Puerto Rico: Reclaiming Public Space One Song at a Time

Frecuencias Alternas has covered Puerto Rico’s independent music scene for the past decade through its radio show (every Saturday night at 9PM Eastern Time on WRTU 89.7 FM Radio Universidad Puerto Rico [es]), and more recently, its website [es]. The newest addition to their site is the video series “Música Realenga” – realenga [es] meaning ‘without an owner.’ Each episode introduces the audience to a particular ‘indie’ artist or band through a couple of live performances filmed in public spaces such as parks, plazas, and sidewalks.

Produced and directed by Amarilys Oyola (known as @FunkyFresh_Ah through Twitter), the project aims to reclaim public spaces as cultural centers for artistic expression while giving independent artists another platform from which to share their music with a global audience. The following Q&A with Amarilys is translated from an interview I originally conducted for PuertoRicoIndie.com (read full interview here [es]). You’ll also find a couple of performances from the web series. For more “Música Realenga” visit FrecuenciasAlternas [es].

Global Voices (GV): What moved you to create “Música Realenga”?

Amarilys Oyola (AO): The project is not unlike La Blogotheque’s The Take Away Shows, a similar video series produced for the French blog, that José ‘Pepe’ Pesante had shown Ezequiel Rodríguez-Andino (both producers and radio hosts for Frecuencias Alternas). This initiative takes French and International artists to public spaces for a series of ‘happenings’ in which they perform their music. You get to see the public’s reactions to these performances and the way in which music is able to transform our interactions with a particular space – which makes it awesome.

When Ezequiel shared some of these ‘Take Away Shows’ during a staff meeting for FrecuenciasAlternas.com, I immediately fell in love with the idea of trying something similar in Puerto Rico. It was originally planned as part of another project that never saw the light of day, but I the idea stuck, so I went ahead and planned the first ‘Música Realenga’ without asking for Ezequiel’s permission. :-)

GV: With what frequency are the shows produced? Have you envisioned this as an on-going series or do you plan to stop after a number of episodes?

AO: I shoot one or two bands per month – although I recently visited New York City and filmed three bands during the same week! In terms of limiting the series to a particular number of episodes – there is no set plan. I’ll continue with the project until I can no longer do it properly. I love “Música Realenga,” it’s what I do and I think about it constantly throughout the day.

GV: Have local artists embraced the project?

AO: All the artists who’ve participated have loved the experience. They are usually not concerned much about how they are going to look – more so about their sound. Once we stop filming they tell me how much they are surprised by the public’s reaction to their performances. Musicians from Puerto Rico’s independent scene are a pleasure to work with. They are very patient and willing to ‘go with the flow’ dictated by a particular place or situation.

To this date we’ve published six episodes of “Música Realenga”: Los Niños Estelares [es] (socially conscious sometimes duo/sometimes full rock band and local YouTube phenomenon), Los Nervios [es] (indie guitar-pop sound), Balún (classically trained electronic quartet now stationed in New York), Harry Rag [es] (skilled guitarist and composer), El Medio [es] (dream-pop), and Guateke Roots Ensemble (old–school tropical music). We’ve also recorded performances by Paraguay Lo-Fi, Fantasmes and Campo-Formio, which I hope to upload soon.

GV: The project aims to retake public spaces for cultural expression – from your experience, what are the best spaces to stage such interventions?

AO: Based on what we’ve captured, the best spaces seem to be sidewalks and boardwalks – wherever there’s a lot of people traveling by foot. Loíza Street in Condado (San Juan), Piñones (Loíza), Paseo de Diego in Río Piedras (San Juan), Ponce de León Avenue in Hato Rey (San Juan) and others. These types of places allow for a better interaction between the general public and the musicians.

GV: How does the public react?

AO: As we set up they look at us strangely, without a clear idea of what we are about to make happen for them. But I always tell the bands: “There’s always someone who's going to enjoy it” And that’s precisely how it goes. Everyone – young and old – has enjoyed the music we’ve taken to public spaces. We’ve yet to run into a situation where the reaction has been negative.

People enjoy music one way or another. The more I do this, the more I appreciate music’s capacity to transform not only the spaces themselves, but an entire day for some people. It gives them something to share with others once they reach their destination and above all, it gives them a welcome respite from the stress and sameness of each day. I very much enjoy watching their faces change once the music starts and knowing how receptive people are to these types of initiatives.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.