iLe is Ileana Cabra Joglar, a singer-songwriter who has made a name for herself after entering the music world as a singer for her family’s band Calle 13, the band that won more Latin Grammys than anyone.
Calle 13 was a family production. One family member was a talented musician, another a talented lyricist, another a great designer, another good at public relations, and so on. They put it all together, but it was a family production. It’s actually quite common among Latin artists.
ILe was always considered the band’s little sister, but on her own she has the same potency, both musically and lyrically as her brothers. iLe is just really sweet about it. She can put a knife in your chest, and you’ll take it gladly because she is so soft and enchanting. But if you listen to the words and think about them, iLe is just as strong, perhaps stronger than her brothers because you don’t see her coming. She charms you ~ and then she’ll turn the knife.
ile in New York City
iLe (Calle 13), brings her unique Puerto Rican alternative sound, with opener Lena Dardelet, to Sony Hall in the Times Square Theater District; on February 18, 2024 at 8pm. From $30. sonyhall.com 🇵🇷
These are some of the places iLe has played recently.
iLe is as Hard to Define as Calle 13
Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar was born in Hato Rey, San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 28, 1989.
Latin musicians love their nicknames. When she started with Calle 13, her nickname was PG-13 because she was so young. Her mature nickname “iLe” happens to mean home in Yoruba, a popular language in the African Diaspora.
Calle 13 gets pigeonholed in the reggaeton category, but their foundation is actually the rich legacy of all Latin music from boleros to tango to salsa to reggaeton. If you add the traditions of Cuban trova, the protest folk music, in a Puerto Rican context, you can get close to understanding this complicated band and its little sister ~ iLe.
We met iLe in Puerto Rico. She is very petite. She’s much bigger on stage.
iLe’s first album “iLevitable” (2016) won the Grammy for “Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album.” It also got nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. The album’s title probably refers to the inevitability of Ileana’s rise. She began singing as a toddler almost before she could talk. This has been her destiny all along.
iLe shows the same searing wit of her famous brother Residente. Perhaps it is the legacy of colonialism. It takes a certain humor to survive enslavement. Just as the blues transforms suffering into joy, at the end of the day we use music (and dance) to recover our humanity so we can face the realities of tomorrow head on and survive another day.
If you really listen to her, and do the work to understand the meaning of her words, you can’t help but be affected. iLe is that strong. Because she is so respected, Ileana gets to work with the best of the best.
iLe is very young, still in her 20s, but she can put a needle in your eye while charming you in the softest, sweetest way. In that way she reminds me of another great Puerto Rican voice of our time, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the 14th District of New York (Bronx and Queens). Both are exactly the same age.
What we are witnessing in iLe’s artistic development is the birth of one of the great Latin American voices. As Violeta Parra is to Chile, Totó la Momposina is to Colombia, Lila Downs is to Mexico and Mercedes Sosa is to Argentina, iLe is to Puerto Rico.
If you need a U.S. context, think Bob Dylan, Joan Baez or Eminem. No disrespect to Residente and Visitante, but iLe may end up becoming more famous than her brothers.
“Almadura” (2019) Hate and Fear
iLe, in true Calle 13 style, demands a lot from her listeners. She challenges you and makes you think.
iLe is now working on her sophomore album, “Almadura.” Her first releases are “Odio”‘ (Hate) and she just released “Temes” (Fear). That song basically asks why men fear women, when men control everything. That’s a very good question.
After watching the video for ‘Temes’ and internalizing the lyrics, I can never love the same way again. I will demand more from my next partner. I will insist that we walk through life side by side and nobody walk two steps behind. That’s a challenging way to be, but it is what iLe is calling us all to do.
As a Puerto Rican bomba drummer (trained by Calle 13’s percussionist, I even know some of the dancers in the video), I really love this song and video because it captures the spirit of bomba and both Indigenous and African Diaspora traditions across the Americas.
In New York we experience live music on stage, but Latin music’s natural habitat is the living room, patio, back yard, field, town square, or on the street. Back in the day before mass media, there wasn’t anything to do after work, so people gathered around live music played by whoever wanted to play. With two pieces of wood and two pieces of metal, you have band. And everyone in the neighborhood participated because sitting out separated you from your family and community. These gatherings could also have religious meanings, and were a place to find love. Couples would just disappear for a while. There was buying and selling of food, drink, and stuff. So musical gatherings were a complete human ecosystem.
iLe sings, “I don’t know if your rumba goes with my mambo.” Rumba is Cuban and more masculine. Mambo is a Cuban rhythm, but originally a Haitian Vodou priestess, and more feminine. So iLe is asking if your manhood goes with my womanhood. There are those quick glances, which get longer and longer. The man is showing what a great drummer he is. The woman is showing what a beautiful dancer she is. Bomba is a flirting game between the dancer and lead drummer, so the drummer really watches the dancer.
As they start to connect, they become the only two people in the room, everything turns into slow motion, and the couple begins to float. That’s the feeling of love. Then they are dancing together, and everything gets more sensual and surreal until they are floating in the air. The sticks drop on the ground, “Agua.” Like many iLe songs, there is a lot going on here.
iLe’s third studio album includes “Traguito,” was composed during the Covid pandemic lockdown which was very harsh in Puerto Rico. They even closed the beaches (we were there).
The album’s sound is softer and more folksy. It includes a collaboration “Algo Bonito” a feminist anthem with Ivy Queen. She’s complaining about the “machista” patriarchy which can be mind-blowing in the Latin world, including Puerto Rico. There are also collaborations “traguito” with Mon Laferte which is against love, and “Cuando TE MIRO” with Spanish performance artist Rodrigo Cuevas.
Original coverage was sponsored by Carnegie Hall. Thank you.