Like all good troublemakers, Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle are shaking things up, just the way the Caribbean slang term from which the Brooklyn-based electronic duo take their name might suggest. As Buscabulla, the pair’s primary aim is to subvert the tropes inherent in Latin music while drawing from its rich sonic palette, to take elements from their Puerto Rican heritage and, as the roots of their moniker might suggest, create a joyful racket. Whether looping traditional Latin rhythms to hypnotic effect or filtering them through vintage atmospherics, Berrios’s silken vocals need little translation despite being sung entirely in Spanish; Buscabulla offer full immersion in a language all their own.
When we talked to Berrios and Del Valle via phone, they were taking care of their own little troublemaker — a baby girl just over a year old. Along with the arrival of their first child, the duo ushered another creation into the world last year: a four-song, self-titled EP produced by Dev Hynes (a/k/a Blood Orange) and released by Kitsuné. Buscabulla hadn’t initially thought of working with Hynes. Berrios remembers, “I was into his previous record [Coastal Grooves], and he was part of this contest, and the prize was to get an EP produced by him.” Even with a dedicated SoundCloud following, Berrios and Del Valle never expected to win, but before they knew it they were in the studio with the prolific producer. “We had all of our demos ready, and he was a great person to have as a sort of mentor. He played guitar on some of the tracks and laid down beats for others,” Berrios recalls.
Ultimately, though, Buscabulla’s EP feels wholly their own, a diverse mélange of the couple’s cultural reference points. Berrios is a designer who attended architecture school in Puerto Rico, and the visual touchstones, she says, are just as important as the sonic ones. “I have always been obsessed with tropical modernism or things that kind of have to do with the tropical, but not the obvious sort of tropical,” she says. “Design is a big influence, even in the way that we make music, where sometimes I think about things more in colors or sometimes I can even imagine a video for a song before the song is finished.”
When the two met, Berrios was working in a Brazilian-music store in the East Village. “Before that I’d sort of inherited my dad’s collection, and he had a lot of really cool stuff like salsa and calypso and folk music in Spanish, in addition to the standard rock and pop records,” she says. “My mom had a lot of really cool 45s from the Eighties and Nineties like Sade and Culture Club. And so I sort of inherited it all and brought it to New York and then when I got here I just started looking for more and more and more. I felt like, if I sample from these records, then the essence will still be there, because I did want something that was in the context of something in Spanish or Latin.” Some of the tracks start out as barebones piano melodies; Berrios describes others as “vignettes” built from loops, to which she adds a vocal line. “Luis is great at taking [that] to the next level,” Berrios says. “Finishing lyrics, what to add, or what sounds cool, or what sounds corny…that’s sort of the way that we work.”
The couple live in Bushwick, on the border of Ridgewood, Queens, where much of NYC’s Puerto Rican population settled decades ago and has remained, seemingly unaffected by the gentrification that’s transformed neighborhoods all along the L train. “I guess it’s kind of crazy, because Luis and I grew up in Puerto Rico and we understand that our reality is different from our Puerto Rican neighbors that grew up here. But at the same time there are things that are very similar,” Berrios says. “I like to celebrate the kitschy-ness or that sort of exaggerated pride that exists. It’s an interesting dynamic.”
“In front of our house is a van that always parks, and it magically has a Frankie Ruiz sticker in the back,” Luis adds with a laugh. The legendary salsa singer is symbolic for Buscabulla; they have covered his songs and created T-shirts with his image. Berrios explains, “I’m also influenced by this sort of crazy machismo, the exaggeration of sexuality — I kind of like to poke fun at those things. I kind of like to observe and reinterpret them because I feel that they’re such a big part of Latin American culture. I like to take those things and twist them around and put them in a new view. It’s almost like I like to take my heritage and put it in sort of a new context, make people think about it in a different way. We sort of strive to do that with our music.”
It’s fitting that Buscabulla will participate in New York City’s Latin Alternative Music Conference this week. Seeking to highlight musicians of Latin descent who break new ground in rock, hip-hop, and electronica, the program’s curators don’t necessarily look for artists with a stereotypical “Latin” sound, but rather find ways to support and market those, like Buscabulla, who push the experimental envelope but also sing in Spanish. Though the internet has helped Spanish-language songs from all genres find new audiences, there’s still a pervasive feeling within the industry that Spanish-language music is somehow less accessible. Del Valle laughs at that idea. “I guess we hope that the music is good enough that it does translate. I wonder about someone who likes a band like Tame Impala or something, and whether they know what he’s saying at all!” Berrios agrees, saying that singing in Spanish is part of what makes Buscabulla’s sound so unique.
Both Berrios and Del Valle see the importance of LAMC representing Spanish-speaking musicians who break the mold. “I’ve always had this thing with Latin American artists in general, having to make music that sounds ‘Latin.’ ” Berrios admits. “I have sort of an issue with that, because what if there’s something artistic that I want to say, but it doesn’t necessarily have to sound like [that] preconceived idea? It’s still important because it’s still talking about culture. It’s still important for that to be represented.” She is quick to point out that a lot of Latin American rock bands were influenced by acts like the Beatles or the Cure, and that for a new generation of Latin Americans who were raised in the United States, this will also be true. “It’s a whole spectrum of people that have a voice, and it’s important that it’s not [always] Shakira or Ricky Martin. It’s almost even more important because it taps into this smaller counterculture that exists within Latin America or those living here in the city and [throughout the] United States. I love all sorts of music, but when someone sings in Spanish, and they’re making something interesting, they automatically have my attention and my support.”
Buscabulla play their official LAMC showcase at the Highline Ballroom on July 8, and again at Baby’s All Right on July 10. For more upcoming shows and additional information, click here.