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What's Past Is Present On Two New Puerto Rican Albums

Courtesy of the artist

Two new albums of Puerto Rican music are giving vintage musical styles new meaning in the present. Singer Ileana Cabra and the leaders of the group Miramar all had careers in cutting edge salsa and pop; on their own, though, they've chosen to update older sounds, especially the melancholy, romantic bolero. Their new albums -- Ileana Cabra's iLevitable and Miramar's Dedication to Sylvia Rexach — are both out now.

Ileana Cabra first took the stage as a teenager, singing backup for her older half-brothers in the genre-bending, Latin Grammy-winning dance band Calle 13. But on her ambitious solo debut, iLe, as she is known, transports her spectacular alto voice into a boldly reimagined past.

Two boleros on her album were written by Cabra's late grandmother. These are songs of impossible love and heartbreaking sadness. Cabra's own compositions also find beauty in dark places, and not always through the bolero. "Rescatarme," or "Rescue Me," conjures the grandeur of a vintage mambo orchestra.

/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

Miramar goes for an even tighter focus on the past, with an album featuring covers by Puerto Rico's greatest and most beloved bolero composer, Sylvia Rexach. The principals here spent over a decade spinning out Nuyorican salsa and other Latin dance grooves in the group Bio Ritmo. But in Miramar, their voices intertwine in a spare and elegant invocation of heritage.

These are trying times for folks with ties to Puerto Rico. The island faces a crippling debt crisis, and its diaspora community has endured tragedy on the U.S. mainland. In a time of grief and self-reflection, the music of Ileana Cabra and Miramar offers much needed solace. The pain of the present finds transcendence in enduring expressions of the past.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Banning Eyre