MalaCara’s Musical Short Expounds on the Everyday Struggle of Being in Quarantine in Puerto Rico

Courtesy of LIMBEL CITY.

Everything about Puerto Rican rapper MalaCara’s latest collaborative short, musical film, Toque de Queda en Macondo, is real. Except, of course, that Macondo doesn’t really exist—it’s a fictional city imagined by Gabriel García Márquez, best known for its appearance in his book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. But today, says MalaCara, nee Nelson Monterola Trinidad, Puerto Rico feels more than ever like that fantastical, yet tragic place.

“All these amazing things and incredible stuff that you could not believe happen there,” he tells Remezcla. “I was like, damn, Macondo is Puerto Rico, definitely. Because here, a lot of crazy shit happens.”

An authentic slice-of-life piece, the short narrates a day in quarantine, due to COVID-19, for actual couple MalaCara and vocalist Sally Ortiz Castro (a.k.a. Pájaro), who met through recording and are expecting their first child together. While the rigidity of regulations has fluctuated based on surges of positive cases and perceived slows, generally, residents of Puerto Rico have been under some degree of government-mandated lockdown since mid-March.

Through the Limbel City-made short and the music itself, MalaCara expounds upon his and Pájaro’s own situation, but also considers how their friends are faring and imagines the experiences of others throughout the island too.

The short’s soundtrack is built from the four songs from MalaCara’s eponymous, forthcoming EP—with beats by producer Ibn Itaka and at-home recordings sent by WhatsApp mixed and mastered by Stephan Coll—reordered and trimmed for narrative purposes. Visually, Toque de Queda en Macondo is decidedly free of garnishes, leaning instead on simple, but smart camerawork and lighting that intimately connects the viewer with its subjects.

Much of what you see draws on the couple’s own reality: The car in the video is really theirs, and it really did break down. Pájaro is seen making a tea that she actually served to the entire crew of collaborators who, by the way, worked from early morning to late night to finish the short in a single day. Bits were filmed in the government housing where MalaCara was born and raised; the kitchen, patio, and garden scenes were, as you might expect, shot at the couple’s current home.

Pájaro’s melancholic ruminations on “Qué Dia es Hoy,” the second song in the short’s procession, were written from the perspective of an intense emotional and mental low. “You don’t even know what day is it, what’s your name, what’s the color of the sun,” she says. “It’s this feeling of hopelessness, being depressed and just losing sense of everything in that feeling.”

MalaCara’s verses are incredibly dense, but undeniably agile: he spits indictments of Puerto Rico’s government and its lack of transparency and failure to respond effectively to the needs of its people during this pandemic; he conveys the anxious uncertainty, exacerbated financial desperation, and health risks the pueblo faces; he also contemplates the myriad means of coping, through substance use, meditation, or anything else, in this struggle for survival.

The final song is “Esperanza & Renacer,” in which MalaCara speaks Pájaro’s community project, Huerto y Vida. The initiative uses art, gardening, and traditional medicines as tools for healing and social justice, she says: “After the [January] earthquakes [in Puerto Rico] we were going to the southwest giving free healing clinics with massage, acupuncture, reiki.”

Pooling together and validating ancestral knowledge from community members to combat the physical, spiritual, and emotional sickness caused by racism, homophobia, machismo, and colonialism is a foundational part of the effort, she says. You don’t hear all of that in the shortened version of the song used in the film, but the sentiment of healing through nature and the traditional medicines it provides is certainly there.

Toque de Queda en Macondo is MalaCara’s second project released this year; just before quarantine, he dropped CREACCION, produced by LaCostaMusic, an album that’s as much an enlightening education on Puerto Rico’s present and past as it is a listenable, hip-sway-inducing work. Like Toque de Queda en Macondo, and as implied by the album name, calls to action are also a critical element in the work.

“At the end of the day, we’re from this island,” MalaCara says. “So we’ve got to work to make it a better place for all of us, and fight for our rights, and not let these corrupt people mess and fuck with us.”

Some singles from the eponymous EP are already available on Spotify; the rest are coming soon. A live (and complete) version of “TikTok,” featuring instrumentation by some of Puerto Rico’s leading underground artists, is also available on YouTube.

And if you’re wondering if the jarring Emergency Alert at the end of the short is real: Yes, it is. Puerto Rico residents receive some version of this startling alert by text every damn night.