The Women of Puerto Rico’s Thriving Indie Music Scene

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By Néstor David Pastor

To close out Women’s History Month here at El Centro, we’d like to get you up to speed on the women currently slaying the music scene between the island and the mainland and making history in the process.

In the last decade, especially in the last five years, these women have dropped some of the best music that the boricua music world has had to offer. Many of them are a part of the indie scene in Puerto Rico and have either toured extensively or moved to the States. From New York to New Orleans and abroad, these women have fearlessly introduced new sounds into the island’s eclectic music landscape. Integrating both English and Spanish, they are setting the tone for what it means to be indie, successful, and innovative in Puerto Rico and beyond.

True to the Puerto Rican experience, these women reflect diverse backgrounds heard in their music. They are DJs, producers, composers, front women, activists and embody a wide spectrum of talent. In some instances, they’ve shared the same stages, the same bills, and shouted out one another in interviews. So here’s a list of 6 women who are currently ‘matando liga’, or, ‘killing it’ in the music game and paving the path for up and coming female boricua musicians.

Alynda Lee Segarra

Remember when people were obsessed with saying the best golfer was black and the best rapper was white? Besides rethinking the latter, what if I told you one of the most important new voices in the genres of folk-blues and americana belonged to a Bronx-born Puerto Rican woman that traveled the country by hopping freight trains as a teenager, ended up in New Orleans, and then started a band? Alynda Lee Segarra to the best of my knowledge is the only person that fits the description. In 2014, her band Hurray for the Riff Raff released Small Town Heroes, which included “The Body Electric”, a poignant meditation on violence against women that became a socially conscious anthem within a genre known for its misogynistic, abusive lyrical content. 

“The Body Electric” Small Town Heroes (2014)

Macha Colón

Macha Colón’s onstage presence is an extension of her philosophy, something she describes in two words: estoy jayá. For her this means being happy with who you are and where you’re at in life. It’s an expression that comes from the underground scene in San Juan where she’s been performing for the last decade.This is a feeling, and expression that permeates throughout her work. Beginning with Las hermanas Colón to her current band, Macha Colón y los Okapi, Macha, is the character that Gisela Rosario adopts while performing on stage. Macha flaunts her confidence by incorporating drag elements and exploring her queer identity. “Jaya” is the first single off of her band’s newly released album Tanquecito de amor--a recording of a live performance that was arranged for a group of 20 close friends in 2011. Her first studio album is on the way, but in the meantime, catch Macha live for some flamboyantly good vibes.

“Jayá” Tanquecito de amor (2016)

MIMA

MIMA, real name Yarimir Cabán, is a low-key legend in the indie scene in Puerto Rico. Starting off as a backup singer for Cultura Profética, the singer-songwriter made her presence known in 2005 with a self-titled debut album followed by several one-off releases and her long-awaited second album El pozo in 2011. Her music has been featured on NPR, ViceVersa Magazine, the Puerto Rican Indie music blog, and 80 grados, among others. Rule of thumb: if you ever have an opportunity to see MIMA live, go. There’s an ephemeral quality that sort of draws you in and makes you feel part of something truly original.

“Oigo Voces” El pozo (2011)

Raquel Berrios

DJ, producer, and musician Raquel Berrios founded the self-described “Spanish language experimental pop project” Buscabulla along with partner Luis Alfredo Del Valle in 2010. After winning a contest sponsored by Converse and Guitar Center, in 2014 the pair released their self-titled debut EP produced by Dev Hynes, also known as Blood Orange. The four track EP was a mixture of tropical modernism, retro vibes, and electronic indie. Based in New York, but feeling very much at home in the Puerto Rican indie scene, Buscabulla exudes an effortless cool---one that is very much influenced by Raquel’s approach to design, purposeful sense of femininity, and diverse influences.

“Caer” Buscabulla EP (2015)

Calma Carmona

Soul singer Calma Carmona did her thing at the now-closed Cafe Sed in San Juan before she started making noise in 2013 when she released her live EP There’s No Other Girl. That same year, she opened for Beyoncé in Puerto Rico. Since then, Calma and her signature dreads have released a few singles and another EP entitled Presentiment in 2015. Her sound is representative of her background, an army brat picking up influences everywhere she goes, filtering them through a distinctly soulful lens.

“When I Was Your Girl” There’s No Other Girl (2013)

Angelica Negron

Angélica Negrón practices intersectional musicianship. As a classical composer and multi-instrumentalist alone, she has an impressive resume. But outside of the concert hall or whatever other fancy venue you might be picturing, Angélica is also comfortable in front of the stage performing with Balún, a band she co-founded in Puerto Rico. After making a name for themselves in the underground scene, Balún relocated to Brooklyn. In the meantime, Angélica has contributed to a side project called Arturo en el barco and a Spanish immersion children’s program entitled ¡Acopladitos! with fellow band member Noraliz Ruiz. Angélica is currently in the studio with Balún recording their next album. You can also hear some of her compositions in the documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart which will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival next month.

“Años Atras” (2014) Single

The musical landscape Puerto Rican music has changed a lot in the last two decades. Salsa and traditional Puerto Rican music are of course the staples, but reggaeton and indie music have helped push the scene into new, unfamiliar territory. Puerto Rico itself, despite being only a small island, has incubated musicians that, in many cases, have moved their success to the mainland and back. It’s a very fluid relationship. Women are at the forefront of this movement, exploring the boundaries of genre and style with unparalleled grace and swagger.

 

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.