Peripheric Sounds: When Identity Meets Research

Written By:

Alice Venir


November 23, 2017

1. Introduction

Daniella Isamit Morales is a Barcelona-based Venezuelan DJ and artist. The following interview reflects her current research at MACBA focused on Tuki, Funka and Kuduro music genres, as well as exotified identities, making radio, sexism and fitting music, theory and art together.

Originally Venezuelan, Daniella Isamit Morales recently relocated from Italy to Spain. After building up a reputation in the Italian art scene, she now continues experimenting with sounds and music genres on different fronts. Her The Alps Cover is an artistic music project that literally put into music the Italian borders mountains, translating biking tracks of the cycling competition Giro d’Italia into music tracks thanks to a 3D drawing music program.

She talks about her current research work at MACBA, the renowned contemporary art museum in Barcelona, which offers independent research program to affiliated artists and researchers. The project at MACBA is precisely concerning DJing. When thinking about DJing and research one might think of high levels of technicalities. But her take bypasses issues of technique and delves right into matters of identity, culture and decolonizing.

Starting from her own experience as a Latin American DJ in Europe, and the expectations that came with it, she began questioning what potentials music genres have beyond borders and local identities. Despite her eclectic taste in DJing which makes her produce hybrid and cross-genres mixtapes, her current focus is quite specific and in embraces Tuky, Funka and Kuduro, which are music genres from, respectively, Venezuela, Brazil, and Angola with a twist of Portugal – indeed Angolan immigrants in Lisbon hugely developed the genre. Does the origin of this sound need to be self-evident? Does it matter? These and other questions were the starting point of her work, and I craved to discuss more over a Skype conversation we held a few days after our first encounter.

Her other current project is a webradio taking physical shape in Barcelona but with its roots in Caracas, made of Venezuelan voices living abroad. Una Valiente Nueva Radi, a collaborative radio show by Venezuela-based Abraham Araujo aka Bestialo Culapsus, came up in November and sees her intervening under the name N.Y.E.M. aka "Not your exotic monkey“, an attempt to reflect on hybrid music scenes defeating the tropical trope.

The potential for a decolonial approach to sounds and music identities are often relegated as “tropical” or merely exotic or, as we will discuss, peripheric. Questioning expectation, roles and importance of non-white, non-western, non-central genres and voices seems then to be the first step towards a conscious re-considering of fixed identities and music categories. Starting, as always, from one own’s personal collection of life experiences.

2. Research

Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá
Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá

You’re not new to moving in between your work as a DJ and as an artist, but is the current research project at MACBA a decisive move towards a hybrid merging of the two? Or you don’t even like to define it as a hybrid?

Daniella Isamit Morales: Well, I don’t start to define what it is. Actually, what happened to me, at the beginning of my practice as an artist I came from the graphic arts, I studied graphic design, and in that context I started to feel that I needed to create my own content and to give my own thought, shape and visibility. And that’s why I started to say: Ok, I am going to do visual arts. It has to be a field that allows me to explore everything. I mean, I knew I was deeply attached to music, but I started to do performance, and in some moments it started to deviate towards the sound, music, sound performance and experiments in the field.

When I think about this project I think about a project, I’m not thinking about a piece of art at the beginning. I think that’s why in this moment I am not really sure it has to fit into an artwork format…I don’t know, it could fit maybe better in a project about radio, or maybe in a concert, or maybe in a party. The fact that I am an artist could have conditioned people to believe it will be an artwork but it’s not the most important thing at the beginning.

I don’t think MACBA has conditioned this experiment as an hybrid, but surely the nature of the program has given to me a space that allows me to explore and get in touch with different disciplines in a very transversal way. This is both because of the contents and because of the other fellow researchers, from different fields of philosophy, sociology and visual arts.

What is the question that started this current research?

First of all, there’s a little text I wrote at the beginning of the process, when I arrived here, about what it means to be peripheric. I have a very specific example for that. When I was in Italy, in Turin, I was asked to play music at a night with some other foreign DJs. I was invited to open for a German DJ who spent a lot of time in Brasil, then came back to Europe. It was a very weird night. I mean, I had a lot of fun but that was also the first time that I saw in a flyer the words “peripheric sound”. And that re-sounded to me, maybe not in that exact moment, but it remains with you. Like, in what way are they referring to “peripheric”? Because I felt like ok, this is me being defined as peripheric. What does it mean? Is it a geographical precedence? I don’t know, if it’s just a geographic paradigm then for me it’s a poor concept. Because in this moment of both physical and digital places, what does it mean peripheric, where is the centre? I mean, 20 years ago it could have meant something, but in this present moment I am not really sure.

The second aspect is that, when I think about the music like Tuky or Funka - these “peripheric sounds”- what was important to me is, I think, they do not come from an attempt to representation or to self-representation within a white perspective. They exist even if no one knows about them. And I thought that was amazing. And I also wanted to start a line of thought from there, from a concern with narratives and how to build your own genealogies.

