Alana Casanova-Burgess: When it comes to music, you can hear Puerto Rico all over the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: WNYC studios, Alana Casanova-Burgess is back with the new season of the podcast La Brega.
Multiple: La Brega.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Season two explores the Puerto Rican experience in eight songs and Alana dropped by The Takeaway to talk about all things La Brega.
All right, before we begin, let's do a quick history lesson. The US calls Puerto Rico a territory. Can you give us a quick rundown on exactly what that means?
Alana Casanova-Burgess: It doesn't mean very much. It's a territory also referred to as a commonwealth. In Puerto Rico, the status is known as the Estado Libre Asociado; the Free Associated State. What do you think that means?
[laughter] It means not much of anything, but more and more the word colony is used on the island by people from all kinds of political persuasions. People who want statehood use the word colony. People who want independence use the word colony. It's just pretty widely recognized to be a US colony, one of the oldest in the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There are two words that La Brega does not use, but I just felt like the usefulness of having the conversation about why not using them. Can you talk about the word mainland for talking about the lower 48?
Alana Casanova-Burgess: Yes. La Brega is a project where we have members of our team who are in the Archipelago called Puerto Rico and we have people who are part of the diaspora like myself. When you talk about the mainland, that is true for whom the mainland is the lower 48. There are people from whom Puerto Rico is the mainland. It just tells you where you're looking at the issue from. With this season of La Brega, we're doing something really special because the first season was stories of the Puerto Rican experience this season, season two, it's the Puerto Rican experience in eight songs.
The reason why we wanted to focus on music is that we talk about Puerto Rico in the context of the US all the time because of that colonial relationship that we were just talking about but Puerto Rico is part of the Caribbean, it's part of Latin America and we also connect with that part of the globe through our music. We wanted to get into that and to think about what are the songs that represent us to the rest of the world and that represent us to ourselves. What are the lessons that we get from our own music? How does it knit us all together?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's go right into that, into the eight songs of this new season's focus. Talk to me a bit about these artists, this music.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: It's an eclectic collection of music. We thought about this season as an album or as a mixtape. We are actually also releasing an album as part of this season, which is really exciting. We've got eight songs about Puerto Rico. Things that we think of as iconically Puerto Rican and we have some curve balls in there too, some pitches that we got as a team and that we were thinking about. We were like, "You know what? That song is not maybe iconically Puerto Rican. Do you know the song, I Wonder If I Take You Home by Lisa Lisa?"
Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, come on.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: Lisa Lisa, Puerto Rican woman. We're claiming that song is our own. We've got a whole episode about that one. We also are doing Suavemente-
-by Elvis Crespo. That's the one Latin track that gets played at all English-speaking weddings.
[laughs] It's a merengue which is a genre of music that people more associate with the Dominican Republic. Merengue is Dominican. How did it come to be that Elvis Crespo, a Puerto Rican man has this-- Maybe people are going to at me on this, but I would say the most famous merengue of all time. We get into the Dominican population in Puerto Rico around that question.
We also talk about a beautiful song Las Caras Lindas-
-which was written by Tite Curet Alonso, a Puerto Rican songwriter, and genius man. That really is a song that tells us about the Black experience in Latin America. It's been covered in so many countries, in so many different genres of music. It's a song that comes from Puerto Rico and is really tied to the experience of Black people in Puerto Rico, of Afro-Latinos. That's a taste of where we're going.
You can tell there are all these bigger stories behind all these songs. I Wonder If I Take You Home is a song about sex, essentially. It's a song about consent and about women taking agency over their relationships.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Because I am 50 and my team is so very much not. Alana, who is Bad Bunny? Explain to the people.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: Who is Bad Bunny? Bad Bunny is the biggest artist on the planet right now, I would say. Because he's the most streamed musician. He is to us Benito, he's a Puerto Rican reggaetonero, urbano singer. His album Un Verano Sin Ti was just the soundtrack of 2022.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I think it's one thing to be Lisa Lisa and to be Puerto Rican and again, it's mid-80's and whatever's happening in the marketing of Lisa Lisa, it is that she is Puerto Rican, but I'm just going to use this language kind almost incidentally. I'm not talking about who she is as a person, but how she gets marketed, which is really different than what is happening with Bad Bunny, who is not incidentally Puerto Rican, as you point out, he is--
Alana Casanova-Burgess: Quintessential unapologetically. The Puerto Rican accent is a little different. I've heard people make fun of the way that we talk. On La Brega, this especially happened after our first season came out, people, it really moved them to hear our voices and all our different accents. Again, unapologetic about it. Benito "Bad Bunny" is doing that as well. He's just really, really Puerto Rican. I can't tell you how moved I feel when I see videos of tens of thousands of people in arenas all over the hemisphere singing in Mexico City, singing in Chile, singing in Austin, singing Puerto Rican words in a Puerto Rican accent.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, don't go anywhere, folks. We'll be right back with more from Alana Casanova-Burgess, host of the La Brega podcast. Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're continuing our conversation with Alana Casanova-Burgess host, producer, and co-creator of the La Brega podcast.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: There are lots of Puerto Rican anthems about missing Puerto Rico because we are a place that is so defined by the diasporic experience. My family moved to New York and so I was born here and that's not an accident of history. There are policies that displaced us and that shaped my family's lives and so many other lives. There's a lot of Puerto Rican music that's about the nostalgia of home, about yearning to be back home. We talk in the first episode about a song Preciosa which was covered by Marc Anthony. Maybe some of your listeners have heard it.
Bad Bunny is different because he lives in Puerto Rico. When he's not touring, he is there and he sings from the perspective of someone who loves his home. Just as much as any other Puerto Rican singer. He also sings about things like potholes, [music] about blackouts, about the government failing. Benito doesn't shy away from pointing those things out, but he does it with this love. There is no doubt that Bad Bunny is proud to be Puerto Rican, even as he sees the shortcomings and that the place deserves better.
Melissa Harris-Perry: By going to music, by giving us the story this season across these eight songs, I'm going to come here in my final question to the other word that you do not use except to level a rather brilliant critique of it. What you're doing here in this season isn't that, it isn't like, "Oh, things are so bad, but we hold on to our cultural resilience." Walk us through that.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: That idea of resilience is like, "Wow, look at how great these people are at surviving." It doesn't give you a chance to step back and ask, "Why are they surviving so hard? Why is life something that you have to be resilient for instead of thriving and enjoying?" We talk about that a lot in the first season. We also wanted to celebrate our excellence. Puerto Rico is a place that punches above its weight consistently in music.
That's not just with Bad Bunny, it's with salsa, it's with boletos, it's with Hip-Hop, it's with freestyle. We really wanted to celebrate ourselves and to highlight that excellence, and to think about what are we really singing about with all these issues. We talk about race, we talk about LGBTQ+ rights in this season, we talk about difficult things, but you can't be suffering and struggling and being resilient all the time. I learned a lot covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Everybody wants this narrative of this sad place with a tiny violin. That's just not what's happening. That's not the musical soundtrack. I don't want to give the impression that Puerto Ricans are dancing through the pain because that's not what happens. There's this way of expressing these other deeper, bigger stories and also feeling connected to the rest of the world because the rest of the world hears our music.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Alana Casanova-Burgess is host, producer, and co-creator of La Brega: stories of the Puerto Rican experience. Alana, thank you for joining us.
Alana Casanova-Burgess: Thank you so much.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Remember, you can find the La Brega wherever you get podcasts.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.