Friday, December 9, 2011

Presentando Maracuyeah! Bringing you the mixtape style, throwback vibes, and Latino soundsytem culture for a just Washington D.C.

Dj rAt and Dj Mafe

Maracuyeah! is a collective of transnational, global, local, DIY activists, artists, DJs, and music promoters presenting the “now” in upfront soundsystem/DJ culture in Washington D.C. They spin underground DJ music from Latin America – Cumbia Electronica, Tribal, Dembow, Tropical Bass, with dashes of old school Latino pop. Officially starting in March of 2011, Maracuyeah! also put on shows of local and international musicians such as Chancha Via Circuito, Permnet, Zuzuka Poderosa, and El Freaky, who bring innovative takes of contemporary Tropical music. Their sets and shows are mixed and jumbled together in a classic (cassette) mixtape style. And, the venues they play out in are purposeful and grounded in social consciousness. 

A great example of this vision was a recent party at D.C.’s Velvet Lounge, where they dropped underground DJ music, classic Latino pop, with an intermission of a live mariachi in honor of Dia De Los Muertos. This mindful pairing of the cutting edge with old school classics brings familiarity, people, and sonic experiments together in ways that are both nostalgic and new. 

DJs rAt and Mafe sat with Sara Acevedo and myself at Restaurant Judy, one of their local favorites, and the venue for their next party on December 15, located a couple blocks north of U and 14th street.  Our conversation focused on how Maracuyeah fills in the gap of Latino music in Washington D.C., how the mix of modern and old school creates a sense of freedom during their parties, the creative process behind their sets and shows, and building community. To help gain a better understanding of their mezcla style, rAt and Mafe were kind to provide a playlist mix to listen while you read this!

Maracuyeah! creating space from the new and old

I want to know about your work in DC, find out about your creative process, and talk about other journalists' fascination with you and “la mezcla.” How Maracuyeah mashes up things is what resonates strongly with people the most. Do you think that is what you are about, or is it something else you are about?

DJ rAt: I was just at someone’s house who we met through Marcuyeah. She saw a flyer on the street and came to one of our parties, and we met on the dancefloor. And she was saying something similar to what I hear from people often which is that which she says “I like these parties cause oftentimes I go and it’s couple dancing and people kinda doing their own thing, and I like that at your parties you can meet other people, and people are kinda more open”. And that fact that I met her [there] and we’re friends now, and it came out of this flyer off the street is really exciting to me. And she was like “yeah, you guys do this awesome thing with Maracuyeah” and I was like “its not really us, its everybody who comes and builds this movement together.

Both of us [rAt and Mafe] are coming from a background of community organizing. To us it’s a natural extension of that. But it’s also what we see and what we do is really community based. It wouldn’t be anything if the two of us, or the five of us who DJ, just came together and played music in the room that we thought was cool, it’s literally built up by the people. And what I was noticing in our last party, the Day of the Dead Party that we played a lot of different music, especially in the first few hours, people were kinda warming up, and getting comfortable, and it was a one-room dancehall kind of affair. And it was really neat that you can tell the people who were super into your classic Cumbia, and they would come with their bottle and something to tap on it… but then we would play the 80s synth stuff, those same people… stuck around and went with it. And seeing people vice-versa who were into that 80s stuff or new electronic stuff were open enough to get into other types of music.

Restaurant Judy in U street

So for me that’s an inspiration for people like that who come to our parties because I’ve been looking for people like that in D.C. since I moved here. And this has lead me to more people. And that is what DJing is about, it’s meeting of the minds, opening up community, and building of power and community, its actually very political for me, and I think for both of us, and its such an inspiration to meet such amazing folks through our parties. And I give a lot of credit to people for building what we’re doing, it’s not only the two of us.

So you call it a movement, and you have a political grounding to it. How would you describe this movement? Movement is a big word.

DJ rAt: It is a big word… for me, I say movement because dancefloors are depoliticized and they are some of the most powerful spaces that we have, so more than Maracuyeah. I belong to another DJ collective called “Anthology of Booty” and like Mafe said, we work on radio together, and we have a project called “DJ Geek Out” all of that is being like ‘culture is political, our bodies are political, our identities are political, and social spaces. I think often, social spaces are depoliticized in a way that… they really deserve a lot more credit for bringing people together and crossing lines and building power.

So you think a rave with all these glowstick bodies are depoliticized?

DJ rAt: I think it is. I think you are in charge of your own body on dancefloors. I think, as we were talking before the interview, music movements come out of poverty, social dynamics, they come out of necessity, and I think people have to carve that out, it’s not easy… having the right to assemble and move and join together, yeah, it’s a struggle and its something that people had to work hard for, we built on that also. It’s not the only thing… politicizing dancefloors is not our mission [laughs], our only mission. But I say that because I think that’s why I DJ.

