The sky had just gotten dark before Balún began their early evening set facing a sea of umbrellas. It had rained on and off beginning in the late afternoon and would continue throughout the performance, though Calle Cerra, a narrow one-way street in Santurce, was still filled with thousands of festival attendees.
Many had spent the day under clear blue sky; admiring the street art, installations, and large-scale murals that covered almost every available wall from Avenida Fernandez Juncos to Calle Las Palmas and much of the surrounding neighborhood.
The event, Santurce Es Ley, celebrated its 6th year this past weekend and on Saturday, Brooklyn-based Balún returned home to Puerto Rico.
Following an energetic set by Macha Colón y los Okapi, the clear blue skies of the late afternoon turned overcast as the members of Balún (Noraliz Ruiz, Angélica Negrón, José Olivares, Raúl Reymundi) took the stage at the end of Calle Cerra, which faced the long corridor of street vendors, festival-goers, and artwork.
The band opened with dembow-inspired “Años atrás”, a single released in 2014; then continued with its playfully intense brand of dreamy, shoegazing indie pop. Colorful, somnolent visuals provided by No Carrier and bluish lighting illuminated the stage as each member seemed to disappear into their respective, multi-tasked roles.
The five-piece lineup, which featured producer Lawson White on kit, played three more songs of older material before transitioning into newer tracks such as “La nueva ciudad,” a song recently featured in a live music video for One Thousand Birds.
From there, the band finished with a preview of three songs off their forthcoming album, Prisma Tropical. New song “Afrobits” was followed by “Teletransporte”, a percussion-heavy ballad in which the set reached peak intensity. They then closed the night with the salsa and jungle-inspired “El espanto.”
It was a strong set by a confident, experienced, and resourceful band. Balún blends an electronic sound with a wide variety of instruments, including the Puerto Rican tiple and a dense chorus of percussion (shaker and coca-cola bottle notably taking center stage).
Overall, it was a solid introduction to the band, an aggressively ethereal experience with periodic instructions to dance. It was also a homecoming show, which when paired with new material, makes for a good combination. Throw in some Puerto Rican accents and a block party atmosphere…it wasn’t a tough sell by any means and I’m already looking forward to the next show–and digging through the Balún archives in the meantime.
The band is scheduled to perform at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on April 17th. Get your tickets here.
All photos by Lizthayra Carreras