Profile: Invasión Tropical

Para leer en español, click aquí.

Earlier this month, I was honored to DJ alongside Bogotá mainstays DJ Criollo and DJ Mixiticius at the second edition of the Invasión Tropical (Tropical Invasion) series (tagline: “Venimos en Son de Paz” (“We Come in Peace”)). These two artists have been holding down the alterna-Latino scene at progressive venues across the city for some time now. I met them at another party concept they hosted at the bar Latino Power called La Universidad de la Champeta, which was designated to create a space for Afro-Colombian music that’s historically found its home on the Atlantic coast, but is now emerging as a force on national and international levels with the complete takeover of champeta urbana.

Invasión Tropical was made even more cohesive thanks to promotion from Radio Mixticius and the design skills of El Criollo who also happens to be a talented graphic designer. He branded the event with a rotating series of flyers, working with a motif that cross-blended references uniting psychedelic alpacas and sci-fi satire film Mars Attacks. The lineup brought together the aforementioned DJs, VJ (visual jockey) Songo and DJ Zallia, who was visiting from Philadelphia.

For me, this party was a great example of the types of inclusive spaces that long-term community organizing and intentional, thoughtful event production can create. Throughout this piece I’ll explain the forces that came together for Invasión Tropical.

DJ Mixticius (Andrés Aceves) is also a founder of Radio Mixticius, a key bogotano cultural promoter of local, national and international sounds. The station focuses on sharing work that explores roots through folkloric and migratory music, ultimately reflecting on the influence of meztizaje (mixing). To preview and to help create some buzz around the event, the Invasión Tropical crew invited me to their studio that week to speak about my experience as a DJ living in Bogotá.

That evening I also had the opportunity to turn the tables on the interview to ask station producer Luis Guillot about his experience co-founding the platform alongside DJ Mixticius and Silvi Ojeda, and the logistics of sustaining the project.

As Guillot told me, for years Ojeda and Aceves had the intention of creating a cultural blog that would highlight urban art and music trends in Colombia. Guillot was working in university radio at the time, and the idea of unifying these practices with Aceves and Ojeda led to the creation of Radio Mixiticius. Guillot commented, “I had experience and a lot of interest in radio, and we were already tired of the bogotano commercial radio circuit, so we decided to do something different and to generate this concept about two and a half years ago.”

The station counts around 12 programs among its regular rotation, which are divided between the likes of soul and funk, música tropical, gypsy-balkan, music from the African diaspora, music from the Caribbean and Antilles, programming that highlights on female voices in music and a series that focuses on music produced by migrant Latinos around the world. About six months ago, they also added a segment offering political analysis and debate to round out their programming.

Guillot commented, “There’s a large component of Colombian folkloric music, and folkloric music from other Latin American and Caribbean countries. We’re interested in independent music; we have a close relationship with circuits of artists and collectives that are working on new projects. So it’s a starting point for what we include in our programming, but we also extend to the rest of the world and any genre. We get together every week to figure out what to include and to identify selections that come from different sources; blogs, principally, some record labels and also from people that we’ve come to know and that send us their materials.”

For the first two years, the station would release podcasts to their page, and have now moved on to live streaming productions weekly Monday to Friday for two or three hours daily, each day dedicating the broadcast to a specific theme. They also invite in musicians that are passing through Colombia; as Guillot puts it “right now we have a lot of people from different parts of the world interested in music coming out of Colombia, in the movement that’s here. We invite them to come through our studio and record a DJ set so that we have a register of who’s visiting.”

Though currently funded by the combination of grants from international cultural organizations like the Netherlands’ Prince Claus Fund and personal investments gathered from Aceves, Ojeda and Guillot’s work as photographers, journalists and DJs, the group hopes that within a few years they’ll have sufficient funding to be completely sustainable. The station’s longevity is also aided by their strong community presence with informal collaborative alliances with cultural spaces like Latino Power, A Seis Manos, Latora Cuatro Brazos and La Puerta Grande, who regularly invite the station to book a night or to support a bill. Guillot elaborates, “We have a close relationship with folkloric music festivals like the Festival de San Jacinto in Bolívar, the Mercado Cultural de Medellín called Circulart and with other smaller establishments and community networks.”

Left to right: El Criollo and DJ Mixticius on air.

On the night of the interview, a special extended-hours edition on Radio Mixticius, Criollo expanded on his vision for Invasión Tropical. “It’s the meeting of genres that come from whichever part, it’s the mix of everything we come across…in the local scene there’s a need to take back spaces and return them in some way to be places where people can appreciate things that generally aren’t heard. There’s not a lot of places where you can do that so it’s good that it can happen in Latino Power because they always permit this to happen, always provide a space and always support so that there can be scenarios where there’s no obligations, no expectations to play certain genres, rather people can go and discover interesting things.”

Highlighting the importance of this creative freedom, Mixticius commented on the openness of Latino Power, “they trust in the judgment of the DJ, which is important.” In Criollo’s eyes, the point of creating these events is “to share, to have it reach people and transcend; that the message gets out there and that people are able to let go. To let go in the sense of exorcising things through dancing…the dancefloor’s a space where people can be really receptive.”

As the night grows, Criollo hopes that it continues flourishing so that they can continue to experiment, “I think that looking forward, we’ll try to bring together genres that one wouldn’t think would go together, and to start to experiment with crossing DJs from other styles, so that people can enjoy and listen to a diversity of selections that’s really open.”

Left to right: Luis Guillot, El Criollo and DJ Mixticius. Not pictured: Radio Mixticius co-founder Silvi Ojeda.

To hear what DJ Criollo and DJ Mixticius’ vision for Invasion Tropical sounds like, check out these mixes recorded that evening at Radio Mixticius:

PA’ PICAR – DJ CRIOLLO – PRE-INVASIÓN TROPICAL MIX by Pa’ Picar on Mixcloud

PA’ PICAR – DJ MIXTICIUS – PRE-INVASIÓN TROPICAL MIX by Pa’ Picar on Mixcloud

Below are a few photographs from the party and a video clip from VJ Songo’s visual selections to give a sense of the energy that night. Worth noting is that, in my experience, live visuals have the potential to be a demoralizing presence in club culture since they’re too-often focused on objectification of the female body or on sexually-charged images. VJ Songo’s selections, however, were playful and mainly referenced the extraterrestrial theme or the music, which for me relayed the ability to feel even more welcome and respected in the space.

The relatively low entrance fee of $8.000 Colombian pesos (approx. $4 USD) and the lack of dress code also contributed to the relaxed nature of the space, and the self-determined open-genre format opened up the energy to a cross-hatching of references, tempos and aesthetics. Having trust in the DJ from the venue’s perspective is something I value greatly, especially after being in several situations where my “unwelcome” track selections have elicited class anxieties or discriminatory biases against the imagined listeners of certain genres (this usually relates to hip hop or reggaetón in particular). I’ve had a number of occasions where club owners or promoters have rushed over and told me to switch gears immediately as soon as I played something that was “wrong” for the context. This was an expectation I was naive to when I’d first arrived and something I continue to feel uncomfortable about.

What happens when we take the time to advocate for the ability to choose what we play, and step into a space where it’s alright to mix between dembow, coupe decalé, cumbia rebajada and more? A beautiful, sweaty dance party:

INVASIÓN TROPICAL – VJ SONGO from RIOBAMBA on Vimeo.

For more about the artists:
DJ Criollo
DJ Mixticius

Monday, April 7th, 2014 Video

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