During uncertain times, Buscabulla confidently moves back to Puerto Rico
Lady Gaga, out of all people, played matchmaker to Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo “Luifre” Del Valle. Raquel was playing with her then-all girl group N’Teta (loosely translated as “Tits Out”) at a house party when they were trying to find the chords to Bad Romance. Luifre, another independent musician from Puerto Rico, walked up to them and told them he knew it by heart. And the rest is history. In 2012, Buscabulla (troublemaker), their first non-biological child was born. The duo takes inspiration from 70s and 80s salsa, Caribbean music —from reggaeton to calypso—Air, Serge Gainsbourg and many other styles and genres of world music. After almost six successful years based in Brooklyn, the couple decided to move back to post-Maria Puerto Rico to work on their upcoming first album. Sometimes taking a risk is the best decision any buscabulla can take.
Miguel Figueroa: How are you guys feeling?
Raquel: I’m incredibly happy to be here. But sometimes I don’t know if it comes from living in New York [and coming back]. New York has all that hustle and survival lifestyle. Once you step out of it and return to Puerto Rico you look at the island with different eyes and realize that you love being here. What I have here, I could never have there.
MF: The system here raises us not to love the place we come from.
R: They [from the media to the government] feed this feeling of shame...
MF: "It’s better over there." You may leave, but eventually you usually want to return.
R: How long have you been back?
MF: Three years.
R: How do you feel?
MF: I couldn’t have made a better decision.
R: Does it have to do with the fact that you have connections to other places?
MF: Absolutely. I couldn’t leave behind everything I built personally and professionally. I think that returning to the island at the moment is a revolutionary act —but, it was not easy at first.
R: We feel the same way.
MF: It is important to come back with a plan, and you’re at it, working on your first full-length record.
RB: The funny thing is that when I left for New York, I felt hopeless. I asked myself, "What can I do here?" When we started talking about returning to make the album, I always said that I needed a lifeline to the outside world.
MF: Absolutely. It's good to have that flexibility and use it to your best advantage.
RB: Maybe other people don’t need it, but I do. When we signed with Ribbon Music I told Luifre, "That's our lifeline." It was time.
Luifre: Once we had a kid, we started feeling kind of isolated. In the city people are running around like crazy trying to make shit happen and it's hard to find a community. We realized we needed to live somewhere that had this sense [of community] and where it felt like home.
MF: Puerto Rico has a large community of independent artists: musicians, painters, writers, filmmakers, you name it... We are so many. I think the island is grateful that we returned.
RB: I hope...
MF: It is.
LF: If you come back you gotta try to make people excited to do cool shit, even you only make a dent. That's the only thing you can really do. At least, we should have a common goal of attaining something that eventually benefits our island. If you leave, leave. But come back with knowledge and/or invest in something that's good for everyone here.
MF: But you can’t leave and just stay with people from your country. You have to branch out to be able to grow. This doesn’t happen just to us, it happens with everyone who leaves their birthplace.
RB: Why do you think this way?
MF: Because it gives you the opportunity to find your true self, and for that, you need to disconnect for a while to decide who you really are.
LF: True. You did not chose to be born here. There are some things that you have no way of choosing—the color of your hair, skin or even your family—but you have to decide to own up to them. A country is an extension of a family. I think that's how we have to try to look at things. At the end of the day, regardless of choosing them, you still owe something to your family. Those feelings are very strong specially here. We felt the need to come back because in a way we needed to be here for ours.
RB: In New York we found that we were in a city that, to a certain extent, only rewarded individualism, capitalism and isolation. I had my group of friends, but I still felt so isolated there.
LF: New York helped us realized something—it's the reason we're here in this moment with a different state of mind and a sort of different life—that New York is also the perfect example of a place that sometimes deepens that spiritual void a lot of us feel, but in exchange, it can give you real opportunities for material gain. It's a weird trade-off that can wear you out.
RB: I got to a point that I told myself, "I cannot take it anymore." It's an unbelievable city but you can lose that human touch. Becoming a mom and being an artist is heavy. Where are the support networks of women who want to be both? But, we were lucky. We were at the right place at the right time.
MF: I think that the success of a person is based on the energy and passion that they dedicate to their projects without expecting anything in return. You have to let things unfold naturally.
RB: That's true.
