iLe for Carnegie Hall Citywide at El Museo del Barrio

Puerto Rican rapper and bolero singer iLe plays El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem for Carnegie Hall Citywide on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at 4pm. FREE

Info at

In Puerto Rico, iLe is musical royalty, so her show is sure to be packed. Don’t miss it and do go early.

POSTSCRIPT: iLe has been la clave (the key) to my understanding of Puerto Rico and Indigenous women. There is a natural poetry in Puerto Rico. It’s in the land, the sea and the sky. It’s in the people. It’s in the poetry of iLe and her brothers, and why her visuals are so poetic too. It’s why Latin music (Cuban dance music) went global in the hands of Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians once upon a time out of El Barrio East Harlem and The Bronx.

And it is fierce. The Indigenous Taíno line survives today through women. Modern Puerto Ricans have a 60% Taíno genetic heritage. When the colonizers came, they killed the men and took the women. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. The women figured out a way to survive.

This has been the universal pattern of migration since the beginning of time. The most detailed study of ancient DNA (it happens to be in Iberia) was just released and it shows the same pattern of the male line suddenly disappearing after a new migration.

Nature’s goal (God’s will, whatever) is to pass the genes into the next generation. Indigenous Taíno women did this successfully. That’s why Puerto Rico today is a living poem. ¡La Borinqueña!

iLe is as hard to define as Calle 13

Ileana Cabra is the backup singer of the multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy-winning trio Calle 13, with her better known big brothers Residente and Visitante. The band holds the record for most Latin Grammy wins and has crossed over with three Grammy wins as well.

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.


iLe. Courtesy the artist / El Museo del Barrio.

iLe. Courtesy the artist / El Museo del Barrio.

Calle 13 is on break. This has given Ileana the chance to step forward out of her brothers’ rather long shadows. She may be the backup singer of Calle 13, but solo, Ileana makes her own shade.

Her first album ‘iLevitable’ (2016) won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album. It also got her 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.

iLe has chosen to express herself in classical forms like the bolero. These are soft romantic lullabies, but hers are definitely not for children. Like life, iLe’s boleros are bittersweet.

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 knife in your eye 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.

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. Her first releases are ‘Odio’ (Hate) and she just released ‘Temes’ (Fear). That song basically asks why men fear women, when men control everything.

After watching the video for ‘Temes’ and translating the lyrics into my birth language, 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.

Learn more about iLe at

PS: I have to thank Carnegie Hall for connecting us with iLe’s music. Who would have thought that a very traditional classical music producer could understand and appreciate Latin popular music so profoundly. Thank you Carnegie Hall. You rock!

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