“We don’t know about Latin American history in Puerto Rico,” iLe said. “Puerto Ricans don’t consider themselves as Latin Americans. Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ve been a colony for so long that we think that we are North Americans. When Puerto Ricans wake up, things are going to change for real.”
Working again with Cancel as co-producer, iLe also changed her musical foundation, switching from ballads to rhythmic propulsion. The core of “Almadura” is hand-played percussion instruments from across Latin America and the Caribbean, augmented on most songs by the Honduran electronic musician Trooko (who has also worked with Residente), meshing to assemble rhythms that sound both old and new because they are.
“For the entire album, the rhythms are not totally pure,” iLe said. “They have a mix of different rhythms from the Afro-Caribbean and Latin America. I was thinking about all the relationships we have, that I learned about while traveling” with Calle 13.
One song, “Curandera” (“Medicine Woman”), uses only percussion and iLe’s voice, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a traditional song. “I didn’t want to hold myself to one particular rhythm,” she said, explaining that the galloping beat is part palo dominicana (from the Dominican Republic), part Puerto Rican bomba, part Colombian cumbia and part Yoruba rhythms from West Africa.
As she did on her first album, iLe also reaches back to salsa’s golden age on “Almadura.” She enlisted the great Nuyorican pianist Eddie Palmieri for a decidedly un-nostalgic cha-cha, “Déjame Decirte” (“Let Me Tell You”), with lyrics that declare, “No matter how much you threaten me/I’m not going to give up.”
And after so many troubled and defiant thoughts, iLe ends the album with a song by her sister Milena Pérez Joglar, “De Luna,” with lyrics full of surreal transformations. Its smoldering, kinetic, conga-driven beat suggests one of Latin music’s cornerstones, an Afro-Cuban rumba, but the details are deliberately different. The beat iLe sang over is an uninterrupted take by two conga drummers playing live in the studio.