iLe’s “Algo bonito” is a feminist psalm. It also heeds a warning
In an exclusive interview, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter iLe spoke to AL DÍA about her latest music video.
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In 2019, Puerto Rican songbird and composer iLe wrote the musical score Almadura that unfurled a new generation of feminist and anti-colonial activism in Puerto Rico just months before protesters ousted the former Governor, Ricky Roselló, later that Summer.
Three years and one raging pandemic later, iLe rose from her dormant state and gifted listeners with her new project, “Algo bonito,” an unapologetically feminist music video that pays homage to rural Puerto Rican culture while turning it on its head.
The new music video follows the release of Nacarile, an 11-track album chock full of Puerto Rican colloquialisms, musical rhythms, and memorable collaborations with Latin American artists who’ve shadowed as cultural staples — including Natalia Lafourcade, Mon Laferte, Trueno, and Ivy Queen.
“I think it’s important, and necessary, to maintain the collective message from the ongoing fight through the feminist movement that people unnecessarily complicate,” said iLe in an interview with AL DÍA, explaining the framework behind “Algo bonito.”
“[The movement] seeks a union, a tranquil space that is free, happy, and harmonious,” she added, wasting no time in explaining how the patriarchy, iLe said, continues to weigh on the lives of women.
“Algo bonito,” one of the songs in iLe’s 2023 album Nacarile, is not for the faint of heart. It is a rash, visually rich endeavor that illustrates how she will no longer cling to societal standards while uttering lyrically resistant phrases extracted directly from Puerto Rican slang.
“Ya me tienes las huevas hinchadas. Si protesto, me llaman subersiva (You swell up my balls. If I protest, you call me subversive.),” sings iLe with precise rhythmic phrasing and a voice showing her melodic mastery, and turning the use of the phrase huevos into a feminine attribute.
Our emotional instinct tells us she’s angsty and worn but no longer shackled. The lyrics that follow tell us that her patience is wearing thin, and the call to fight back is loud and fated, supported by a percussive, army-style march in the background.
“Suena ese llamado que despierta (...) a ese mounstro le tiemblan las piernas, sabe que su derrumbe se aproxima (The call to wake up rings (...) the monster’s legs tremble, he knows his undoing is near).”
And then, the pre-chorus: “Se soltaron ya las yeguas del campo bajando cuesta, curá’s de espanto, lágrimas sequas y sin quebranto.”
Yegua is a female horse bred to conceive other horses, and they’re generally considered docile creatures. It is also a weird term in jíbaro speak.
Much of the language inherited from Puerto Rican farmers seeks to distinguish between a woman and an animal to allude that women are inherently submissive, lesser than, and serve a unique purpose.
iLe, deploying evocative images of a mountain range robed in a desert-like atmosphere, turns that phrase on its head and commands the ‘yeguas’ into battle.
The chorus, while subtle, heeds a warning. “Dime algo bonito (Tell me something nice),” intonates iLe as she’s absorbed into the backdrop, camouflaged by the environment. In another frame, iLe wields a sharp blade.
While “Algo bonito” might give off the impression that iLe is a fearless warrior, leading a battalion using the weaponry traditionally used by men to subdue women, iLe said making the song and album was a profoundly personal challenge.
“There’s a sort of vulnerability,” iLe told AL DÍA of the thought process going into Nacarile, “but there’s also rage, and there’s a need to embrace discomfort.”
But the outright warning in “Algo bonito” wasn’t an element iLe was explicitly aware of during the songwriting stage, which took place during a coronavirus pandemic that continues to spread and evolve.
She felt isolated. She had been quarantined while crafting Nacarile.
That isolation, iLe said, made her look inwards instead of writing rallying songs for others, as was the case in Almadura, a Grammy-nominated album.
“I feel like Almadura spoke from an external point of view, whereas this album had me internalizing, and focused on me and my worries, my vulnerabilities. Those are things I would rather deal with elsewhere and ignore,” said iLe.
“It was a battle within myself, but it was beautiful. And I need to recognize that I couldn’t force myself to work perfectly (...) and I think it was necessary to take care of myself, heal myself, and that’s what the album became.”
"iLe's work is elegant," said legendary reaguetón artist Ivy Queen, a key collaborator in the video who shares an alter-ego with iLe later in the scene. "With 'Algo Bonito,' I believe that the intention is for men to listen, understand and respect us better. That was one of the reasons why I jumped to be on the song."
iLe on tour
The release of “Algo bonito” comes as iLe launches a tour to hit several cities along the East Coast, the South, and the West.
“I’m super pumped. This is our first time going on tour after some time,” said iLe. “We feel prepared, the group, the band. And as always, hoping that we’ll have Puerto Ricans in the crowd.”
ILE - NACARILE - USA TOUR 2023
March 3 - Washington, DC / Kennedy Center
March 4 - Somerville, MA / Center For The Arts
March 5 - New York, NY / Sony Hall
March 8 - Chicago, IL / Metro
March 11 - Los Ángeles, CA / The Miracle Theater
March 13 - San Francisco, CA / Great American Music Hall
March 15 - Austin, TX / SXSW
March 23 - Fort Lauderdale, FL / The Angeles