If you’ve ever been to a Buscabulla show, chances are that at some point your gaze momentarily strayed from frontwoman Raquel Berrios over to the intriguing shimmering figure shredding guitar and frantically twisting controller knobs on the side of the stage. Luis Valentín – better known to fans and lovers as Bairoa – has played with the buzzy boricuas for years, consistently catching our eye from crowded dance pits thanks to his killer wardrobe and seductive stage presence. Bairoa is finally dropping some heat of his own, kicking off 2018 with the release of his delightful and highly anticipated debut EP Barlovento.
Majestic and funky, Barlovento is exactly what you would want to hear from a guy who looks and carries himself like Prince’s long-lost love child. The record is dense and wildly cohesive, with a vintage quality that banks on 80s and 90s nostalgia without getting stuck in its references. Each song on Barlovento is a meticulous sonic collage of thick baselines and sparkly synths, but instead of selling you a Studio 54 fantasy, Bairoa incorporates sounds of coursing water and wildlife to emphasize the organic contrasts of composing R&B-inspired music on a Caribbean island.
“The record’s instrumentals were mainly inspired by daydreams,” Bairoa tells Remezcla over email from his home in Ponce. “There are always moments in life where everything stops and you are suddenly suspended because the right song is playing.” Indeed, much of Barlovento plays like dreamy snapshots of a glitzy house party. “Lune” is a dazzling disco gem that will have you twirling late into the night, while the indisputable banger “Champagne Daze” is the kind of throwback earworm that should inspire an entire generation of Kid ‘N Play style dance-offs. Nowhere does Bairoa seem to be soundtracking a John Hughes film more than on “Sixteen Candles,” Barlovento’s hypersensual slow jam. As the song’s evocative saxophone blows, you can almost feel the enveloping warmth of Molly Ringwald’s plush pastel sweaters.
The video for Barlovento’s title track, as well as its cover art, is heavily inspired by the imagery of bodegones from the Santería tradition. Developed in conjunction with Puerto Rican art direction and photography team Nosotrus, Bairoa’s instillation is comprised of tropical fruits, a rubber snake, and a framed picture of himself. According to Bairoa, the bodegón represents “a kind of offering of who I am to the island so it receives me back with kindness.”
Barlovento’s original fall 2017 release hit a major impasse when Puerto Rico was struck by devastating back-to-back hurricanes. “It was such a difficult time,” he says. “I was quite close to finalizing the record just before Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico, but the day after we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I mean, there was no radio, no communications, no electricity, no nothing – and it was like that for months. Imagine your country suddenly stops being the normal place it was from one day to another.”
Bairoa’s on-the-ground experience as an artist trying to remain hopeful and productive while in distress echoes the challenges facing countless island-bound creatives as Puerto Rico’s plight for aid and adequate relief continues. “There is always light at the end of the tunnel,” he reflects. “I first saw all my co-workers and close friends being super active, doing everything to help us and establish communications. Several fundraisers were started to help different situations, like PRIMA, which helps independent artists struggling on the island. And honestly, if it weren’t for initiatives like those I wouldn’t be talking about my EP right now. Bless the heart of all the people who help. Forever grateful, we have recovered slowly but surely thanks to all the kind hearts that helped us.”
Bairoa’s Barlovento EP is out now.