Calle 13’s iLe Says Puerto Rico Shouldn’t Idolize Its Oppressor

Calle 13's iLe steps out with a new solo album, Almadura.
Calle 13's iLe steps out with a new solo album, Almadura. Cesar Berrios
In the streaming era, a solid, cohesive album is rare, as many label heads ask musicians to instead deliver (hit) singles. On her sophomore album Almadura, Ileana Cabra, better known as iLe, reminds us of the high art present in a thematic album.

Almadura is a collection of Latin pop tracks, many of which have lyrical themes of social justice and equality. The album was nominated at this year’s Grammy Awards for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album and was ranked as the fifth-best album of 2019 by The New York Times.

“Making an album is very difficult to do,” iLe says. “I feel very grateful that my music is getting there and that people identify with my feelings.”

iLe hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she grew up surrounded by a musical family. Her brother is Calle 13 member and rapper Residente.

“I learned a lot about art because everyone in my family is involved in art in some way,” iLe says.

She never had plans to be a singer growing up, and it was merely a hobby; the piano in her home called to her, and she thought she'd make a career as a pianist. It wasn’t until her brother invited her to join Calle 13 that iLe decided to take singing more seriously.

“They invited me to sing, and I didn't know why,” iLe says of the band. “But suddenly, I had to decide between piano and singing. ... That was something that was so new to me. I explored it, but then I abandoned the piano.”

iLe is on tour to support her record. She is set to perform at House of Blues on Feb. 25, but she's at home when she speaks to us from a tour stop in the Big Apple.

“Even though we might be in a colonial status, I know we don't have to act colonial. We don't have to idolize the oppressor." — iLe, on Puerto Rico

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“I always love to come to New York,” iLe says. “Not only because I love the city, but also because there are a lot of Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans that make me feel good. Every time I meet someone here, there’s always good energy and warmth. There are so many different cultures here.”

Solidarity is a major theme in iLe’s music, especially solidarity among Latin Americans. One of her biggest inspirations for her craft was the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“That was the biggest moment where we finally realized our true reality and our true struggle, and that we need to do something ourselves to make it work better,” iLe says of the Puerto Rican community. “Even though we might be in a colonial status, I know we don't have to act colonial. We don't have to idolize the oppressor. We don't have to depend on anyone. We have to start making change on our own and realize everything that we can do.”

With her musical efforts, iLe hopes to bring together fans from all over the world to make a difference. Regardless of what they’re protesting, the singer wants to inspire people to stand for what they believe in.

“We live in a very wrongful system that we need to restructure,” iLe says. “What I like about the internet is the fact that we’re more connected and we feel inspired by other movements and other countries. We feel that solidarity transmitted from a distance ... I use music as a tool for me to channel my own emotions and for me, it is very helpful.”
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez