For over a century, Puerto Rican musicians have been influential across the hemisphere. From the Harlem Hellfighters of WWI who helped develop jazz to the reggaetoneros who dominate today’s charts, Puerto Rican music is everywhere. We start the season with the island’s most celebrated composer Rafael Hernández, who wrote beloved songs like “Lamento Borincano,” “Ahora Seremos Felices,” and “Perfume de Gardenias” – and one of the island’s unofficial anthems, “Preciosa.” It’s a love song written for Puerto Rico that praises the island’s beauty and, remarkably, also calls out the forces that oppress it.
When Bad Bunny exploded onto the scene and became the most-streamed artist in the history of the world, it became undeniable that Puerto Rican lyrics – the poetry of what people sing about, the bregas in every chorus – resonate all over the hemisphere. In September, he put out a music video for his hit “El Apagón,” (“The Blackout,”) which then turned into a mini-documentary about gentrification – the way people from the states are taking advantage of tax benefits and displacing Boricuas. It’s called “Aqui Vive Gente” (“People Live Here”).
“El Apagón,” has become somewhat of an anthem – an installment in the long tradition of Puerto Ricans singing about home, longing and belonging, popularized by Rafael Hernández. But Bad Bunny isn’t singing about yearning for Puerto Rico – his music is often about never even leaving in the first place. It’s about staying, and creating a future for Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. If the video’s Youtube comments – declarations of solidarity – are any indication, his music has touched on something deeply relatable across Latin America.
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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE VOICES IN THIS EPISODE
Myzo, the singer from the plane
Bobby Sanabria, Grammy-nominated bandleader and educator
Elena Martínez, folklorist at City Lore and the Bronx Music Heritage Center
Listen to La Brega’s Spotify playlist, featuring music from this episode.
This season of La Brega is made possible by the Mellon Foundation.
ABOUT LA BREGA
There’s no direct translation of “la brega” in English, but for Puerto Ricans, it’s a way of life. To bregar means to struggle, to hustle, to find a way to get by and get around an imbalance of power. It’s got a creative edge, a bit of swagger; as Puerto Rican scholar Arcadio Diaz has observed, it’s a word that belongs to the underdog.
Hosted by New York-born Puerto Rican journalist Alana Casanova-Burgess, La Brega tells stories of an island and a people trying to cope with too many challenges, and who deserve and demand better.
The series is created by a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers, musicians, and artists from the island and diaspora; a co-production from WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios.