Before reggae en español legends Cultura Profética hit the stage at their 20th anniversary concert on Tuesday, May 24, DJ Mandraks mixed songs like Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” with Calle 13’s “La Jirafa.” To any old person walking down the street, this might not mean much, but to every person at Terminal 5 that night, it meant everything. Most of us there were Latinos, and that dancehall classic brought us back to middle school dance parties, grinding up against each other as the curfew clock ticked. “La Jirafa” reflects the type of fusion we live for today. These are the same roots Cultura Profética encompasses.
Formed in 1996, Cultura has become a staple on La Isla Del Encanto. If you’ve been to Puerto Rico, chances are you’ve at least heard one of their songs at a restaurant, shop, or blasting from someone’s car. For Puerto Ricans living on the island, Cultura is as Boricua as pastelón and coqui, representative of the island’s roots. Though they deal in a Jamaican-born rhythm, Cultura’s ability to tell the Puerto Rican tale is celebrated as widely as Héctor Lavoe and Frankie Ruiz – it just follows a different beat. For Nuyoricans, Cultura summons feelings of nostalgia for the other island they call home. Cultura’s music taps into what we music lovers revere: romance, heartbreak, escapism, and political injustice. They form part of a longstanding tradition of Latin American reggae bands, like Argentina’s Los Cafres, Chile’s Gondwana, and the Natiruts of Brazil, all of which formed sometime between the late 80s and mid-90s.
Cultura Profética has released nine albums, spanning from studio recordings to live LPs. Their discography includes 2005’s M.O.T.A, which peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Latin album chart; fan favorite La Dulzura; 2011’s 15 Aniversario en Luna Park; and Tribute to the Legend: Bob Marley, a live performance recorded in 2006 at the Tito Puente Amphitheatre in San Juan. They’ve also been featured on multiple compilation albums.
Not only was their 20th anniversary show sold out, but there was also a well-known host on hand: Luis D. Ortiz of Million Dollar Listing fame, who proudly proclaimed he smoked pot for the first time to Cultura and lost his virginity to the band’s music before welcoming them on stage.
Founding members Willy Rodríguez (lead vocalist, bass guitar), Boris Bilbraut (drums, vocals), Eluit González (guitar), and Omar Silva (guitar and bass guitar) – along with keyboardist Juanqui Sulsona, the horn section, backing band, and singers – performed a set similar to their 15th anniversary show at Luna Park, playing their fans’ most beloved songs, while demonstrating exactly why they are one of the best live acts.
“Ritmo Que Pesa” set the mood perfectly as their opening song, before going right into “La Complicidad.” The reggae-loving crowd danced the night away, as Puerto Rican flags and smoke clouds billowed over their heads. And as if we needed an excuse to light up, the band played an extended version of “Sube El Humo” next. Tattoos and dreadlocks bobbed through the crowd, swaying harmoniously to each song. It’s safe to say that almost everyone was smoking, without any concern for getting caught by a security guard. And thanks to the sexy mood, I’m pretty sure every single person there was going to get laid after the show.
The band transformed every song into an extended jam session, giving each member an opportunity to showcase their musical talents in other genres like jazz, bossa nova, tango, salsa, and even hip-hop. Throughout the night, Cultura also went back in time to their cover band roots, paying tribute to Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” and Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
They also performed some of their more recent songs, like “Saca, Prende y Sorprende,” which branched off into El General’s “Tu Pum Pum” for a hot second, as well as the more political “Le Da Igual.” Before leaving the stage, Rodríguez introduced “Despertador Solar,” a song he wrote about being a father, which hasn’t made it on to an album yet, but the band has been performing live this past tour.
Cultura is known to perform the reggae festival circuit in Puerto Rico and Latin America, only tapping into the North American market within the past couple of years, and mostly sticking to Florida-based gigs. But two years ago they played their first New York City show at the Highline Ballroom. It sold out and soon a second night was added. The love and loyalty of New York fans was in full effect on Tuesday, and it seemed the promoters were anticipating this; Terminal 5 has a max capacity of 3,000, while Highline Ballroom only hosts 700.
But even more impressive was that the show was also live streamed by TIDAL, as the streaming giant continues to add Latino content to their platform. Cultura even curated an exclusive playlist for TIDAL prior to Tuesday’s show. The collection included tracks by Al Green, Toots and the Maytals, and D’Angelo.
Selling out Terminal 5 is a true testament to the legacy Cultura is forging 20 years after its inception, as well as their fans’ loyalty. The band hasn’t released a full-length studio album since 2010’s La Dulzura. But not to worry, Willy Rodríguez promised the crowd more when he declared that this anniversary party wasn’t a celebration of the past 20 years, but rather a sign of what’s to come from the band in the next two decades. With their unwavering fan base, the sky’s the limit for Cultura – not just in Puerto Rico and New York, but for Latinos all over the world.