Artist, musician and producer Rey Lester Irizarry, known artistically as Lester Rey, was born in Humboldt Park “before it was gentrified” he said. The neighborhood’s changing demographics eventually pushed his family out of the area and they soon found themselves traversing Chicago’s suburban communities. Unable to set root in any particular location, Rey soon began to creatively use the chaos of constant change to fuel his artistic endeavors.
Inspired by his parent’s collection of rock and funk albums, as well as his passion for salsa, the 27-year-old has created a genre of music that exposes the beauty of his people, explores the impact of new struggles faced by his peers, and examines the new identity forged by his generation. He calls these new sounds “Boogaloo Urbano” and describes it as a merging of Caribbean diaspora dance rhythms with the community’s voice expressed through hip-hop.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence your current life?
Life was crazy. I never stayed anywhere long enough to rep a neighborhood so I began to live by the motto that it’s not where you’re from but where you’re going. Gentrification pushed me into the burbs. There, I lived in Arlington Heights, Hoffman Estates, Itasca, Hanover Park, and Carol Stream. It was a time of instability which led me to Greek Town then Aurora and finally I decided to pursue a degree and ended up at NIU in DeKalb. During those years, I traveled [a lot] between DeKalb and Pilsen. The traveling gave me perspective and demonstrated the importance of relationships.
How does living in the Pilsen/Little Village affect your artistic efforts?
I’m not too sure of where the border starts and ends with Pilsen but I have heard people debate the hell out of Western and California as lines. LOL. I love the area very much because of how open-minded and supportive the art scene is there as opposed to other parts of Chicago. I see it as the hub of the alternative Latino scene and the hub of a lot of movement-based activities.
How do you put together your experiences when writing music?
I truly enjoy the art of songwriting and approach it from a couple different angles. I have many notebooks filled with lyrics and for some odd reason I can remember the music and chords I envision with those songs better than I can remember where I left my phone. I also have a concept book, where instead of writing a full song, I write a rhyme, metaphor or concept that I truly want to write a song about. Also, as a producer, I play music and create music to relieve stress and sometimes the lyrics will happen as I’m playing or after the music is played and recorded. So, it really depends on the song.
What is the worst and best thing about being a musician in such a musically diverse city as Chicago?
The worst thing about being a musician in such a musically diverse city is the desire to be heard on multiple platforms that are not necessarily bridged or connected. Chicago segregation is very real in multiple levels, whether you’re talking talking about race, class, or even music.
The best thing about Chicago’s diverse music scene is that people are intentionally breaking down walls and building bridges. From homegrown open mics to Cumbiasazo and underground hip-hop scenes, these spaces are closing gaps. It is my hopes that Boogaloo Urbano can play a central role in bringing our communities together on the dance floor.
Tell me more about these supportive music communities.
There is a growing community of people who are looking for alternative music in Chicago. They are open-minded, non-judgmental and ready to love. They are looking for safe spaces to dance and get away from racism, misogyny, sexism and general discrimination. I am truly happy for the love that has been shown to me by my community and can only hope to return it twofold.
Speaking of love, what is your definition?
I’m still figuring that out. To me love is definitively a journey that requires patience, passion, and a willingness to learn from pain. Just like there is beauty in every struggle, there is also beauty in the struggle for love. That being said, I don’t shy away from loving nor am I scared to love because to me love exists in a spectrum and there are many ways to love. The shapes and manifestations of my love can vary drastically towards any one of my passions, be it the people in my life, music, or knowledge. I’m looking forward to the journey.
Tell me more about the new EP, The Blue Lion.
The EP was titled Blue Lion for a couple of reasons. It is a name or moniker that I feel describes my identity and musical style. Chicago is known as the home of the blues and while many may think the “Blue” in the “Blue Lion” is referring to a color, it is actually referring to my city, musical influence, and my bluesy vocal stylings.
The Lion part of the name is a reference to Ponce, Puerto Rico. I use the name to identify as both from Chicago and Ponce, two cities that have greatly influenced my life and music. I titled my debut EP after my identity in a metaphorical way because I wanted Boogaloo Urbano to also represent a fusion of two cities. That is why I open with the track Ponce Blues in the EP… it fuses Puerto Rico and Chicago distinctively by combining bomba, plena, and blues. I included Andar and Never Been Alone as defining sounds of Boogaloo Urbano and Bougie Bella to demonstrate the musical diversity that can exist even within Boogaloo Urbano. The last track was included to pay homage to Pete Rodriguez, the Boogaloo King himself, but still offer a twist.
Although Rey has been busy promoting his new album, creating new music with his band Súbele and collaborating with other local artists, he always finds time to reset. “If I need to unwind, it usually means that I have to get my mind on something else which Walking Dead and Bob’s Burgers does pretty well. Sometimes I dance alone to reggaeton in my apartment or sing salsa songs in a hot shower. Playing the piano always helps so I try to learn covers from John Legend and Kanye West,” he says.
As far as 2016, Rey is looking forward to reaching more communities with his music. He’ll continue to collaborate with local DJs and artists to work on remixes of his songs and hopes to create five music videos for the five tracks featured on The Blue Lion. It seems, despite the struggles any musician like Rey faces in a city like Chicago, it’s the ability to make the best out of the worst that keeps these artists growing.
Follow LesterRey.com to learn more.
Article by: Sandra Trevino