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What happens when you go back to a place you thought was your home, only to find it profoundly different? That’s the subject explored in Puerto Rican indie pop duo Buscabulla‘s debut album, Regresa, out on May 8.
Buscabulla is made up of husband and wife Luis Alfredo Del Valle and Raquel Berrios, two Puerto Rico-born musicians who were based in New York until 2017. When their birthplace was devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma that year, they decided to leave New York and go back to where they were born. It was an emotional journey, one that inspired the songs of Regresa and which they chronicled for an upcoming mini-documentary.
“There is something meaningful to being back here,” Del Valle says. “There is something meaningful to coming back to the place that sort of made you.
NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke to Luis Alfredo Del Valle and Raquel Berrios about making the decision to move back to Puerto Rico, how the island has changed and capturing their conflicting notions of home on their debut album. Listen to the radio version in the audio link above and read on for highlights of the interview.
On the internal call to return home to Puerto Rico
Raquel Berrios: Coming back to Puerto Rico was sort of something that was always in the back of my mind. And the funny thing is that when I met Luis, it was sort of something that he kind of dreamt about as well. I always sort of felt incomplete in New York, even though we had a beautiful community and we were thriving with our careers and with our music. Puerto Rico has something — and you probably know it if you know a Puerto Rican — there’s something about this island that really calls you. And our daughter was born in 2014 and that only made the feeling stronger.
Luis Alfredo Del Valle: You know, home is a complicated concept. I think in your head, a lot of what you conceive of as home is maybe tied to your upbringing and your childhood and all this stuff. And I think, having enough distance from anywhere for enough time, you come back and it will have changed. I mean, a lot of the people that we knew and loved and our friends have moved out. Even close family doesn’t live here anymore. A lot of our own close family has moved out. And to me it does feel, in that way, different.
I think that perhaps being away from Puerto Rico for a while, you can fall into this naiveté of idealizing your home. I think that coming back was, in a way, one of those curious reality checks where we felt the complexity; we felt the isolation; we felt detachment from the concept that we were that we had in our mind before going there. I think one thing that we learned was that it is complex to be anywhere, to call any place a home. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is going to be 110% happiness all the time, it is sort of within you. But there is something meaningful to coming back to the place that sort of made you.
On the impact of the move on the band’s sound
Berrios: I would say that it’s maybe broadened and evolved. I like how when we first got here, we just wanted to try really, really different things. I think that maybe it was a reflection that we were out of our comfort zone and that we were really trying to kind of fit in. And then as time passed by, just coming home maybe has made us a little bit more wanting to be more bold, or trying to make a stronger statement. Before, we used to kind of drown my voice more in reverb, and now I wanted my voice to be a little bit more — I think I wanted to show more of my emotion maybe than I ever had before.
On the double meaning of the band’s name, which translates to “troublemaker” in English
Del Valle: Buscabulla was a project that essentially, I think just came out of Raquel’s mind. It’s a Puerto Rican slang word. I think it’s appropriate in an interesting way because it has a double meaning. Bulla in Spanish can be like a ruckus, like a good time — or it can be a fight. So you could be looking for either trouble or reconciliation; or you could be looking for two opposite things.
On the song “NTE,” which stands for “No te equivoques” or “Make no mistake”
Berrios: “No te equivoques” is definitely something we use a lot here in Puerto Rico. “NTE” was another kind of angsty song, kind of related to once we kind of started getting bigger and people started to get to know the band. We live in a time, I really feel when being an artist is really hard. I think social media has made it hard. A lot of the narrative of who you are is not so much controlled by you anymore. And so “NTE” is about not getting us wrong. It’s also like defiance — of coming back to Puerto Rico, even though it’s clearly something that a lot of people would tell us to not do. And so “NTE” is more like a defiant sort of song about like, “You can’t really tell me what to do. You can’t really tell me who I am.”
NPR’s Sophia Alvarez Boyd and Hadeel Al-Shalchi produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.