Six girl punk rockers got together one day and decided to start a side project, just for fun.
But Ali Gua Gua, the lead vocalist, refused to start another rock band. She believed rock had gotten too fancy, too conservative, and too macho.
So they decided to go form a cumbia cover band and call themselves las Kumbia Queers. Latino USA interviewed vocalists Ali Gua Gua and Juana Chang.
They released their first album, Kumbia Nena! in 2007, queering up classics like The Smith’s ‘Lovesong’ (‘Kumbia Dark’), Black Sabbath’s Iron Man (‘Chica de Metal’ or ‘Iron Girl’) and even Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ (“La Isla con Chicas”, or ‘The Island With Chicks’).
The side project became a hit in Latin America, and their interest in cumbia just kept growing. For their second album, La gran estafa del tropi-punk (‘The Great Swindle of Tropi-Punk’), the Kumbia Queers teamed up with Pablo Lescano, the “godfather” of Argentine cumbia villera, an urban style of cumbia born in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires. Lescano produced the album and mentored the Kumbia Queers in the ways of urban cumbia.
For their latest album, Pecados Tropicales (‘Tropical Sins’), they decided to go back to their DIY roots.
Like other queers before them, the Kumbia Queers have been out to disrupt the disruptors. They’ve gotten backlash from the very male-dominated Latin American rock community.
MAKING THEM ANGRY
“All the rockers started getting angry because we touched their precious The Cure or their precious Black Sabbath,” says Ali Gua Gua. “In that way it’s good to find that playing cumbia is more punk than playing punk.”
They’ve also been booed off the stage with lesbophobic insults when opening for traditional cumbieros. But the Kumbia Queers thrive in the backlash. They’re used to being picked on for being different, queer, and the criticism fuels their punky spirit.
The Kumbia Queers took up the word queer as a rebellion against labels. But it’s not queer theory or queer issues that interest them. Politically, las chicas are very committed to changing the situation of women in Latin America. “I hope we encourage queer Latino women to do whatever they want to do,” says Ali Gua Gua.
In the US, different forms of cumbia play at parties and concert venues organized by queer Latinos. The Kumbia Queers’ message resonates with the queer Latino communities in California, Texas, Chicago and New York, where they visited on their 2014 US tour.
“We know it’s really hard for Latino people, they have to resist a lot,” says Juana Chang, vocalist and charango player. “People were really grateful for us being here because they had a little space of Latin Americanity.”
Las Kumbia Queers are Ali Gua Gua and Juana Chang on vocals, Pat Combat-Rocker on the bass, Flor Linyera on the keyboard, Ines Pektor on the drums and Pilar Zombie on the guitar. Ali and Juana also play the charango and the guiro.
Photo courtesy of Kumbia Queers website.
Marlon Bishop is a radio producer and journalist with a focus on Latin America, New York City, music and the arts. He got his start in radio producing long-form documentaries on Latin music history for the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. After a stint reporting for the culture desk at New York Public Radio (WNYC), Marlon spent several years writing for MTV Iggy, MTV's portal for global music and pop culture. Marlon has also lived and travelled all over Latin America, reporting stories as a freelancer for NPR, Studio 360, The World, the Village Voice, Billboard and Fusion, among other outlets.
Camilo Vargas went from his native Colombia to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He joined Latino USA after a fellowship with Univision Noticias and Univision’s Investigative Unit. Before coming to the US, Camilo was a researcher for the Universidad de los Andes and the Colombian government, specializing in armed conflict and US-Latin America relations. He holds a BA and an MA in international relations from Universidad de los Andes in Bogota and an MS from Columbia’s Journalism School. He’s reported on the drug war, national politics, and same-sex salsa.