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How Pop Duo Buscabulla Lifts Up Puerto Rican Artists


Finally today, we've heard a lot about the ways that people all across the region have taken the lessons of last year's storms and are trying to move forward. Now we're going to introduce you to someone who's trying to lift up her community through music.


MARTIN: That's the music of Buscabulla, a project of Raquel Berrios and her partner, Luis Alfredo Del Valle. Both were born and raised in Puerto Rico but had moved to New York years ago. After the hurricane, they decided to move back. And along with a friend, she founded the PRIMA Fund. PRIMA is an organization that raises money to give micro grants - some $500 apiece - to support local Puerto Rican artists. The money can be used for anything from home repairs to replacing instruments and equipment.

I met up with Raquel right outside of RadioRed. It's a tiny little Internet radio coffee shop in a hip neighborhood in downtown San Juan. And I asked her how the PRIMA Fund came to be.

RAQUEL BERRIOS: Once the hurricane hit, you know, we were sort of feeling all helpless in New York City and kind of feeling like, whoa, like, what can we do? How can we sort of use, I mean, the small amount of fame and connections that we've sort of gained from our project to maybe make something where we can really help artists and musicians back home? They sort of need a help even before the hurricane. You know what I mean? There's no government support for music. Music is just not a priority here. And we sort of had this idea. We had so many friends back home that were really not having a great time after the hurricane. And we said maybe we can raise some money and start sending them grants.

MARTIN: How soon after the hurricane did you come back?

BERRIOS: We came in December to look for a house to rent. And when we came back in December, it was pretty hardcore. Luis had come back in October through a mission flight to bring medicine, and he had seen Ponce, which is his town, and I think it was sort of the first time that he had been able to talk to his mom after, like, three weeks of not hearing anything from her.

It was pretty intense. My dad didn't have electricity up until the end of February, and he lived in Trujillo Alto, which is, like, 15 minutes from San Juan. My grandmother who was 96 was incredibly depressed. She said that she thought that it was going to be her last, like, year of life. Her brother had died from, you know - I think from complications probably from depression from after the hurricane.

It was just like really, like, a collective thing. It was story after story of people either having economic hardship or just being really depressed because, you know, their family had moved out or had left the country - just, like, a bunch of stuff.

MARTIN: What role do you think music plays in the recovery? Because you could see where some people would be like that's not a priority - you know, food, medicine, electricity, gas. But you obviously feel that art and music is important. Why do you think it's important?

BERRIOS: Well, the funny thing is that, on a personal note, I didn't start making music till after I turned 30. And the reason why I started to make music was because I was in a really deep depression sort of wondering what - where my life was going in New York and sort of not even knowing. And it wasn't really until I found music that it just sort of - it changed my life forever.

And I sort of then discovered - and maybe it sounded cheesy, but it - music is and art is very powerful. And I feel that music is just so important. I mean, all that we wanted to do at PRIMA was - we wanted people, to, like make shows, and even though, like, people were, like, doing shows with generators. And it's like, please, people need this. People don't want to be at their house without any electricity just mumbling and crying and, like, wondering when they're going get their job back or even - or if they're going to have to leave the country.

I mean, music is there to uplift us, to - you know, to inspire us, to move us, to bring us together. I mean, it's essential, but it just kind of sucks that in sort of countries where, you know, there's so much hardship, it really ends up being, like, a last thing that people care about.

MARTIN: We're coming into another hurricane season. What are your thoughts now about that?

BERRIOS: You know, I'm sort of, like - you know, I'm lighting my candles and, like, praying, you know? I, like, literally just, like, worked really, really hard to come back. And you know, we're making a record, and we're trying to, like, you know, really support the music scene here. We're really trying to make people, like, not feel negative and do a lot of work here, and it would suck that a hurricane would come and just - you know, just like not help with that or just, like, unravel everything that we've really started to kind of, like, keep together, you know? So you know, hoping and praying that we just don't get another one in a while (laughter).

MARTIN: Is it possible - I mean, I know it sounds kind of Pollyanna - but is it possible that Puerto Rico could come back, you know, stronger, better and more vibrant?

BERRIOS: I think it's totally possible to make change. I mean, people are definitely waking up, so I'm going to think more - on the positive note. So I think, yeah, it's totally possible to make a new Puerto Rico. And I mean, I'm one of those people that really believes that. And I just want to use my artistry to, like, gather people around and spread the positive vibes about it. You know, there's a ton of work to do, and I just want to, like, psych people to - you know, to get to work with me.

MARTIN: That's great. Well, thank you. Thank you for talking with us.

BERRIOS: Yeah. Oh, my God, thank you.

MARTIN: Raquel introduced me to one of the musicians who's been awarded a PRIMA grant, Jose Ivan Lebron, or as he's known on stage, Moreira. Jose Ivan told me that he'd been planning on releasing his first full-length solo album, and then Maria hit. He had to wait two months after Maria to throw an album release party.

JOSE IVAN LEBRON: It was really special because in the venue, we had no electricity. We just had generators, and we did the whole show without A/C.


IVAN LEBRON: And it was a living hell, but it was great. It was really memorable.

MARTIN: Because why? People were just so happy to come out and hear some great music or what - tell me why.

IVAN LEBRON: Yeah, some of that - some of that definitely. Yeah, the energy that day was really good, and we had a bunch of bands, too. It wasn't just myself. So it was, like, a big show, the first big show that we've had since the hurricane.

MARTIN: OK. Tell me a little bit about your music and what it's all about.

IVAN LEBRON: It's - I'm going to play acoustic today, but it's mostly, like, a mixture of electronic music and alternative pop-rock.

MARTIN: OK. Well, let's hear it.

IVAN LEBRON: So, like, a mixture of things.

MARTIN: OK. Well, just one more thing before I let you go - and I - not to relive everything, but, like, how did you fare during the storm? Like, where were you? What was it like for you?

IVAN LEBRON: Well, I was - I spent it in my house. I didn't have much - how do you say it - like, damages in my home, neither in my parents house. But I got affected in economic ways, you know. I didn't work for four months, and it was awful. So the PRIMA Grant was really helpful. On that matter, I just spent a lot of time, like, just being in my house and recording stuff and just trying to survive the whole thing.

MARTIN: Wow. I'd love to hear some music. (Unintelligible).

IVAN LEBRON: This song is called (speaking in Spanish), "The Old Recipe." It's mostly about our governor and our people and the fact that we haven't stood up to the government and our system in the ways that we could and we should. That's mostly what the song is about.

(Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: That was Jose Ivan Lebron, or Moreira, local indie Puerto Rican artist.

IVAN LEBRON: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Our thanks to Ezequiel Rodriguez Andino at Radio San Juan for opening up his studio to us, to Estra Pacheco (ph) for her reporting help, to our colleague Adrian Florido for joining me this weekend in studio, to those who supported the broadcast both here in Puerto Rico and back in Washington, D.C., and especially to all of the people who shared their stories with us this week.

I'm Michel Martin. We'll be back in Washington next week. Thank you for listening. We hope you have a great night. And as they say here, (speaking in Spanish).

IVAN LEBRON: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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