DJ Mafe: I wanted to speak to the mixing and remixing – that’s our generation, all the friends I grew up with, we all came [to the U.S.] around the age of fifteen, our lives is a mix between what we heard in Colombia what our parents listened to, what we heard here, getting into the punk scene, and now trying to bring all these things together, right? It’s like, we love the Rock en Español, pero tambien nos gusta a bailar, por que no hemos cansado de la Salsa, so how are we are all putting together a party that we like, and that is what we play right?

I wanted to go back to what you are talking about, you are making a forceful action to designing an environment to be the way you want it to be even if its for three or four hours.

DJ Mafe: But the way that I want it to be, the way that… I think, yunno, coming here to the United States is like a shock culture with the American culture. As a recent immigrant it’s figuring out how you fit in the American culture, or Latina culture, or Colombian… I think the mixing up of all this is what I feel like my life is here.

I feel like there is power in what you do. I feel that you have a sense of responsibility, social responsibility that you are dictating to a certain level of what is going in the room, do you see it that way?

DJ Mafe: I think I do, its what’s [DJ rAt] is mentioning, a political dancefloor right? Like we’re not just trying to keep people happy but introduce to new sounds, to old sounds that they have maybe before have seen us, like I dunno “pueblo” or whatever, or “curcio” who listen to that!? And then seeing all the connections.

Music selection and dissecting the mashup

Can you tell me how you choose songs? When you do a big party, do you think “these are ten songs I really want to play tonight” or how do you go about the DJ set.

DJ Mafe: I think I have kind of a set idea of what I want to play. Some Cumbia Electronica, some I really like things that remind me of my childhood, so like Calo or Miguel Bosé just things that my friends post in youtube that are like “damn! That’s old, let me play it cause yunno it reminds you of like a time, like back home where you are.” And I feel that’s nice, when you are in a party right, “yeah I haven’t listened to this in so long!” And then just trying to bring new artists too, I tried to bring like Jepe, new artits, or Pedro Piedra, people that are kinda of doing that, mixing the old with the new.

When you make those choices, especially with the artists that you bring in to perform, who are you thinking about, who is your imaginary audience?

DJ rAt: I think what Mafe is saying has resonated with a lot of people. It’s like people who like all of these genres that are happening, but are maybe not as excited to making a 4 hour commitment to one genre for a night. To me that shouldn’t be so alternative, yunno? like mad respect! I have spent like, and we laugh about this because one of us likes Bachata more than the other [laughs]… I mean I have spent whole nights dancing… super feliz to Bachata. There are some amazing joints here in DC that are beautiful beautiful culture. But I think also, in those places I’ve met people who are down to run across town and dance to something completely different. So I think providing that in one night does resonate with people.

When you bookend something from 1986, and you remember seeing it in MTV en Español next to some underground new school Cumbia track… I’m forced to think ‘why did they do that?’ ‘why did they go from that song to that song?’ that’s the question I have in my head… “why?!”

DJ rAt: It’s really cool because what I feel that all of what we do is draw connections between stuff that a lot of times… like we DJ with a lot of awesome people, and somehow I’d like to give a shout out to all of them individually in this interview. People focus on us, but we are not actually the only people in Maracuyeah. We do the booking, a lot of logistics and organizing. But beyond the folks that come to our parties and everything. DJ Bent is somebody who really is involved and collaborated in many projects of our lives, she has DJed in almost every Maracuyeah party and helps with a lot of the day-of logistics and publicity, promoting and stuff.

testing the dancefloor

So who is Maracuyeah, are they just two DJs?

No, that’s kind of one thing with short interviews, it kind of collapses everything too much. Maracuyeah really grows out of our relationship to lots of DJs and musicians in the DC area. Because we haven’t been around that long, we don’t even have the language to talk structure, because it is so collaborative. And the way we work with people is almost like family. But DJ bent is somebody who’s been involved, and one of our other friends Michael, volunteers to do the door every time. The event couldn’t happen if he didn’t come and do that, and he is the cornerstone of Maracuyeah, helped us out on our website. We do a lot of the booking, but we DJ together as a bigger family, and then there even a bigger family of people who sweat and come and break up their day and inconvenience themselves, and put a lot of heart.

That’s very refreshing, especially with this kind of music, sometimes I think its very deceptive to certain people, with Hip Hop in particular, you talk to a DJ who is supposedly socially conscious, but they end up being star jaded jerks. It’s like your selling social consciousness versus being social conscious.

DJ rAt: It’s disappointing, when you feel like something has a lot of heart and then the representative doesn’t have a lot of heart. One thing that I can say about our event is that I think they are really personal, they are very sincere, they are very personalized, and its because we are working with people we really love. We are setting up, and breaking down together, its lo-fi to the max.

