Boricua singer, songwriter, actress, rapper, activist and international recording artist Maria Isa discusses the challenges of being a musician during a pandemic and performs her song “Voy Contigo” in her yard.

How do you describe your music?

My music, it’s Sota Rican. My music is highly influenced by Afro-Boricua rhythms of Bomba and Plena merging with the funk and sound of the Minneapolis Twin Cities vibe and hip hop, especially the culture of hip hop, the lyricism. You have a blend of that Afro Latino music mixed with jazz and soul and funk and hip hop into an incorporation of contemporary pop. I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a little bit of everything. It’s like food. I compare culinary [art] with music because of its sound, its flavor, its texture. Mine tastes like a delicious asopao Puerto Rican gumbo mixed with some wild rice from Minnesota and some cool kosher hot dogs from the East Coast of New Yorkean soul.

What challenges have you faced as a musician during the pandemic?

Well, our tours are canceled. We can’t perform, being in a venue with hundreds and thousands of fans. Me and my band rocked the Target Center for a half-time show a week before everything shut down. We miss that communication with our fan base and our audiences, but there are opportunities. We’re performing via Zoom. We’re doing as much as we can outdoors, but it’s going to get really cold out in Minnesota. We’re trying to stay creative, but the challenges have been not being able to have that foundation of venues and live audiences and touring. For artists who are out there that are feeling the same way, stay creative, stay innovative, and keep creating content and finding resources and ways to stay balanced. That’s what I’m doing.

Musically or personally has anything good come from the pandemic?

The positive side has been spending time with my daughter and being there with her every day, getting inspired by my family. Also, networking and utilizing technology that I may not have [used before allows me to] travel to these countries to perform. I am now through this virtual world, and folks have been supporting my work. I’m very honored about that. Locally here, you find your way in different ventures. I’ve created a coffee cart with a team of folks, a crew from my band and our different artists and organization members in the Cities that are trying to keep it moving and have conversations with folks that are dealing with this pandemic. The coffee cart is called Cayita’s and proceeds go to El Fondo Boricua out of the Saint Paul Foundation to help Puerto Rican organizations on the island redevelop from agricultural, medical relief, environmental, yada, yada. You can check out more stuff about it, but this coffee cart has been kind of like a cool torch for us to keep our eyes on the prize and help people out still.

Do you have any pandemic-related advice to share?

Be honest with yourself. Find time to have self care. We’re all stuck in our homes and feeling like we don’t have our own individual space to be innovative with everyone around us, but take time for self care and focusing on your health. Talk to people, get therapy. There’s help out there if you’re feeling troubled mentally and physically, and do your best to respect the social distancing. It’s real. COVID is real. We want this to go away or want it to be manageable in our society. That means sacrificing. Pick up a new goal or a pick up a new task. Maybe you’ve never written a song before. Start there. Maybe you’ve never really worked on a car before. What can keep you interested and motivated? It’s going to get cold. We’re going to be stuck in our homes. Find things that you can do to stay healthy. Come drink Cayita’s coffee and get energized and figure out what you’re going to do.  I believe that the most important thing is definitely taking care of our health physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. For me, being able to balance those is challenging, but it is for all of us. I think if we talk and find those resources that are in our communities, we’ll make this out. We’ll do all right.

Bonus Performance: Maria Isa performs “By My Side”


Production Team:  Ryan Klabunde, Jim Kron, Eric Pagel


This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.


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