"The Caribbean Music of the Future": A Q&A with Buscabulla
Photo by Quique Cabanilla
Buscabulla’s music resides somewhere between the cold, hyper-urban streets of New York City and the warm, tropical grit of Puerto Rico. On their first, self-titled EP, the duo – comprised of Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo del Valle – liberally referenced the heavy iconography of New York Puerto Rican culture and the rhythms and instruments that soundtracked their youth on the island proper. They call their sound “the Caribbean music of the future.”
Their fever-dream sonic palette is a blend of Berrios’ lush, Latin disco-influenced vocals with slick funk grooves and ‘70s salsa references. On “Tártaro,” the first single off their new EP II, the lyrics provide a wider, deeper narrative about raising a family as part of the diaspora. “The language that I like to use while I sing is very much how people talk on the street in Puerto Rico,” Berrios explains from the duo’s home in Brooklyn.
Ahead of their EP II release show at Trans-Pecos on January 20th, the Voice spoke to Berrios and del Valle about their obsession with salsa iconography, their collaboration with fellow New York artist Helado Negro, and how they’re taking full control of their careers.
Village Voice: Both your music and your aesthetic are full of references to erotic salsa and ‘70s Latin imagery. It’s very sensual and sexual. What is it about that time that inspires you?
Raquel Berrios: I wouldn’t say it’s just salsa. We make indie music, which could be categorized as alternative, but at the same time, we don’t want to separate ourselves from what general Latin or Puerto Rican culture is. We’re inspired by salsa, reggaeton, and all of these cultures that still exist in mainstream Latin music. It just happens that salsa is sort of a really intense, hyper Boricua culture. The funny thing is that maybe it started with salsa, but it feels like it’s sort of intensified because we’re in New York City and it’s the highest place of the über-Boricua culture —all of this iconography, and people’s need to show everybody that they’re Boricua. We’re sort of playing on all of those themes. We’re playing on the fact that we’re very proud to be Puerto Rican, but at the same time we sort of make fun of the kitschiness of it.
This is the second in a series of EPs. What’s on it?
RB: It’s funny that this is another EP, because after an EP people usually come out with a full album. EP II is really interesting because it’s very much, I don’t want to say DIY, but it’s been a labor of love for us, versus the first EP, which was produced by Dev Hynes with a lot of backing from Converse. We were signed to a French label [Kitsuné]. This time around we were able to self-produce, direct our own video, and self-release as well. We decided to take this into our own hands and see what it would feel like. It’s sort of a mature step for us. It’s a fantastical sort of view of our life, being from Puerto Rico and living in New York City.
Luis Alfredo del Valle: We also looked at it as a continuation of the first one. Maybe we could just complete the story that was introduced in the first EP. We did it almost entirely at home, except for the drums, which we recorded at a studio down in Red Hook. We tried actually working at that studio like a professional band but it just didn’t work out. We’re adept to this sort of system where we do it at home and it feels right.
It’s interesting to hear that you prefer to work on your music at home rather than locking yourself up in a studio.
LAV: Even at the studio, it was funny, we were there for maybe a week. We had all the craziest gear you could imagine, the most amazing mixing board, all this outboard gear. But we spent at least 80 percent of the time on our 13” laptop just editing, instead of using all these other things. I don’t know what that speaks about us, but it is what it is. That’s how we grew up making music, and that’s how we know how to do it.
And how did your collaboration with Helado Negro come about?
RB: When I wrote this song, it was actually about complaining about being in New York and New York winters. It’ll be my ten year anniversary living in the city and wintertime really gets to me. It always makes me question why I’m here—Why am I not in Puerto Rico?—and I always wanted to write a song about coming to terms with this. I always wanted to include him in the song as sort of a voice of reason or comfort. I wrote this song on my Casio keyboard, and I sent a voice memo to him and he thought it was awesome. He added some cool production elements. Luis and I worked on most of it and we also wrote Helado Negro’s parts, and then he added his voice. It was just a such a cool, warm element to it.
Also, we’re both Latino artists that are making sort of weird music in Spanish and are both living in New York City. It was only normal that we would gravitate towards each other and play shows together. It developed into a really cool friendship.
Both the music and the production on this one is louder, a little bit more bombastic than on the first one. What influenced this change in direction, and how does this reflect on your live show?
RB: That’s how our life has been. We started working on this when [our son] Charlie was born, and we automatically felt this force of the hustle, of having to work really hard for what we wanted. We’re in New York City, which is already tough. We have a baby, we have this band, and I think that maybe our attitude got a little bit more aggressive. Our live show is very bombastic. I think that as we kept playing these tracks live, we decided that we wanted to make more energetic, intense songs that also sort of reflected our mindset. We love to see people dancing, it’s a big thing for us.
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