Making moves in Washington D.C.

So tell me about the first time you put something together, I was reading your city paper piece and you started in March 2011… but you’ve already brought in names like Chancha Vio Circuito all the big people… so how did you go from zero to 100 so quickly?

DJ rAt: well one of it is that we already collaborated with an amazing community of people, and we had the infrastructure in terms of people power, at least to some extent. We know who to borrow equipment from and make a basic flyer. And now again, we have collaborations with friends on that too like DJ Yeko and DJ Underdog are both artists and DJs who understand what we are trying to do and are really down with it and have helped us, and collaborated with us with flyers. But also I think it speaks to the huge gap there was in this area, why isn’t Chancha Via Circuito already booked?

DJ Mafe: or like ?Que Bajo? Folks who have been doing their party for like three years.

DJ rAt: Yeah, like more in New York. Uproot Andy had his debut two months ago, here in D.C. and Geko [Jones] I think it’s his debut, he’s coming next month. But yeah, I think that does speak to the fact it just wasn’t happening. There are a couple of really awesome Latin booking folks, and we have them to thank for Bomba Esterio, Grupo Pelados,

You booked Bomba Esterio?

DJ rAt: No, we didn’t. But we have them to thank for bringing them to town, but there was just a few people and not the capacity to booking all the amazing acts that are coming to the United States. And it is a shame, we live on the east coast, every city is 45 minutes away from each other… DC, Baltimore, Philly, New York, Boston… We should really be leveraging that geographical closeness to be able to build a circuit. Not just people who are booking acts, but people who are into building spaces and building community, scenes. And we have, in our short time, already found people who are doing that in Philly and in Boston and New York, and we are excited to meet more people. So, it’s a long answer to your question, but it speaks to the fact that it wasn’t being done, there wasn’t really the capacity to cover everything that had happened.

… I was into ZZK records because I started DJing in Peru, actually when I was living there. Those were my first DJ gigs. And I was in Peru, and Mafe, we had talked about [Maracuyeah] going to New York to see Las Rakas… All the way there…

DJ Mafe: We drove the night, and came by in the morning

DJ rAt: …but we were like, how can this be? We were driving a rental care [laughs]. We were like “this is absurd!” This rental car, and us, can’t be our lives experiencing the artists that we love. After that, the opportunity came up. I think we saw on Twitter that Chancha was going on tour with El Jé. And she was like “it’s this much” and were like “let’s take the risk”, lets see what we can do.

Were you confident that this organizing was going to work?

DJ rAt: it was just a stab, we gotta try. We don’t believe that people should only be able to organize this stuff if they have a million dollars. The most we could lose is a couple hundred bucks and to us that is worth the risk. And it’s like what you said, people always make those kinds of statements of DC people, that DC has no art scene, that’s not true, that DC has no Latin underground. It’s also that we’ve met so many people that we never knew about, it’s been a learning experience for us to. Learning how to do like booking, which we hadn’t really done before, but its also really meeting all these other people! We are just so lucky.

DJ Mafe: One of the first steps we took that was really beneficial was; for the Chancha show, we went out two weeks in a row to every party that we knew or people who could be interested in the music, we just gave flyers inside the party and tried to talk to folks.  In my experience a flyer is just a reminder of a conversation you have. You have to conversations with people for them to know what the event is about and trying to get to all these things. For the Chancha show, we partied a lot! We partied a lot trying to get people out. And it worked out right? We met Patrick, who now collaborate with for Peligro Brothers.

I really appreciate what you do, because I would go to a Hip Hop party and be the only albino Latino guy there. Or go to a Rock and Español party and stand out there too…

Dj rAt: And I think what we are trying to do is create a safe space for folks to be really dorky and take risks. Just for us, it’s kind of like a risk. And hey, we are just going to try this. It’s also hopefully something that’s the space is infused with, because you don’t have to be an expert to dance at our parties, trying to experience new music, trying to start projects, start collaboration. 

In a weird way this reminds me of D.C. Go-go. It has its industry and it occasionally shows up on rap songs… outsiders of Go-go downlplay it, but it’s thriving and it’s big. Same thing with DC hardcore, for a while that was king, there was a scene here for a while, Ian MacKayw with 5 dollar shows – Go-go and DC Hardcore punk are two scenes that resonate strongly with me as a DC/DMV and to see it being applied to a Latino kind of aesthetic…

DJ rAt: and sometimes places are accessible, our space, I think every space can be more accessible. And I think that’s something we think about a lot. We switch venues a lot because we need to accommodate the artists we bring. Even if we had stuff where places had drinks for $7, $8, $9. We do think about it, and that is something that weights into our process. I think we would never do something in a place where you can’t wear sneakers to get in, but also we try and think of it like “we do a 12 dollar door, or figure a way to make a $7 or $8 door, and make it way more accessible to people. And we can do a place that has $4 beers or $10 beers, what does that mean as places? And that’s what we think about when we go out.

