SXSW showcase highlights Puerto Rican artists affected by Hurricane María

Andrea Cruz performs during SXSW in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 16, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Andrea Cruz‘ debut album “Tejido de Laurel” released in September 2017 – just two days after Hurricane María devastated the island. Instead of the concerts and promotional events that follow a record launch, Cruz found herself instead distributing food and water to affected families across Puerto Rico.

It wasn’t exactly how she imagined her first record launch. Her aunt lost her home and Cruz’ medicinal plant garden was wiped out. “It looked like winter because the trees were bare as if they had caught fire,” Cruz says. “But we’re a resilient island.”

Cruz is among the Puerto Rican artists performing at South by Southwest’s first Sounds from Puerto Rico showcase Friday at Speakeasy, which starts at 8 p.m and ends at 2 a.m. The showcase will also be a benefit fundraiser for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by Chef José Andrés that has provided more than 2.6 million meals in Puerto Rico.

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Like Cruz, the other artists in the showcase experienced the impact of the hurricane in some way. At Speakeasy Kabaret, tucked behind the main venue stage, artist supporters will perform as well during the benefit showcase.

For Cruz, music is part of the healing process. So she took her guitar with her to the different towns where she was helping distribute basic needs and played songs for affected families whenever she could. Sometimes that meant performing in people’s front porch or in community relief stations like basketball courts.

“Everyone thinks of food and water in emergencies,” she says. “But I had crying mothers thanking me for bringing music (to them in the hurricane’s aftermath). People also need to heal spiritually and mentally.”

Among the themes that “Tejido de Laurel,” touches on are healing and nature, which now seems serendipitous. Without electricity, many of Puerto Rico’s music venues like bars and restaurants were shut down, leaving musicians out of work.

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“There’s no solid music industry in Puerto Rico, so you have to do it yourself,” Cruz says. That DIY attitude has been felt even more after the hurricane. Musicians in Puerto Rico are now creating innovative approaches to booking shows from launching house concerts to aligning with global companies that offer rotating concerts that don’t depend on any one venue.

Cruz says that ingenuity helps keeps musicians pushing forward despite lack of resources. About a month after the hurricane hit, Cruz and some of her friends sat in a bar with finicky Internet powered by generators and applied to SXSW.

“It was the last day to apply,” she says. “We thought ‘let’s try and see what happens.'”