The first thing that caught my attention in your work was how much it establishes a conversation with cumbia andina. You play with that aesthetic in your artwork, promotional photos, etc. You tagged some of your releases as “primicias” — roughly cumbia’s equivalent to singles, and the scene’s answer to a lack of support from big labels. Since the early 2000s, cumbia andina is found all over Latin America, though its roots can be traced to Bolivian acts like Los Ronisch, who mixed saya beats with tecnocumbia, HiNRG and Peruvian cumbia chicha; yet, I understand you picked up those influences during the time you lived in Monterrey, as processed by tribal DJs. It is certainly intriguing that you had to circle your way back to a music genre so popular in Bolivia, considering those are your roots. Could you tell us more about your relationship with cumbia (andina, in particular)? Was it heard in your household while you were growing up? When did you become aware of it, and what made you decide to incorporate it in your music?
It’s true, my introduction to cumbia in general was through my living in Monte Morelos, Nuevo Leon as a child. Back in the states, my most direct introduction to Bolivian/Andean music was through my grandpa, who would bring back tons of music from Bolivia and Peru (he was always going back and forth between La Paz and the States). He would play mostly huaynos: Las muchachitas de oro I recall particularly, but also old huancayo style with the brass/woodwind ensembles and a lot of khantus music, which is the heavy pre-Columbian medieval-sounding woodwind/tympani style often associated with Bolivia/Andean culture. Through music, the post-colonial divide between Peru and Bolivia was bridged for me, and I was allowed to glimpse an ancient, illusive moment of my heritage that barred nationalistic dividings. The mixture of electronic and acoustic sounds, especially in huayno, provided inspiration that has stuck to this day. The incorporation of these textures into my own voice never had to be deliberately sought out; these ancestral/familial narratives, languages, tones, colors… moved with me as I musically came of age.
My incorporation of huancayo style on my first self-released album was, in a way, my attempt at negating/standing against the rivalry some in Bolivia have against Peruvians (which is also based on a long history of anti-queer ideology and homophobia). Likewise, the sayas referenced on that album come tethered to the body of my work as a musical remark on my own relationship to African style (and its incorporation in my music, life, history) as a Bolivian-American and the complex narratives that unite the bodies of the past to myself, the divided bodies of my own suffering and the divided bodies of African music’s struggle as a complex entity carried through storied landscapes.
Most of the Latin sounds you play with, while hugely popular in their countries, are not autochthonous in the sense that they represent contemporary mixtures of traditional music and Western pop. Do you see a continuation of such amalgamating impulse in your work? Is mixing an internet-native form like the sound collage with huayño the next step for the splicing that gave birth to Los Kjarkas techno album, tecnobrega, or tribal guarachero? Or, on the contrary, do you find yourself closer to the more experimental/academic side of the coin, as represented by the work of Jorge Reyes, Edgar Valcárcel, Gabriel Brncic, Anla Courtis, etc?
This is an ongoing discussion that stories the movement of my work and journey as a writer. I have to be as honest as possible; I have to find truth always where I couldn’t see, hear, smell it before, and I have to seek the strange event of truth’s newness, always elaborating itself, always ridding its excess with an illusive divine grace. I must go to the very bottom to see that there was no depth that wasn’t here; I must always journey through landscape to find that horizon was also always in this place, with this presence. In this way, how can my work not be indigenous? I stand for an unrepresented history of musicians and writers of color, female authors, queer artists… I stand for these histories coiled at event horizon, on the brink of new universe or total disintegration, braided with nothingness. Their legacies move through me, enmeshed in the decisions I make, don’t make, consider.
I experiment purposefully only during the writing process in order to discover a new scheme, a new formatting. to experiment fruitfully in music actually requires a lot of configuration and discipline — my work ethic is often lacking. The finished result I can’t present unless I’ve come to some kind of conclusion. This is a difficulty for me — I can’t just write something stream of consciousness and deliver it to the listener, unedited. For me, the process is all about editing and execution; perhaps this is why sampling made so much sense as a medium at the beginning. Thinking about a potential connection with an experimental music legacy, I grew up listening to my brother’s jazz and avant-garde record collection. Acts like Soft Machine and Wara were huge, huge influences on me regarding how I approached song structure, tonality, energy, and narrative in writing.