money while you find a new one, and even if the artists have to leave the country for a while. We help however we can,” says Berrios in an interview with Noisey.

Through donations, fundraising events organised in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and even a 15-track compilation featuring tracks by Boricua artists released on Bandcamp, the PRIMA Fund has been able to give 45 grants so far. “We’re in a very exciting place right now,” says Berrios. “It’s been amazing. We have been able to raise that money little by little, without any big mechanism pushing it other than people wanting to share it and cover it on the media. It’s been a very pretty grassroots process which has been supported by plenty of people.”

José Ivan Lebrón Moreira, recipient of a PRIMA Fund grant, performing live. Photo by Supakid.

José Iván Lebrón Moreira, of San Juan pop outfit Moreira, administers a rehearsal space which suffered damages in its infrastructure and equipment, and now works a 9-to-5 job after spending months unemployed, interfering with his career as a musician and with the release of the band’s latest album, Fin del Deseo. But thanks to his PRIMA Grant, he was able to use the money to fulfill their record release plans. “More than the amount of money I received, which to me was very generous, the most significant motivation was to know there is a support circle between artist from this scene and outside,” he shares.

To visual artist and musician Daniela Romero, a.k.a. Supakid, her grant couldn’t have come at a better time, as her freelance jobs have been affected by the blackout. “It put food on my table and gave me the chance to get back on my feet among all the chaos and economic uncertainty,” she says. “By relieving this load, it helped me focus on how to catch up with projects which were put on hold.”

Months after the natural disaster, and as the island continues on its journey back to normality, the future of the PRIMA Fund is being reevaluated and updated. Berrios says the next step is to put together a discussion group in Puerto Rico with artists from the local scene to know about their issues firsthand, which will dictate their next steps. “We want to hear their current stories and situations,” Berrios explains. “We want to know how the way they used to make money has been affected: if people are going out and if they’re paying to go to shows, because the economy is tightening up.” Other ideas include a series of events and a potential festival to encourage support between artists in New York City—especially diaspora musicians—and the ones still living in Puerto Rico. All of this while keeping balance with the fund's creators, who are both mothers and are about to start recording albums. Meanwhile, they’ll continue giving the grants.

Daniela Romero also received an emergency $500 grant from the PRIMA Fund. Photo by Supakid

In the midst of the reconstruction, Berrios and Del Valle, who are also husband and wife, are planning to relocate to western Puerto Rico in the following weeks to, among other things, write and record Buscabulla’s debut album, a decision they had taken back in September but that was delayed because of, you know, the hurricane.

“A lot of people think we’re crazy for moving back there right now,” she says as she laughs. “We’ve been wanting to return for a long, long time. Destiny is telling us this is the time [to return,] and it is curious it's happening in a time as precarious as this one, when people are leaving Puerto Rico and there’s so much disillusionment because there has been so much hurt and suffering. We hope that doing the record there and collaborating with local artists can help cheer things up, or maybe show the country in a different light with the artistic twist we can give it.”

On their standout 2017 EP II, Buscabulla, who are playing at this year’s Coachella next April, painted a musical picture of Puerto Rico from their romanticised memories, resulting in three flavourful and dazzling songs including a collaboration with like-minded artist Helado Negro. So, what will happen with their new music once they go back to the place they longed for? “It's going to be very interesting to see how it will feel to be there and how the songs’ topics will transform,” Berrios says. “I'm excited to see what emotions will come and what will come out of the situation. Having spent so much time idealising Puerto Rico, I wonder if I'll now idealise New York. I love to be able to explore that through an album.”

Buscabulla are performing a farewell show today (Wednesday, January 31) at Elsewhere, in Brooklyn, alongside Prinze George and bandmate Bairoa, who recently released his glitzy debut EP. The concert profits will also be donated to the PRIMA Fund. “In the end, what we're trying to do [with the PRIMA Fund] is trying to preserve the [Puerto Rican] scene,” Berrios explains. “We want people to keep doing music to keep cheering up people. We don't want the music to stop.”

Find out more details on Buscabulla’s farewell show at Elsewhere, presented by Cult Citizen, with Prinze George and Bairoa here .

Algodón Egipcio is on Twitter .

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.