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Music Helps Many Puerto Ricans Deal With Hurricane Maria's Aftermath

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many Puerto Ricans are still without electricity and even basic services three months after Hurricane Maria. But that has not dampened everyone's mood. Some are still finding time to sing, dance - even celebrate. Jeff Cohen, from member station WNPR, recently visited a nonprofit in the town of Cayey that opens its doors on weekend nights for musicians and music lovers.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: After the storm blew out her windows, Maria Enid Rodriguez lost water, internet, power and her entire home office. Her company offered her a one-way ticket to be with family in New Britain, Conn., but she refused. For her, it was round trip or nothing. She wanted to come back.

MARIA ENID RODRIGUEZ: I went to New Britain for 10 days - not for me, for them - for my daughters. You know, they have to see me - that I was OK.

COHEN: But now she's back in Puerto Rico, and she faces a choice. She works from home, but she can't work without electricity and internet. So either she stays here and loses her job, or she leaves.

RODRIGUEZ: I think that at the end of December I have to decide if the situation in Puerto Rico doesn't get normal.

COHEN: It's all a lot to think about, which is why sometimes she tries not to think about it at all. So most Friday and Saturday nights, you'll find her here dancing and socializing at the Casa Historica de la Musica Cayeyana. It's a nonprofit organization in the heart of Cayey that celebrates the history of the town's music and musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERFORMERS: (Singing in Spanish).

COHEN: And on nights like this one, they host free concerts for people like Rodriguez to come and, as she says, breath. The concerts have happened for about a year. They seem to have a special resonance now.

RODRIGUEZ: And seeing your friend after Maria, it's like seeing them after a long trip. And in Puerto Rico, we - everything, we celebrate with music - even funerals.

COHEN: Andres Yambo is one of the founders of the music house. He told me they had to pack up and empty everything twice this year - once for Hurricane Irma and once again for Maria.

ANDRES YAMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: Yambo says that, "a week after the hurricane, musicians and friends came together here to sing by candlelight." He likens living after Maria to what happens when you lose a family member.

YAMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: He says, "you carry the trauma with you, but you don't let the loss get in your way."

YAMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: Yambo plays an instrument called the cuatro, but his real job is working nights as a radiology technician. The singer who started the night off, Yambo says he's an accountant. Didi Melendez is a regular here. She spent the night dancing in front of her chair. Maria took the roof off her house.

DIDI MELENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: Friends in the diaspora - Chicago, Connecticut, New York - helped her put it back. She comes here because she too says Puerto Ricans can't only live in sadness.

MELENDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

COHEN: She says, "people need music. They need happiness, and they need to feel alive."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERFORMERS: (Singing in Spanish).

COHEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERFORMERS: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Coehn