In-demand music producer (and newly minted TED speaker) Dev Hynes, who has written and produced hit records for Solange, Florence and the Machine and Sky Ferreira and performs under the moniker Blood Orange is putting his Midas touch on a new project: the tropical electronic band Buscabulla.
Brooklyn residents Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo “Luifre” Del Valle are the duo behind Buscabulla. This past December, Hynes chose them over 5,000 other bands as the winners of a contest sponsored by Converse and Guitar Center. As part of their win, the unsigned band got to record a 3-song EP produced by Hynes himself, and performed at the coveted Fader Converse Fort stage at South By Southwest in Austin two weeks ago. Buscabulla’s electro-pop minimalist melodies and dreamy atmospheric sounds are a natural match for Hynes. But what is really unique about Buscabulla working with such a hot producer, is the fact they choose to sing entirely in Spanish and put their identity as Puerto Ricans living in the mainland at the core of their artistic personas. It’s rare to see diversity – of faces, style and languages - in North American indie music.
With Buscabulla, it’s all about high and low: tropical rhythms from salsa and lyrics borrowed from reggaetón are distilled with electronic sensibilities we’re used to seeing in indie rock. “At the heart of it, the concept has always been about the combination of apparent opposites,” says Luifre. “Like the idea of someone being enlightened through porn or like Willie Colón and Al B. Sure influencing the writing of the same song.”
In Spanish, the word "buscabulla" is Puerto Rican slang for “troublemaker.” Raquel says that initially she was worried language would be an issue, but she did it anyway. “This is who I am; I grew up in the beaches, with tropical weather, living in the Caribbean and talking the slang of people there,” says Raquel. “Just because I moved doesn’t mean that I left. That’s really what it’s rooted on, not nostalgia.”
Think about that for a moment: “to move away” from a place of origin doesn’t mean “to leave” or “abandon” it. It’s the state of mind of the globalized youth in the Internet age. “Ideally we want to be living between Puerto Rico and New York,” says Luifre. “The influences that make this project what it is shouldn't be traceable to either location but to a sort of re-contextualization of tropical sensibility through a city like New York.”
Photo: Quique Cabanillas
I’ve known Raquel since 2008, when she moved to Brooklyn after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design. I insert myself here because it would be insincere not to but also to make a point: We’re both part of the Puerto Rican diaspora, part the ubiquitous brain drain of young people who leave the island to pursue higher education and creative opportunities. Many of us leave looking for something better (trouble?) and we never return. As has been reported in the news recently, Puerto Rico’s population is literally declining because of such lack of jobs and economic insecurity.
When we met, Raquel was working as a textile designer (she also studied architecture as an undergrad) and DJing around downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn under the name DJ Rock-L. Her collection of LP’s is impressive as it is obscure: 60’s and 70’s gems from Brazilian tropicalia such as Gal Costa and classic Puerto Rican salsa of La Fania. “I like the word "buscabulla" because it had the word "busca" in it, which is about looking for something. It was born out of my love for records and vinyl,” she says. “And I think the project is like that, it combines something very Caribbean and tropical but yet it’s something very urban and contemporary and looks to the future too.”
Giovanni Guillén, of the respected music blog Club Fonograma, says that Buscabulla is their top artist to watch in 2014. “Even with just a few songs I was immediately drawn to her sound. It seems to pull from everything: Puerto Rico, her design/art background, her deep knowledge of Latin music,” says Guillén. “The spectrum is immense, but it's not stuck in the past. She's using these references to produce something forward-thinking.”
Photo: Zach Lewis
Buscabulla very deliberately plays with slang and musical nuances and references that will probably get lost to other Spanish speakers, let alone English-speaking audiences. And that’s the point, being true to your own identity but transcending to others through your art. For me, it was surreal to see them perform a song titled “Métele” at the Fader Fort to an unbeknownst hipster crowd. In the track, Raquel flaunts the explicit phrase “Métele bellaco,” usually spat out by male rappers such as Daddy Yankee and Yaviah at the club (and usually involving sexual perversity). But Buscabulla distorts that into a sexy love song, because “métele bellaco” can also mean that someone, such as a partner, is awesome, intense, and talented. “Machismo is a big part of Latin culture, and I like to take that and twist it around and make fun of it, make something really feminine and refreshing” says Raquel.
Buscabulla’s 3-song EP, produced by Hynes, was recorded in February, in the midst of the frigid New York winter. It will be out this summer. “It was pretty awesome. Dev served mainly as the voice of reason and guitar player through the process,” says Luifre. “Anything we were doubting ourselves on he'd talk us into or out of, he'd help us get sounds we had trouble articulating, etc.” Luifre and Raquel’s other baby, a baby girl, will also be born around that time. “I am the Scottie Pippen to Raquel's Michael Jordan. The Bulls were really really good,” says Luifre.
Video shot by Douglas Forte and edited by Ingrid Rojas.
Nuria Net is a founding editor at Fusion and now Social Storytelling Editor working on our Snapchat Discover channel. Co-founder, former editor-in-chief of Remezcla.com. Net is her real last name; Lechuga is her DJ name.