During the travesty of Hurricane Maria, I spent many days worrying for my family in Puerto Rico. The hurricane left the island devastated with no electricity or water, and the rest of United States didn’t even bat an eye. While searching the Internet for ways to help and support my people, I came across one of the most honest and transfixing albums of this year: Equis by xango/suave. Xango/suave is a queer, Puerto Rican artist who wrestles with the dynamic issues of identity through their music. The album shows xango/suave’s determination to understand themselves and liberate their nation. It juxtaposes resistance and compassion from their society. Through topics of contemporary colonialism in Puerto Rico and personal understanding of queerness, they create transcending music that shows passion for their people and their country. Xango/suave takes us through the trials of gender, nationality, and overall identity crisis in one heartbreaking album.
This project defies genre because its content comes from the heart and anything so overtly human is uncategorical. This made reviewing the album a daunting task. There is so much material to unpack, yet it is presented to the listener so clearly. I was not sure whether to start with the melodic samples of water that trickle through each track, the vehement poetry, or the transitioning between Spanish and English. All of these elements come together smoothly due to xango/suave’s production skills. The album is contradictory in the way that it is simultaneously raw and polished. At times the lo-fi and Hip Hop influence is clear, but as soon as the listener becomes comfortable with these familiar sounds, xango/suave’s songs turn into experimental and synth pop.
The album is tied together by samples of waves and dripping water washing over every track. Xango/suave takes the listener directly to the shores of Vieques or Flamenco beach all while considering the tribulations of life and liberty. The opening track, “Bumblebee,” starts out cute and delightful but nothing extraordinary. About two minutes into the first track is when xango/suave’s full potential is unleashed. It is clear xango/suave knows their way around a synth. The melody goes down an Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole with haunting echoes ringing in the background. Xango/suave recites spoken word with sharp, underlying, synth beats. By the end of the track, they have completely transfixed us with their tumultuous world of beauty and pain. The song concludes with samples of waves hitting the shore that reminds us once again of how exceptional Puerto Rico is. A few tracks deeper into the tape,the unapologetic honesty of Equis is revealed in “Rituals.” Fernie Borges recites a poem that pounds at the listener's heart. The words “love” and “god” rip through the mic. The poem takes us on whirling journey of mind and body. “It is a ritual to love the colored, trans body,” Borges proclaims softly. To love oneself, especially in the current political climate, is an act of justice and rebellion. This album demands acceptance of the body. The album begs the questions what is liberation and what is fulfillment? The finale of the album, “Belong,” brings xango/suave’s voice to a nearly satisfying end but this is when the truth to their music is revealed; it will never be satisfying. Because the quest for understanding oneself and one's people takes a lifetime, the questions presented in Equis will never be answered. The all encompassing phrase from this track,“I do belong,” is sung with optimism, but not in a naive manner. The words are said with certainty, the kind that is not inherent but realized. It is clear that xango/suave has suffered from internal turmoil and at some point did not believe the words “I do belong.” But with time and understanding they have learned those words, internalized them and owned them.
Equis is about not only about determination of a single person but of a nation. Xango/suave brings us to the doorstep of their Eden and reminds us of the struggle that brought them there. Love for the people of Puerto Rico and love for their own body bleed through each lyric, note and melody. Equis is a powerful project that although is the product of one person, is the story of millions.
All proceeds made from this album go directly to the Puerto Rico Independent Musicians and Artist Fund to support Puerto Rican artists struggling after the Hurricane.