An interesting thing happened the other day. Just as it occurred to me that there was a void in my life where there should be some thrilling NYC-coated, Puerto Rican electro-pop with a tropical twist, what should pop up in my inbox? That’s right, the Dev Hynes-produced debut EP from Buscabulla (Spanish for troublemaker), a Puerto Rican duo based in Brooklyn, along with the opportunity to interview singer and one half of the group, Raquel Berrios.
Sitting in my pokey London apartment, I spoke to Raquel via Skype, as she told me about her relationship with musical and life partner Luis Alfredo del Valle, the comparative scenes in San Juan and New York, the importance of Gustavo Cerati, and a childhood raised on old salsa records.
For those who haven’t been following your trajectory on Remezcla, could you tell us about your background?
Luis and I are from Puerto Rico. I’m from a town called Trujillo Alto, ten minutes from San Juan. Luis is from Ponce on the south-west of the island. I moved to New York about seven years ago and Luis about three or four. We live in Brooklyn.
I’ve always had a knack for music. My dad plays guitar, native guitar from Puerto Rico. He’s a real music freak with a big vinyl collection, lots of salsa records. It just sort of rubbed off. I guess I grew up loving that and when I came to the city I listened to it every day. Lots of retro Latin stuff, Brazilian stuff.
What are your musical influences?
A lot of salsa. I love Argentine ’80s rock, like Soda Stereo and Charly Garcia. Cerati was a pretty big influence. In Puerto Rico there was kind of a small group of people who grew up on Soda Stereo in the ’80s. But after Cerati did his solo project his following became pretty big in Puerto Rico, particularly around the last part of his career. He’d go to Puerto Rico every time he went on tour. It was sad when he died.
You could say the Caribbean-ness is more in the words and percussion instruments. It’s more like R&B or soul.
On my mother’s side, there’s a lot of R&B, Prince, Chaka Khan, Sade, people like that. My mom’s half Puerto Rican and half American so there was a mix.
Do you try to put elements of all these influences into your music?
Yeah, it’s one big mess.
How would you describe your EP?
You could subdivide it in two parts. “Caer” and “Métele” are a little less Caribbean, or you could say the Caribbean-ness is more in the words and percussion instruments. It’s more like R&B or soul. There are rock influences too. I feel the other half (“Temporal” and “Sono”) deconstructs that and is more Caribbean. It’s more experimental towards the end, whereas I feel the beginning is more accessible. There’s something for everybody.
So Buscabulla is just you and Luis?
We’re the ones who do pretty much all the production and recording. We play live with Luis Daniel Valentin, Abdiel Lopez, and Mike Melendez who have their own awesome projects. And we have some other projects, collaborations, things like that.
Are you playing many gigs?
We took a hiatus in the summer because Luis and I had a baby girl.
So you’re a couple.
Yeah, we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. We took a musical break but now we’re going full steam ahead this week. We’re playing two shows, another one at the beginning of November. We’re also doing a show in Puerto Rico and there’s other stuff lined up.
What’s it like being in a band with your partner?
We were a couple before we ever worked on anything together. He’d work on music on his side and I’d work on my side. So when we started working together, it was kind of a bumpy ride, you see new aspects of each other’s personalities. But it’s actually pretty convenient. We live together. The New York lifestyle is crazy.
Was it music that brought you together in the first place? Is that how you met?
Oh yeah, totally. We met when I was going to buy a drum set, and he was a drummer. It was like ‘oh, you should help me with the drums.’ I got half the drum set and he completed it with the snare. It was definitely music that brought us together.
There’s definitely a movement in Puerto Rico. We’re based in New York but we feel our scene is very much over there.
How do you find the Latin scene in terms of people mixing up traditional and contemporary styles?
There are people doing cool stuff. La Mecánica Popular is a psychedelic salsa group. It’s very interesting what they’ve been up to. There’s definitely a movement in Puerto Rico. We’re based in New York but we feel our scene is very much over there. We really identify with the scene there and we know everybody.
Where would you recommend going to check the Latin scene in New York?
My dear friends Hector and Glori have a party called D’Marquesina. They’ve been doing those parties, like, forever. They happen on the lower East Side. There’s a bar called Home Sweet Home, sort of a classic place. But we all move around, it’s not really just one place. It’s so varied night by night.
What about in San Juan?
The main venue where everything happens is a place called La Respuesta. That’s probably the best live music venue apart from a makeshift venue called El Local, which is super punk. Those two places are pretty good for music right now.
Do you think there’s interest in Latin music in the non-Latin community?
I think so. Any time I bump any salsa track at a party, it’s just crazy. People love salsa. It doesn’t matter where you play it, people just love to dance to it. The whole thing about how the Latin community is growing in the US means people are generally more interested.
Where would you like to be this time next year?
I hope I’ll be able to live off this. I want to be touring and have an album out already. I’d love to go to the UK or Paris or Spain. People love salsa in Paris.
It’s important for us to make good Latin music. To me, it feels like the golden age of Latin music happened at some point in the ’70s. We want to make music that doesn’t just live in Latin America, you know. We want to make music that people can listen to anywhere, in Spanish but which can transcend the language barrier. That’s what we really hope to achieve.
The Buscabulla EP is out now on Kitsuné Records.