MF: New York is not the best place for creative growth. When I was thinking of returning home, I had a serendipitous moment at a Hemingway exhibit in the Morgan Library. There was a letter in response to a young writer who wanted to move to New York and it said something along the lines of “The worst thing you can do for your creativity is to move to New York. This city is like a bottle, it's easy to go in but to come out of it is nearly impossible.” That's when I realized that it was time to go.
RB: Wow. We thought that we would never get out of that bottle. Luifre and I look back, and since Charly was born it was a really sacrificing time—running to shows then getting up to go to work, plus taking care of the baby. We thought we were going to miss the train to finally leave the city.
MF: You guys did it in a way that many musicians do—you left your “base” to go somewhere else in order to create.
RB: That's right, even Bjørk moved here for a while to work.
MF: Let's talk about Maria. The island was disconnected for such a long time, and even 9 months down the road some places are yet to come back to where they were before. How were you guys handling it in New York?
RB: It was awful. We could not get a hold of our families. Luifre was not able to talk to his mom for two weeks. My close friends and us [Luifre and I] were damaged, it was chaotic for all of our Puerto Rican friends.
MF: When I finally was able to have contact with the rest of the world, I had over 100 message combined: from e-mails, Facebook, Whatsapp, SMS from friends from around the world—some who I had not spoken to in years—family members, even exes, everyone wanting to know if we were ok. The outpouring of love since has been incredible.
RB: I do not know if you remember that an eclipse had happened just before the hurricane. I had read that this particular one was a "Great American Eclipse" and that in the last great American eclipse was when the Declaration of Independence was written and a lot of other crazy things happened. For me, it was so curious that during this eclipse all the hurricanes and the forest fires in California were happening. It was fucked up what happened. The outcome was that everyone wanted and had this need to do something about it out of fucking love.
For about a month and a half we were in a daze. You were here surviving and we were over there thinking, "what can we do?" Everyone tried to connect back in one way or another and many projects arose as a result of what happened. We went overboard. I don’t even remember anymore how many DJ sets and shows we played, running from fundraiser to fundraiser. Eventually we founded the PRIMA [Puerto Rico Independent Musicians & Artists] fund to raise money for musicians who needed help during as a result of the aftermath of Maria and Irma. We managed to raise around $50,000 and have given $500 grants to more than 60 musicians and artists. Now we’re organizing a showcase in New York where we are bringing four Puerto Rican bands that were supported by PRIMA— and we haven’t stopped yet.
MF: There is still so much to do.
RB: These are things that could have happened before the hurricane. Imagine if this kind of help had always existed for musicians and artists of Puerto Rico.
MF: It would be a whole other ballgame. What are your thoughts on the way the US and local government have handled things?
LF: It’s been terrible on so many levels. The local government is still withholding information as to how many people actually died. Harvard says it’s close to five thousand people. Sick people, young and old, children and even babies. Who's taking responsibility for that? It's awful man.
MF: How did you feel about Trump's visit?
LF: They were making sleazy political theater out of a real tragedy. It was pretty gross.
RB: I wanted to take a step back from that circus. Everything seemed to be planned and felt like a trap. I come from a place that I don’t like to just complain because it makes me feel like a weak person. Maybe it's something that comes from my ego. The fact that I am a creative person makes me think that a person who complains is only pointing out a problem. A creative person comes up with ideas and solutions to deal with the problem, and there are many people on the island doing just that. I'm very excited by the work of a lot of non-profits and grassroots organizations working to shift to a mindset geared towards self-reliance. Deep down we should believe that we can do it ourselves.
MF: The government doesn’t really have us in their best interest.
RB: We need to overcome the intellectual rigidity mainly existing on social media which can easily stunt creativity and open-mindedness when it comes to finding bold solutions for Puerto Rico and maybe society in general. It makes me sad to see all the hate out there, while most of us are just trying to figure out who we are and how to help.
Now that we're here working on our fist record, we're starting to navigate these things and all we really want to do is inspire people to be unafraid and bold. These are complex times to be an artist. You have to grow balls.
MF: Sometimes it feels like we can’t be neutral. We're walking a tight rope if you choose not to follow the current of thought like everyone else. We have different ways of dealing with this, and you are absolutely right about creatives finding their own way of dealing with things. We have to stay focused in order to create. In the end, the system wants us hypnotized.
RB: I guess maybe, at the end of the day, you have to learn that you might not make everybody happy. You just have to learn to be who you are, and we should really try to love and understand each other.