Q&A: ILe On Quarantine, Barbershops and New Single “En Cantos” with Natalia Lafourcade

Love is one of the riddles Puerto Rican singer ILe often tries to solve in her music. Since she made her debut in 2017 with her album Ilevitable, her songs speak of both painful and sweet love that is often mystical and unavoidable. 

This is also the case for her first collaboration with Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade, titled “En Cantos”. The single is her first since her sophomore album Almadura won her a Grammy nomination last year. 

In the video for “En Cantos,” – shot in Mexico City – we see ILe and Natalia working in a barbershop, where a man shows up oblivious to the enchantment he’ll endure inside. Natalia and ILe work their magic while they shave the man, which they both seem to be enthused by. While he’s under a spell, ILe and Natalia prepare a concoction from his hair and blood, which they share with other women who work at the barbershop. Two of them can’t handle the drink, but ILe and Natalia both seem unshaken by the concoction, leaving the audience wondering who the man fell in love with. 

It’s a song that expresses that curiosity we get when we face someone that seems from another world,” ILe tells Emperifollá. “It’s a sensation that’s almost spiritual and energetic, that, in some way, does you good and you want to have it closer.”

With “En Cantos” and its video, ILe and Natalia celebrate the power of female intuition and nod at the cultural significance of barbershops and hair salons in Latin America. Emperifollá caught up with ILe to discuss her new single, collaborating with Natalia Lafourcade, and why she thinks barbershops are its own kind of religion. 

First of all, how are you during this quarantine?

In reality, I’m fine. I have food and good health. I can’t complain. Music is always present.

You’ve been doing at home performances, what do you hope people get from them?

I see it as a mingling experience. I want people to feel as accompanied as I feel when I sing for them. It’s a way to keep each other close. 

How did you come to collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade? 

Natalia is a great, talented artist, and naturally, her name had been circling around in my mind for a while. I believe there are moments when there’s a “calling” that tells you when’s the right time. I am grateful that she accepted and for all her beautiful energy in and out of the song. From the beginning, I felt she trusted me and I value that infinitely. 

You seem to hold a special place for Mexico, from what I can see on social media. What hooks you about Mexico? 

I think it’s that ancestral aspect that’s so marked in Mexico is what hooks me the most. I love that its culture is a protagonist and it’s so impossible to ignore, especially in the city, where it’s easier for those roots to disappear. 

The video is based in a barbershop, how did this concept come to you? 

With the help of the creative team and the director, we worked out some ideas until we got what we wanted. Once we got the idea of the barbershop, we thought it was perfect because it connected that sensory side of the song. It’s a way to connect with that person “from beyond.” 

Beauty salons and barbershops are a point of social encounter that are really important in Latin America and Puerto Rico. Do you agree? What role does the barbershop play in this video? 

I think there’s something vintage or antique that I like. There’s an order, a structure that’s been there for a long time and it seems almost religious. I think that’s why it fit so well with the video, to have those elements.  

We grow up in Puerto Rico with the concept of emperifollaera pretty ingrained, but what does it mean to you? 

I used to be afraid of feeling emperifollá but I’ve learned to see it as a term that comes more from within than from the outside. So now I like to look for reasons to feel emperifollá because it makes me be creative and express, however I like, every side of me. 

Photo by Patricio Tamés

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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