After making her dazzling solo debut with 2016’s iLevitable, Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar — better known as iLe — unveils a powerful and heart-rending video for “Odio.” It is the lead single off her untitled album, due early next year.
At age 16, iLe began performing with Calle 13 under the moniker PG-13, alongside her half-brothers René Pérez Joglar (Residente) and Eduardo Cabra Martínez (Visitante). She rode the international reggaeton wave of the aughts and made global acclaim with hits like 2007 immigrant work song “Pa’l Norte” and 2010’s “La Vuelta al Mundo.” When the Puerto Rican band disbanded in 2015, each to pursue their own independent projects, iLe seized her solo voice beyond the Latin urban soundscape. The following year she released her bolero-steeped debut iLevitable, which honors the folkloric sounds of Latin America. The album scored the Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2017.
The new visual for “Odio” recreates an important yet forgotten moment in Puerto Rican history: It reenacts the politically-motivated murder of two pro-independence activists in the Cerro Maravilla massacre of 1978. “I think we’ve felt disconnected from our own history because of our colonial situation in Puerto Rico,” she tells Rolling Stone. “As Puerto Ricans, it’s important to remind ourselves about who we are, what’s happened here, and what we should do about it.”
The song itself was triggered by the Trump administration’s response — or lack thereof — when Hurricane Maria battered the island last year, killing nearly 1,500 people. “The song comes from that anger I was feeling,” says the 29-year-old vocalist. “It makes me feel a little sad that we as Puerto Ricans are still waiting for someone or something to help us. We need to recognize that we can help ourselves, together; not only as Puerto Ricans, but as a human race.” Rolling Stone spoke with the former Calle 13 collaborator to discuss Latinx resistance, solidarity and what’s on the horizon.
Your 2016 debut iLevitable was received with high acclaim and even got you a Grammy. How have you enjoyed your solo career?
It has been amazing so far, and I’ve been learning a lot. I had no idea how it was going to be. I just did what I felt, and what I wanted to do from the heart. It was very rewarding to receive a lot of appreciation from the people, from the music that I was doing. It was a very special beginning, and I hope that I can be singing the rest of my life and enjoying myself.
Throughout your music career, you’ve explored genres like hip-hop, boleros, and boogaloo. Are there other musical soundscapes you want to explore?
I grew up listening to everything, and I have always tried to find the feeling [meant] with each song from different artists. I like to live with no limits, artistically. For me, it depends on the moment that you are living, and how you are feeling. That is expressed in so many different ways. That’s what I like to do when I work my music — to express the moment that I’m in.
Your video for “Odio” recreates a controversial moment in Puerto Rican history. Why are you now inspired to bring this specific event to light?
The song itself comes from a psychological perspective. When I sat down with my team, I thought of many ideas, then suddenly that event captured our attention. I think we’ve felt disconnected from our own history because of our colonial situation in Puerto Rico, as well as to what else happens around the world. It feels like Puerto Rico and the States are our only priority — it’s like living in a bubble. I was observing that many from my generation and younger ones didn’t know about this event or other situations that Puerto Rico has endured. I also feel that the rest of the world doesn’t know so much about what goes on here. We are in a crucial moment right now, especially after Hurricane Maria, and we need to ask ourselves a lot of things about our own history. That’s why I decided to work the song with this video. I want people to never forget, to keep our memory alive. Even though it’s something that happened in 1978, it’s still happening in other ways, not only in Puerto Rico, but also in other countries around the world. We all need to come to solidarity.
Agreed. Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the Trump administration completely failed to address the issues caused by Hurricane Maria, much less supporting its victims.
Totally. The song comes from that anger I was feeling. I was going through it. When I picked up my phone and saw Twitter with a combination of things along the lines of hatred, it got me very angry. It makes me feel a little sad that we as Puerto Ricans are still waiting for someone or something to help us. We need to recognize that we can help ourselves, together; not only as Puerto Ricans but as a world. We don’t have to see each other differently, but as a human race.
Is “Odio” a stand-alone single or is there a new album in the works?
It is part of the new album that’s in production. It’s very different from I’ve done before, but it has the same passion. It comes from another place in me, from another moment, from another time in my life. It has another intensity, but it also has a lot to do with myself. It’s about reflecting on the moment that we are living in.
Tell us something about Puerto Rico that you’d like the rest of the world to know about?
I think people should visit Puerto Rico — it is a paradise, I have to admit. We are surrounded by water, and from one corner to another it’s only three hours away. It’s very small. You can never feel cold here, unless you’re on the mountains, and it doesn’t even get that cold. I think that gives us warmth as people. Even though we may have our own issues as a lot of other countries in the world do, we are lucky that we just try to be happy all the time. Sometimes it’s difficult because it’s an island, and we feel a little isolated in a way. But it’s our way of life, our style. We might be intense people, in a huge-gestures-of-passion kind of way. Though I’ve tried living elsewhere, there is always something that keeps me in my country. I can soothe my emotions here.