One morning in early October, Blanca Rovira woke up to a multitude of messages from her band mates of Las Atípicas, an all-women musical group created in 2014. They said, “Blanca, wake up! I think someone’s contacting us about working with Bad Bunny.” Rovira, who plays the viola and functions as their “public relations person,” barely had any coffee in her system when she hung up with a producer from Bad Bunny’s Latin Grammy performance, screaming at the top of her lungs inside her Rio Piedras home. “Blanca, ¿estás bien?,” her neighbor asked in panic.
It was an oddity that a group of middle-aged Puerto Rican women would be invited to perform alongside the biggest urbano artist in the world. At first, they wondered about what they’d have to wear. “¿Un gistro?,” they joked during our Zoom call. Still, in true Atípicas fashion, the group said “Yes!”
Las Atípicas began as a community hobby, a group of women that were longtime friends and neighbors in their San Juan, Puerto Rico community. Although they are all passionate musicians, they all come from different professional backgrounds– public health, education, environmental science, psychology to name a few– and some are enjoying their retirement. They first assembled for community gatherings and local events like the Festival Claridad, and later, began performing outside of Puerto Rico, even representing their home island in Cuba.
Their uniqueness is encapsulated in their name “Las Atípicas” – or The Atypicals. The name first started as a nod to Puerto Rican folkloric music, which is commonly referred to as “música típica.” Later, when a band member refused to play “La Paloma”– a common song played during Christmas parties–, the group joked, saying they played “atypical music.” Beyond the comic beginnings of their name, the group is aware their name fits their role as middle-aged, female musicians with a community-based mission in a male-dominated environment.
In 2020, amid the pandemic, their performances dried up. There were no meetings, no rehearsals, and certainly no parties to entertain. Enter El Conejo Malo at the Latin Grammys.
The performance held a deeper meaning for them, one that highlights the beauty, complexity, and power of Puerto Rican women. It started with a group of female bikers, calle Jevas Bikerz, following Benito’s infamous white Bugatti as he sang “Bichiyal” at the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in Puerto Rico. Later, the performance turned to the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where Las Atípicas accompanied El Conejo.
The urbano artist can be quite a controversial figure in his native Puerto Rico, where a wide number of older Boricuas link his music and lyrics to crime, machismo, and overt sexualization. But Las Atípicas see beyond his raunchy lyrics. Take, for example, the song “Si Veo A Tu Mamá,” a bossa nova-inspired trap track that narrates how seeing your ex suegra can make you realize that a breakup might not be the worst thing after all. “He’s saying that it’s okay to let her go, to stop bothering her,” says Vanessa Irizarry Muñoz, the band’s guitarist and a former professor. “It’s one thing for me to say this as a university professor and another for people to hear it from his [Bad Bunny’s] mouth.”
The group was happy to recreate the track in their “atypical” way, substituting a lot of its synth sounds for guitars, viola, Puerto Rican cuatro, drums, and maracas, says Aissa Colón, the band’s bass player. They worked hard to rework the track, wondering if they should recreate it entirely or leave some of its urbano sounds intact. After months apart, they reunited at a studio to record their version of “Si Veo A Tu Mamá.” Yet, when it came time to perform alongside Benito, the artist decided he wanted to record a live set for the Latin Grammys.
“When he started singing, we got so emotional,” says Irizarry Muñoz. “The final result is a true mix of reggaeton and trap with the folkloric music of Puerto Rico.”