Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Marisely Lugo

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, and libraries like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.


Marisely Adriana Lugo del Toro who has always been known for doing a little bit of everything in the arts be it drawing, arts & crafts, playing instruments such as the piano and the guitar, poetry and scripts, acting in film and plays, and, of course, composing and singing.



What got you into music, visual art and writing?

I started writing music as a way of expressing myself. I can be a very explosive person and I can put everything out there in a quick way without filters or pauses, but sometimes when moodiness, anxiety, and sadness combine, peace and silence are ideal. So I started using music as a coping method, which served as a perfect way to chill out and leave it all out there. The same applies with short films and acting, imagining a perfect story in your mind and changing it from an idea to something real is incredible.


How did you develop your style?

I think everything started when I got tired of listening to the same cliché type of music; the typical girl singing “I woke up and the world looked grey without your love” going into high notes, the incredible vibrato and the very “feminine look” in the style of Hannah Montana. If you like that style and it makes you happy, embrace it! But, when was there going to be a girl with a cigarette in her mouth cursing out toxic men? When was there going to be a girl talking about a one night stand after hanging out? When was there going to be a girl who could make a sad song with a beat, but could also rap some bars to the rhythm of a guitar? I once learned that if you’re accepted in a table, you should make your own and that’s what I did.



How has it evolved through the years?

Before I wouldn’t think much about the words, the message. I would write what would first come up and go with it. I could write a song in five minutes and that would’ve been the result. Today, I try to give it more flavor, I practice new tones and chords, analyze the words and, of course, try different concepts. The key is being unafraid to come out of the box in each song.


What are some of your influences and inspirations?

I am very inspired by artists like Residente, PJ Sin Suela, Mon Laferte and Los Rivera Destino. They are artists who try to bring something new to the table and have given everything to be where they are. They all have different styles and a unique flavor. When you look at their presentations, be they live or through any other medium, you can feel the energy, happiness, sadness, purity and their message, be it a happy smile or something you can identify with. You can see that they are artists who do it because they love it and they want to contribute art, not because a manager obligated them to be in a stage for two hours if they want to have a salary. Something I hate is watching an artist perform just for a salary and not cause they love it. That type of musician gets on the stage and give the audience minutes of lip synching and don’t even look at the fans. That is something I never aspire to be.  



I saw the video for “Mal Hablá.” How was that experience?

It was incredible. It took a year to create. The song was already made, but it didn’t convince me at first. There was something missing, so I shelved it while I worked on myself and my other dreams. It wasn’t until I got together with other musicians and a group of friends that I decided to work on it until it was finished. My biggest achievement with this song is that it was made with a $50 budget; audio, video, acting, mixing, mastering, vocals, beat, everything. I’m a college student and sadly don’t have the money in the world. Making a song and a music video is much more expensive and complicated than what everybody thinks. A good music video can easily cost up to $500. A good audio production can be $200 minimum and a lot of times this doesn’t include mixing and mastering. So creating “Mal hablá” was a mission since day one. At the end, the best part about everything was the process, the beautiful friends I made and enjoying the finished product together.



Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

I would love to produce my own songs; mastering the programs and doing it by myself. I feel like if I had that knowledge, I could make tunes 100% to my taste. Communicating an idea to a producer will never bring the same result one wants from the beginning. Besides that, I would love to work more on short films and continue my dream to become a doctor (I am currently a biology and psychology student).


What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

I think there’s very little of it, especially in the west. Though we are an island full of artists in all its forms, the pay is miserable and it isn’t taken as serious to the point where it can generate a lot of money. Here people love the artist who is already formed but not the one who is building themselves up, so a lot of them have to leave the island to try and find opportunities. It is sad, but true.



What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

As I grow musically and get to know the industry, I get more aware that it’s a money game. There are very few who are doing it for the love of the art and because they believe in you. Here, in one way or another, people want to get something out of you and that’s where I find out that working on your own is both good and bad. Being independent offers the opportunity that your work can be 100% your art, your idea, your seed, but at the same time not having a representative nor a logo that identifies you under the “quality” umbrella makes it impossible to open doors. I’ve spent months looking for places to perform in San Juan or in the metro area. As mentioned previously, the west side doesn’t provide much exposure and singing in the metro automatically opens doors, but not having a representative, a name or perhaps a large number of followers has stopped me from presenting. What’s the problem with having representation? Sadly, your art stops being 100% yours, what you would give the audience would be 50% your idea and 50% what everybody else wanted to add. Sometimes it can be a win-win situation because you gain exposure, you get a broader audience and, of course, fame, but believe me that’s where a lot of people leave what they love and it becomes a business, a job and an obligation of providing your image so others can have a salary. Sometimes this is good and sometimes not. The key is correctly pick your team, work step by step, fight for what you want carefully and be aware that you have control over your work. Working independently gives you that opportunity and if it’s done constantly and with a good team, you can do a lot.



If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

You never lose; there are always victories or you gain lessons. This is all about not thinking it twice and doing what makes you happy. I started putting my art out there because I suffered from bullying in high school and it was hard to talk in public without feeling that I was being made fun of constantly. Thus, I started using that hate and turned it into art. Today, I am where I am cause I never stayed quiet. Having support from other artists, being able to sing in front of other people, telling my stories; I have achieved all of it cause I never stayed quiet and never feared failure. There will be sad moments, there will be frustrating moments, but that’s the momentum that the journey gives you so you can achieve go far and be prepared. It’s all about working hard and never giving up.


What is your biggest goal right now?

As mentioned earlier, being constant is key, so I would love to continue working on my songs and making new music videos. I am also dying to perform in new places, something outside of the west side so others can know me.



What do you seek to achieve with work?

That people feel comfortable to come out of the box and don’t have to adapt to a routine to obtain what they want, that with a small budget they can achieve dreams, that what hurt you today can perhaps become a lesson for others tomorrow. I want them to feel unafraid when speaking out and expressing what they feel. A lot of times those people with whom we have little communication can help us open doors. I also want to reach the end of the world with my stories and that people know that a crazy girl from Mayagüez achieved her dreams.


If we talk about long term goals, the one that has always been there is performing in “el Choli”. It sounds fantastical, but I always have big aspirations. I always aspire to give the best of me. I am dying to be in a stage having hundreds or thousands of people singing to my words. On the other hand, as far as my short term goals, I am very excited to finish some songs and perform in other areas across the island.


It’s all about never giving up and working hard until you achieve it.


Listen to Mal Hablá” on Soundcloud and watch the video on YouTube


Follow Marisely Lugo on Instagram and Twitter


All of the pictures in this article were provided by Marisely Lugo