iLe gets in touch with anger on new, politically motivated songs

by Marty Lipp

iLe has concerts coming up in Princeton and New York.

Ileana Cabra Joglar joined the family business when she was 16, the family business being Calle 13, the Puerto Rican hip-hop act that has won the most Latin Grammys by a group in history.

It all started when her older brothers brought her to a sing on a demo of one of their songs; she then became a mainstay of their performances at small clubs in Puerto Rico. A cousin dubbed her PG-13 because she was technically too young to go into the venues they performed at, and she adopted that as her stage name until announcing in 2015 that she was going solo and calling herself iLe.

Now after three critically acclaimed albums, the singer-songwriter brings her latest world tour to the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, Feb. 15 and Sony Hall in Manhattan, Feb. 18. Her year-long tour has taken her around the world with a smaller-than-usual band.

“To my surprise, it sounds pretty powerful,” she says. “At first it was like you don’t know how it’s going to be. But now I feel that we are like totally connected with the musicians and everything, and it sounds incredible.”

Because iLe was much younger than her siblings, she says, “They always joke that I kind of obligated them to see my Princess Disney movies when I was a kid, and they always mess around how in control I was of all of them.” She recalls playful talent shows at home; that familiarity made her comfortable even on a stage with tens of thousands watching.

“When the group happened, it was a big surprise for us,” she says. “None of us knew what it was going to become and no one expected it. But I mean, it was just so fun. And obviously I was with my brothers. This was my family, so it was very comfortable for me, in a way, just like as if we were at our house.”

The cover of ILe’s 2016 album, “iLevitable.”

Little sister stepped into the solo spotlight in a big, splashy way in 2016 with iLevitable, which garnered her a Grammy win for Best Latin Rock album and a Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. The album caught many off-guard because while she was known as a singer in a rap band, the songs were a retro homage to the lush orchestrations of classic Latin big bands.

She says that some Calle 13 fans knew of her love for old styles, but “a lot of them were surprised. But for me it has always made sense … It was risky because suddenly it was my first album with a lot of musicians and a lot of orchestrations and the album was also mixed analog. So it was, like, too much information for me for a first album, but I learned a lot and I enjoyed it as well and I was just very focused on this particular sound.”

Her sophomore release, Almadura, took her in an entirely different direction: The album was both more political and had a folkloric sound, powered with Afro-Puerto Rican percussion.

“I started feeling more connected to more of an energy that I was feeling at the time,” she says. “More courageous and more like anger and rage. And that suddenly took me to a rhythm, a percussion, something raw and like a heartbeat.”

The recording also coincided with her stepped-up political activities in the devastating wake of Hurricane Maria. Along with Bad Bunny and her brother René “Residente” Pérez Joglar, she wrote a popular protest song, “Afilando Los Cuchillos (Sharpening the Knives),” and participated in rallies that resulted in the resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor.

During the creation of her latest album, Nacarile, the disruption of the pandemic threw iLe for a loop, challenging her perfectionistic tendencies.

“I didn’t know exactly how to manage it,” she says. “So I had to un-manage. I had to understand that maybe I don’t need to be in total control all the time, and I need to find my way to flow with it. I think that’s why I feel a lot better now, because I learned from that and now I can play around and not be so judgmental of my work or myself, but trusting the process and trusting more in myself and what I can do when I’m not in control.”

The cover of iLe’s 2022 album, “Nacarile.”

The title of the album is based on the Puerto Rican expression “Nacarile del Oriente,” which loosely translates to “hell no.” She said it was a “motivational no” that kept surfacing during the process of making the album as she threw herself repeatedly against the challenges she faced. She also liked that “Nacarile” included the three letters of her stage name, so it became the album title.

“I don’t see that word as negative,” she says. “For me it has a lot of attitude and determination. It connected with what each song is about, but also with the process of making the whole album that I really wasn’t very comfortable with. ‘Nacarile’ relates that expression of motivation, of not getting stuck, but rather transcending and to keep going.”

The album is her most diverse, pulling in different styles and guest artists. “Algo Bonito (Something Pretty),” for example, traffics in the staccato beats of reggaeton, and rough-hewn feminism, with vocals from rapper Ivy Queen (watch video below). In what could be seen as a statement of purpose for the album, the narrator sings of a frustrated “scream that turns into song” as she turns the tables on toxic masculinity. Flipping the macho script, iLe sings: “I have never believed that quiet I look prettier.”

On “Traguito (Swig),” she matches big, dramatic vocals with Chile’s Mon Laferte to a slow, acoustic-guitar-driven classic bolero vibe. “He says I’m not easy,” the femme noir narrator sings. “It’s not that I was difficult. It’s just that I went the way I wanted.”


On the single, “En Cantos,” a lovely song of a consuming passion, she trades expressive vocals with Mexico’s Natalia Lafourcade against a steady, rhythmic chorus of humming and a matrix of electronic percussion.

What continues is iLe’s political advocacy, which has not brought about the wholesale change on Puerto Rico she feels is necessary. “It’s sad, it’s frustrating, it is really depressing,” she says of the political situation. “But still I try to compensate a little [by focusing on] the energy of the people that are trying to do something about it, not giving so much energy on the negative part.

“Anger is an emotion that is important for us to embrace a little more. I feel that it’s important because sometimes I think that we let things pass by and we ignore them. And then the anger is still there. We need to take time and acknowledge it and express it, obviously respectfully and everything, but it is an important and necessary emotion, I think.”

While she is already working on songs for her next album, she did not rule out the possibility of reuniting with her brothers for a Calle 13 project.

“I have worked with both of them, so that has been cool,” she says. “But I think it’s something that will flow if it needs to. We haven’t sat down or talked about it or anything and I think it happened the same when we ended. At the time, it was just the feeling, and I think that’s what’s going to happen if it needs to happen … I don’t see it so much as a work thing. I see it more as a family thing.”

iLe will perform at The Berlind Theater at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, Feb. 15 at 7:30 pm., and at Sony Hall in Manhattan, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. Visit or


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