Maracuyeah in the future…

Is there are a market, area, group, or thought you want to bring into Maracuyeah kind of vibe yet that you are hunting for, or hasn’t shown up yet? Are you matching where you want to go?

DJ rAt: I think we were talking about a lot of collaborations, trying to figure out, trying to carve out a little more of what we want to do. But also staying true to that openness, is to not get into this niche that becomes static. I think its something that we want to be opening ourselves up. A lot of what we do is research, like we are really nerdy, we really like researching musicians, not like “aw, this track is hot, onto the next one” but kind of like “whoa, where are these peoples’ friends, how did they make that video on the roof?” Really getting in the flow. Part of that is just a huge learning experience, it’s like a music education project for ourselves and that’s what we like to share with other people.

Is there anything you wanted to add or say, any point you had ever wanted to make, like “I never really had a chance for people to hear this, so let me just say it now”.

DJ Mafe: The aspect being very specific of the places that we choose, just because of the changing demographics of the city. I think that comes into my political background, seeing how the city is changing, who is getting money, who is not getting money, how people are getting by now, or displaced, being very conscious about what you support, supporting family joints like this [referring to Restaurant Judy] like we were talking right now. Like you see two new businesses that are specific for a demographic... so how do we continue to supporting...

DJ rAt: yeah, I think it’s a vital part of what we do, just as we were meeting here through like awesome community of folks that we have…  I think also that we talked about doing in the future is joining forces with a lot of the awesome groups who are working specifically on specific issues in the city; community organizing groups, folks who are working on immigration, practices like secure communities - who are resisting that, or tackling that in lots of different ways. I think we have done that in a certain way, in two weeks we are DJing for CISPES, and it’s an honor to be asked by some of the community organizations to join in with them. I think something we want to think about is how to intentionally work with folks to take initiative in that process to. That is something we are interested in, its not as explicit, because of a depoliticized dancefloor, and its not as explicit or concrete as you might think but I think there are some interesting ways we can be doing that all the time. I think street art is also something that I’m really interested in as part of our project. So we met somebody who will just make it worth going out in the middle of the night and like take me out [laugshs]. Street art is really policed as a form of culture and I think that is a rather really important part of our project evidently, because that is how we made a lot of connections.

DJ Mafe: and supporting local artists in general… the different bands that we have met through the website.
Final tune of the night…

I have a silly question, because AmericanPupusa is named after food and you named yourselves after food, why did you name yourself after food?

DJ rAt: that was in the car, in the rental car! [laughs]

DJ Mafe: We thought, ‘we want to start booking, what can be a party name’. At least we have attraction to names, like fruit, things that can relate to other folks from our countries

DJ rAt: things you can only get from our countries

DJ Mafe: Maracuyeah, it’s a saying. In Colombia you say “yeah, maracuyeah!” its a little bit old school but a lot of people say it. “maracuya!!” like “fresa” - and we wanted to be it somewhat in Spanish too, so Maracuyeah can be a mix between English and Spanish, but it has a really Colombian meaning.

DJ rAt: yeah, and I was telling her it took me two years to come up with a email name that was bilingual, easy to pronounce in English and Spanish. So I think that... and its literaly a remix of a word.

Maracuyeah D.C. Shout outs:

Maracuyeah dj fam: dj bent, dj g-flux, dj yeko, dj bj, alex db, k la rock, brian senyo, wanako, Michael

Community support and collaboration with: Peligro Bros, Anthology of Booty, She Rex, Fort Knox Five fam, Dj Underdog, KestaDc, DJ Rainier, Judys Restaurant, Velvet Lounge & Radio CPR fam along with a bunch of amazing local community based organizations, and local acts like Goldin Girl Tribe, DC Mambo, ACME, Noon:30, KickoMan, our friends and all the amazing people in DC all over who we have met through this project!

Dj Mafe, me, and DJ rAt
[Check out Maracuyeah in action at their next event December 15th at Restaurant Judy, where they will bring NY based DJ Geko Jones. You can find the Maracuyeah! Fan Page on Facebook, check their website A special thank you to Sara Acevedo for making this happen and for the support!]


spottieottie said...

this is excellent! the article's got me motivated to party AND to engage with my community! well done.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this very sweet and thought-provoking interview. MARACUYATUSABES!

Marcelo said...

EXCELLENT article my friend. Mil gracias. ¡Y que viva Maracuyeah! DC is very lucky to have this night.

Sara said...

great interview...great people...thank you for sharing this!!