Chuwi Is the Voice of a New Puerto Rican Generation

Daniel Alfaro/Photo Illustration by Keila Gonzalez
Daniel Alfaro/Photo Illustration by Keila Gonzalez

With a bassy voice and over a minimalist syncopated beat, Wilfredo "Willy" Aldarondo sings of lament. "The love of my life left for New York / my mom followed my aunt, to Florida they went/packing my bags, it's my turn now / the plane landed, and no one clapped."

These are the opening lines of "Tierra," the leading single off the Puerto Rican band Chuwi's newest EP of the same title. Founded in 2020 in the northwestern coastal town of Isabela, Chuwi is composed of Willy, his sister Lorén Aldarondo, his brother Wester Aldarondo, and friend Adrián López. Describing the band's sound is a challenge in and of itself. Are they Latin jazz, indie rock, urbano, tropical fusion, or something else altogether? The answer to all of those questions is "yes."

Over the past two years, the quartet's popularity has grown among listeners and industry peers. Part of that reason is that they've seemingly filled an all-too-common role in Latin American music: a band whose music echoes the activist sentiment of its generation.

"Tierra," the song, makes unmistakable allusions to one of Puerto Rico's most contemporary anxieties. In 2019, the Puerto Rican legislature passed Act 60, which codified generous tax breaks for foreign investors who move to the archipelago and establish themselves as residents.

The result has led to what critics call a nationwide gentrification effort that has priced locals out of their own neighborhoods. Swaths of real estate have been bought and turned into short-term rental spaces, which has, in turn, provoked skyrocketing housing costs; meanwhile, benefits that proponents of the act promised have not come to fruition. Between this, 2017's disastrous Hurricane María, and the one-two punch of earthquakes and a pandemic in 2020, the population decline has been swift and severe, causing even more dire effects.

Chuwi's lyrics resonate with Puerto Ricans who are dismayed by what is happening around them. Puerto Rico has a robust history of music groups wearing their political leanings on their sleeves. Groups like Fiel a La Vega, Cultura Profética, and El Hijo de Borikén followed the standard set by Argentina's rock nacional and Chicano folk music, among other influences. Even reggaetón became known as "perreo combativo" during the 2019 protests on the island that forced then-governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

But Chuwi is frank about how, despite appearances, they don't consciously identify as an activist band, even if their songs tend to strike close to the zeitgeist of political talk on the island. Instead, the band sees themselves more as artists putting their emotions on the page rather than preaching a particular ideology. "We write about what weighs on us, and we're using [music] as an outlet," Willy says. "It's how we started. We just wanted a way to express ourselves about the things that make us uncomfortable or the things we love."

Another track on the EP, the merengue-tinged "Mundi," puts the listener in the tanned hide of the real Mundi. This African savannah elephant spent 35 years alone at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo of Puerto Rico, less than an hour away from Isabela in nearby Mayagüez. The elephant's predicament became a cause célèbre amongst local animal rights activists, and Mundi was eventually relocated in 2023 to an elephant sanctuary in Georgia.

For Chuwi, the song came to be because of their proximity to the zoo, which they recall visiting during field trips as youngsters. It also serves as a homage to a song their mother would often play: "Laika" by the Spanish '80s pop band Mecano, about the Soviet space dog sent on a doomed solo mission to outer space in 1957.

"We wanted the song to be factual, so we actually investigated [Mundi's backstory] but at the same time, made it catchy, and if people pay attention to the lyrics, then they'll also be emotionally devastated," laughs Lorén, who is also the band's regular lead singer.

One of their most impressive songs is "Guerra," a palo Dominicano that channels frenzied Afro-Caribbean rhythms, creating an auditory sensory experience that mimics the enveloping chaos of its namesake ("guerra" means "war"). While war has indeed been at the forefront of the news for the past seven months, this is another instance where their muse was working subconsciously.

"We live in this world, we're exposed to these things, we're passionate about certain things in our personal lives, so musically [it bleeds in]," Lorén explains.

Their eclectic style and earnestness have drawn the attention of larger acts. Grammy-winning producer Eduardo Cabra of the iconoclastic rap duo Calle 13 and artists like Buscabulla ("We call them mom and dad," says Lorén) have advised them in their still nascent stage as a young band, for example.

Seeing them live reveals another reason Chuwi has connected so much with audiences. Lorén's voice mesmerizes as she croons and wails with honeyed tones, and Adrián's percussion easily gets people's blood pumping and emotions rising. In Lorén's case, she digs into old teachings from her days singing in church to fully involve listeners with the show she and her bandmates put on.

"I rely a lot on emotion in my performances. If I don't feel it, the audience won't feel it. In church, they taught us that when you sing something, you're singing to God, and if people see your genuineness, then you'll inspire them to sing to God, too," she says. "If you're vulnerable, they'll be vulnerable as well. If I'm not authentic, then how can I expect the crowd to connect with the music we're creating?"

And while they hope their next projects, including a debut LP they're already hard at work on, show off more of what they're capable of lyrically and sonically, they're not about to shy away from speaking from the heart, even if it might tag them as resistance artists.

"I think it means our music is reaching people. That what we feel isn't just among us," Wester says. "Seeing people identify with it makes us feel we're not alone. I'm fine with being perceived that way."

Juan J. Arroyo is a Puerto Rican freelance music journalist. Since 2018, he's written for PS, Remezcla, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork. His focus is on expanding the canvas of Latin stories and making Latin culture — especially Caribbean Latin culture — more visible in the mainstream.