Puerto Rico’s uprising against Governor Ricardo Rosselló is the act of resistance that singer-songwriter Ileana Cabra Joglar, better known as iLe, always dreamed about.
“Sometimes, I feel like I’m dreaming. But then I realize this crucial moment in history is a reality,” said iLe, who released a protest song, titled “Afilando los Cuchillos,” with Bad Bunny and Residente on Wednesday. “It’s the best feeling.”
The song, which refers to the Puerto Rican government as a “dictatorship,” takes a stand against the homophobic and sexist group messages among the governor and his top aides that leaked last week — as well as years of corruption, Hurricane Maria deaths, and the closing of public schools. At the time, Bad Bunny was touring in Europe, while Residente was in New York, and iLe in Puerto Rico. Each of their parts were recorded separately and put together in one day. According to iLe, they had no time to polish the song; they simply wanted to use their talent in a crude and direct way to carry their message: Ricky, vete ya.
iLe has been protesting in the streets, alongside thousands of boricuas, since Saturday to demand that Rosselló resign. But like many others, her grievances go back much further than the recent allegations.
The 30-year-old’s most recent album, “Almadura,” released in May, is an ode to female strength, her island, and a plea for political action against the colonial status of Puerto Rico. One of its songs, “Desde Aquí,” alludes to a battle — and that's exactly what's happening in Puerto Rico right now. After several days of peaceful protests, a small group clashed with police and were tear gassed.
VICE News caught up with iLe on the sixth day of #RickyRenuncia protests in Puerto Rico. She described the overwhelming energy on the island that led her to express herself in the best way she knows: music.
VICE News: How does it all feel?
iLe: I am super excited. I’ve been protesting since last Saturday, and I have seen the crowd grow. For a moment during the protests, I felt this energy of indignation, frustration, and anger. But I felt accompanied. I feel people’s perception is widening. It is a strange sensation though because at the same time, it gives me a great deal of shame that it is our own government that has mismanaged everything and that, in a certain way, proves Trump was right [that Puerto Rico’s government is corrupt]. That’s the most disgusting aspect to me. The government of the United States also has a guilt in all of this, but for what we are specifically protesting, it directly hits home.”
VICE NEWS: How did you channel your indignation? Is that when you came together with Residente and Bad Bunny to do the song?
iLe: We wrote that song to tell a story of what is happening right now in Puerto Rico by expressing ourselves in the crudest way possible, cruder than what the government has given us. And all we've read in the chats, not only the insults, but the corruption strategies with our own funds. It all feels very intense, but the people's reaction is very powerful so we won’t stop. It has been like a domino effect: People arrive anywhere they’re summoned because they’re pissed, they’re tired of it. It feels like Hurricane Maria when we stood up to help one another. Se siente bien, cabrón.
VICE NEWS: There was no promotion of the song, and no one even expected it. How did it come to be? What’s the story behind the lyrics?
iLe: It was something from the heart, from the soul, just expressing what we really feel. For us, music is our best tool. It is natural that we look for that way of expression in all this. Bad Bunny was in Europe, René [Residente] in New York, and I’m here in Puerto Rico, so we had to record the day before it was released. It’s not very polished because there was no time. It’s crude and direct. That’s how people perceived it.”
VICE NEWS: What’s your personal reason for protesting?
iLe: I remember protesting since I was little. My family educated me to protect my country. Corruption is the biggest issue right now. The [chat] insults are critical but for me that is secondary. You have to be as awake as we are now, forewarned, before they abuse us again. I hope this massive demonstration teaches to be more alert when voting for these figures and question whether these people are really working for the good of everyone or just want to profit themselves.
VICE NEWS: How are these protests different than the ones you’ve attended throughout the years?
iLe: I’ve seen all kinds of people with different ways of thinking and across generations. We are in a moment where we are questioning so many things. We do not know enough of our history, the struggles of our country, our heroes. We would understand a lot of things today if we had given more space and recognition to these people, not only in politics but also in music. Right now, we are asking for that information. We are demanding to know. Having doubts and questioning is the first step. We are ruling out any political ideal and fighting for our rights right now. If there is something that unites us, it is the love for our country. And that is the moment that we have arrived to: It’s not about the political ideal but about the love for your country.
VICE NEWS: Your music is very political.You encourage people to rise up with your songs. Puerto Rico is awakening now. How do you feel to finally achieve that in such a historic way?
iLe: It is truly moving. People are responding to that feeling that it is our duty to protect our country and not let anyone take advantage of us. This is a critical and important moment, and it’s becoming stronger and stronger. I knew that this energy existed within us but, being a colony for so long — and having been humiliated and crushed for so many centuries — when a moment like this arrives, we don’t know how to react. Now's the time to not think so much about things and just go out and respond to what’s happening in the island.
VICE NEWS: Rosselló maintains his posture of not resigning, after all of this. What is your answer to that?
iLe: It's total brazenness. Coming from the family he comes from, one knows that these people stand firm with their lies and deception. They do not have any kind of honor and respect towards the people. It does not surprise me, but it angers me that he continues to underestimate the Puerto Rican people by not giving up. That moment will come. We just have to continue protesting to accelerate that process. It’s a lack of respect that we also have to wait for him to resign. After he resigns, we can’t stop this because there are more corrupt politicians in power. We must continue protesting until we achieve true justice and have transparent people, who truly care for the well being of Puerto Rico. That’s something we’ve never had and something worth continue fighting for. But for now, our goal is that Rosselló resigns.
VICE NEWS: Do you think that artists and public figures have had something to do with the massive success of #RickyRenuncia protests?
iLe: Maybe. None of us have deviated from the message and the purpose of coming together. We’re all on the same page. The more people join in better. I would actually like to see more artists, especially the urban genre that connects so much with Puerto Rico, speaking. There is a lot of fear of speaking out against the government still. I question why some artists are silenced. After they talk about patriotism and pride, they are quiet when the people need them the most. I urge all artists, from all spaces, to join the fight because they too are part of the government's abuse.
Cover image: In this May 30, 2019 photo, Puerto Rican singer Ileana Cabra, also known has iLe, poses for a portrait inside the Ruth Fernandez Cultural House in San Juan, Puerto Rico. iLe sings against hate and machismo in her latest album “Almadura.” The album also includes two romantic songs featuring pianist Eddie Palmieri. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)