Watching the news with her family in New York as Hurricane Maria pummelled Puerto Rico, a switch flipped in Puerto Rican activist and musician Ani Cordero’s head. While the storm raged, she dreamt of machetes.
Knowing machetes are a symbol of revolution, she took it as a sign. She started on her newest album El Machete (Out 9/20) and replaced her Latin American folk ballads to angry and rebellious power-pop ballads.
The debut single from El Machete “Pan Pan (Sin Mantequilla)” [“Bread Bread (Without Butter)”] is a protest anthem urging listeners to stand up for what they believe in. Melodic, dancey and direct, the track brings a new definition to the word riotous—no matter the language.
Listen to the first song off of Cordero’s El Machete and read the interview below to learn more about her fight for social justice.
BTRtoday (BTR): How does El Machete compare to your previous work?
Ani Cordero (AC): I’m always looking to stretch and grow with each album. Sonically, we did a pop-style production process that’s pretty different than the live band recording approach I’m used to. Thematically, I revisited some political themes that are important to me, but I also dove into new territory. The last couple of years I’ve learned to embrace my anger and use it as fuel. A song like “Yo No Vine a Jugar” (Translates to “I didn’t come to play”) is an example. I would have been shy to express that kind of anger a few years ago.
I also let myself be a different character in some songs. Like “Casi Casi” says, “I get everything I want” but from the perspective of someone I know who has way more swagger than me. Or “Ahora Soy Yo,” which is a breakup song but was written by putting myself in the driver seat of some of my friend’s love life and imaging a moment for them when they finally leave a bad relationship. It was a super interesting exercise to be someone else for a song.
BTR: Why is the name El Machete significant to you?
AC: As I was writing this album and watching the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, I kept dreaming about machetes. Machetes are the symbol of resistance, especially in Puerto Rico. For me, it’s about finding strength and using the tools you have.
BTR: As a musician and activist, how do you use music to fight the good fight?
AC: Music is an important part of activism. It can be a rallying cry or it can open hearts. I also think that at this moment when there are so many injustices and so much suffering in the world it’s up to all of us to fight the good fight using whatever platforms and tools we have available. I intentionally infuse social justice issues into my music and that naturally allows me to discuss these topics.
BTR: Why do you think music is an important tool in activism?
AC: Music is able to move people in an emotional way that’s unique. It can provide encouragement, give energy, share and validate anger or encourage peace. We need songs for all aspects of our lives and activism is no exception.
El Machete, “Pan Pan (Sin Mantequilla)”
BTR: How do you combine art, activism and music?
AC: Being an activist for me is a very normal organic part of everything I do. From showing up to a protest, to what’s in my refrigerator. In addition to music, I also have been part of a long-running performance art piece called The Self-Esteem Salon created by my partner Chris Verene’s alter ego Cheri Nevers. We invite people to come and do self-esteem raising activities and make art from the experience.
BTR: What do you do other than music?
AC: I founded a record label called Panapén Records. We’re four Latinx musicians who have social justice themes in our music and the label. I also co-founded PRIMA along with Raquel Berríos of Buscabulla. It’s a non-profit organized after the Hurricanes in 2017 to support the independent music scene in Puerto Rico. My first instrument was drums, so I sometimes work as a drummer on tours. And in my day to day, I work for a media company in programming strategy.
BTR: What do you have in store for the future?
AC: I look forward to touring on El Machete and interpreting these songs live. I’m always writing, so I will keep doing that. And I’m super interested in learning more about new economic models and applying that to the music industry.