Here they cumbia!
A queer band from Mexico City is ready to take NYC by storm.
Wed Sep 24 2008
A scrappy, up-and-coming girl band fronted by Mexico's answer to Beth Ditto, Las Kumbia Queers are doing what they can to shake up the anemic dyke scene in Mexico City. The five-piece group (all queer except for the bassist) was cobbled together by the dynamic lead singer Ali Gua Gua, 34, who brought aboard members of Argentina's She-Devils while traveling in South America. Today they play a blend of cumbia (the popular Latin American dance music from Colombia) and tropical (the sound of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean) with a punk sensibility. This week they'll do a show in NYC—their second ever—but first, Time Out New York caught up with Gua Gua by phone to chat about eclectic sounds and Mexican dykes.
How do you describe your style?
I like to describe it as "tropical punk." It's a very interesting perspective—being girls who are bored with rock, interested in exploring their cumbianchera ["cumbia-loving"] and queer sides.
How does queerness play into what you do?
It became involved when we asked ourselves who we are and how we felt. We don't feel part of any one tribe. Gay or not, it's about people who don't fit in any one place and love to mix everything together—punk with tropical, heterosexuals with homosexuals, freaks with fresas ["preppies"]. We think that's how the world should be. And also, we like chicks.
Who are your influences?
When we were recording our first album, Kumbia Nena!, we only knew songs from our idols: Madonna, the Ramones, Black Sabbath and Nancy Sinatra. So we started from there. In Argentina, we really like Los Pibes Chorros and Damas Gratis. I really like sonideros, the Mexican DJs from the barrios who play records and speak through the songs, animating the dancers. There are so many other bands, and cumbia can be so different; it moves my heart.
How's the Mexican dyke scene?
Nonexistent. Lately, they've been closing a lot of bars. You also can't smoke in bars anymore, so that's been killing nightlife in Mexico City. In the Zona Rosa [gay 'hood], we don't know if it's homophobia or that they're just closing places anyway. So I think the dykes don't have a place to hang out. It's also very rigid. I don't relate to people by who they want to sleep with; it's the last thing that inspires me. I think most of the girls here are too serious. They have to loosen up.
They have to stop worshipping Frida Kahlo! They don't like to mix. "We're lesbians, this is how we interact, this is the music we want to listen to, and these are the places we have to go to." They only go to gay places and don't have heterosexual friends. But I do want to believe there is a little scene, a good scene. I just don't know where it is.
Isn't it at your shows?
You have to understand that people aren't really open here. They're really afraid; socially, there's a big stigma. Argentina is more open. There, you can see girls kissing and holding hands.
When did you come out?
I haven't exactly. I think it's obvious. For my family and friends here in Mexico, it'd be really hard to explain. Plus, I like everything in the world. I still like some boys and I really like trans people, too. I identify as queer because I don't like just one thing.
Las Kumbia Queers play at Fontana's on Sat 27.