“Ponle Fin,” a new tune from D.C.’s Elena & Los Fulanos, is an ode to a lot of things: to the city, to resistance, to protest music, to female empowerment, to immigrant communities. The band’s mastermind, Elena Lacayo, scribbled out the lyrics earlier this year as a way to denounce the injustices she’d found neatly packaged into the current presidential administration—and to give alarmed communities an effusive power anthem that declares “enough.”
“I was going to all of these protests and I realized we don’t have modern-day protests songs; we have a lot of older songs we still rely on. So, I was like, ‘Man, we should come up with something that’s like a call and response that’s current,’ and the combination of all of these things I was thinking about ended up in ‘Ponle Fin,’” Lacayo says.
“Ponle Fin” marks one of Elena & Los Fulanos’ most defiant efforts. It’s also one of their catchiest releases, embodying the bolder, snappier spirit of their recently released album Volcán. The project is a follow-up to the band’s 2014 debut Miel Venenosa, a compendium of bilingual folk-inspired songs that Lacayo recorded with the help of a $9,000 crowd-funding campaign. Miel Venenosa garnered attention throughout the city and received a nomination for “best Latin album of 2014” from the Washington Area Music Association.
Miel Venenosa asserted Lacayo’s masterful ability to weave together folk traditions from both the U.S. and Nicaragua, where she grew up. On Volcán, Lacayo takes a deeper dive into Nicaraguan culture, imbuing the music with marimba rhythms and son nica textures. The album opens with “Tributo a Darío,” a proud homage to Nicaragua’s most renowned poet Rubén Darío, and closes with an acoustic cover of “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,” a beloved Carlos Mejía Godoy compositional tribute to the country.
But the album isn’t anchored by Nicaraguan roots. A freer, brasher Lacayo experiments with styles from other parts of Latin America, cultivating ideas that were mere seedlings on Miel Venenosa. There’s a finalized version of the band’s bossa nova take on Radiohead’s “Creep,” and congas and bongos thunder on the upbeat “Morir Bailando,” as well as on “Veneer” and “Ponle Fin.”
Volcán also benefits from a fuller live band sound—the result of Lacayo pulling in the expertise of her bandmates Danny Cervantes and Andrew Northcutt. While the Elena & Los Fulanos roster rotates from time to time, Cervantes and Northcutt make up the band’s core these days. Cervantes, a violinist and ukulele player who performs with mariachi groups, contributed heavily to the first album, and helped Lacayo write and perform “Que Linda Es Mi Tierra,” the band’s first shot at ranchera. Northcutt, an engineer and percussionist, often pushes a more avant-garde approach; Lacayo credits him with thinking up the “Creep” cover and arranging a string section on “Gone.”
“One of them pushes me forward and one of them keeps me grounded in the traditions, and I’m somewhere in between,” Lacayo says of the band dynamic.
Lacayo’s activist background surfaces heavily on Volcán. Before committing to music, Lacayo was a rising star at the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS), where she led and coordinated statewide immigration efforts. Her songwriting has always included stories that revolve around Latinx struggles (“Amor Migrante” is a tender example). But Volcán is a louder sound-off in the face of injustice, spurred partially by misogyny that Lacayo witnessed during and after the election that hit close to her own experiences.
“The rhetoric happening in the public space brought back what it was for me to grow up a woman in a very machisto culture,” she says. “I was kind of a tomboy growing up and interested in music and soccer and things that felt more male-oriented. So the more I think about it, the more being a woman is what has made me interested in justice.”
D.C.’s post-election protest streak is also underscored in “Taking Back the Streets,” an interlude recorded at the People’s Climate March and a march for immigrant rights. The track comes just before “Ponle Fin,” which extends the tribute to D.C.’s culture of resistance. Christylez Bacon provides a guest verse on the track, and the video for the song stages bits and pieces of a protest. But the video also captures a D.C. “away from the federal city,” Lacayo says, and shows a range of communities, with whom she hopes her music connects.
“It’s not just about Nicaragua or Latinos; I think what I do is about anybody who has felt at some point that they don’t fit in,” she says.