But what happened next is, I think, the most interesting part of all this. Well, I wrote all this, and I read a lot, and I came here in Barcelona and I started to get in touch with my Spanish, because for 9 years I was only speaking Italian. I started to somehow come back to my old places, and in a moment I told myself, but you’re reproducing the same thing that you’re kind of bothered by. Why? Well, you’re pointing at “the others” and you’re not including yourself in the process of decolonizing. It’s like “they are the whites, they are the sexists, etc…” and in a moment I realized, and here is where things get more interesting, that I picked 3 music genres that are from black people: Tuky, Funka and Kuduro. And I didn’t realize that before! I mean, this sounds very weird but I never thought about that. And I think that’s kind of creepy, that unconsciousness , for me is very naive and embarrassing. But I think also that the richest part of it is to start from me, from my own taking of consciousness of being white even if I am not white. With this I mean, the fact that now I am not the same white that I was two months ago, the kind of white who is not conscious about their whiteness. And that was a really big realization and the start of a never ending process of change.

In this moment I am working with all these considerations. And yes, I think these are the three very important parts. First, what does it mean to be peripherical beyond geographical notions and rather more relating to “subalternity”. The second one concerns representation and narratives around music language. And the third is how you, as a cultural agent, transform in your research process, and include yourself inside as a subject.

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3. Identities

You seem to look at identities as well as at something that would transcend those. You described to me your work as made of “boundless” sounds: is this about overcoming the same sort of fetish you were referring about with the hype of peripheric and going beyond the genre and the locality? How to combine the importance of naming identities and the importance of transcending them?

Naming and transcending are not contraposed circumstances, are both necessary but at same time, the real thing here is not to crystallize them as a static concepts and visions, as it happens for example with the notion of folklore and how it has been perpetuated in some contexts in an instrumental way. That’s what I refer to when I say that I’d try to transcend identities.

But then again, these open and wide questions appear again and again, that’s why I would love to activate a laboratory space to discuss this problematic, because in a very contradictory position I feel I don’t believe in identities. For example, I loved to discover that Arca is Venezuelan as I love to hear sounds that go beyond this issue, many artists who are not doing what they are “supposed to do” concerning where they come from, and I think that’s the more exciting part of this.

4. Not Your Exotic Monkey

Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá
Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá

Can you tell me more about the upcoming project N.Y.E.M. (Not Your Exotic Monkey)? Is it also part of your work at MACBA or is a side project you are elaborating?

The work at MACBA is related to the research, N.Y.E.M. is one of many ways to take the research to live in material reality. It is both a DJ project and a segment inside the “Una valiente nueva radio”. I think I would like to propose it to MACBA as part of my project because it will take many shapes. The project itself is the research. But talking about the research is so abstract and I don’t want it to become just a text that it’s going to be read maybe with 4 cats in the world, with the academia and the institutional environment. I wanted to have this outcome and to be able to share it in a more organic way, because otherwise it’s a failure. It’s something written in a text that will stay in a library and that maybe one person will make a thesis out of it five years after! I hope this will not happen. I mean, on one hand the written research, integrated by a bibliography will find an outcome, but the one I find more honest would be to transform it into podcasts on radio, radio sessions and to generate spaces to discuss.

The radio will broadcast for the Venezuelan time-zone, live with video. We want to rescue some old but nice references figure we had in the 90’s MTV: VJ. Abraham invited to create their own shows to other Venezuelans, that in this moment are outside the country; on one hand to explore with another approach the sound of another place, beyond stereotypes and somehow, on the other mumbling that we are now migrating and living outside the country, and this is not casual.

Before we started elaborating this, talking about doing a radio program with my colleague from Caracas has been like: “but you know the situation that is happening here, Daniella, I don’t know if it’s like the moment to do a radio program, I don’t know if it’s good”. And I said “of course is good!”, “Yeah, but you know what’s going on here…”, “yeah but we can’t stop doing things because…we have to do it” “you think so?” “yes!” “but that doesn’t mean I am superficial?” “no!” you’re not superficial because you’re doing a web-radio… that by the way is called Una Valiente Nueva Radio, a Brave New Radio, you have to be kidding me! So yeah, let’s do it.”

And actually this project came out since a year ago, when this friend started doing this radio and inviting me and saying like “I would like you like a guest and may other people who are outside Venezuela and you can talk about whatever you want to talk about”. And I was like, well, of course you know what I am gonna talk about! Maybe…about, I don’t know I wanna dedicate a whole single program to the group ESG, that is like a Bronx 3 sisters group that they grew up in the late 70s in the Bronx, and I heard their album like 10 years ago and that really… it was kind of weird to think that they didn’t have the recognition at the moment and a lot of hip hop players, of rappers started to sample their sounds, and they didn’t have the credits of that! And I am so pissed off, and then 10 years later they started to have this, like they emerged and they restarted to play and they have like this …as if there were our aunties touring around Europe, it’s amazing! So well, I’d like to dedicate just a program for them, for example. To somehow dedicate the space to explore more the relation between “peripherical” and “subaltern”, and the relationship they have with the underground scene.

And this would be your segment. How do you pronounce the acronym? Nayem?

I wanted to do it like En Why E Em.

Is this name referring to what you were saying before? To artists who do something they are not expected doing just because they come from somewhere, a kind of “in your face!”?

For me it started to become an automatic phrase that came into my mind every time I was asked to play music. Because it is attached to people I actually love, good friends and people who are very close to me. This happened a lot in the last 3-4 years in Italy, where people were like “why don’t you play your music, it’s so beautiful”! And this is a positive thing but it started to create a situation that was kind of uncomfortable, because they were taking for granted that if you’re from there, it automatically means you can dance, even though they never saw you dancing. I don’t know, sometimes it was a bit weird and I was getting a bit fed up with it. I cannot be here playing the Macarena! It’s not what I want to do, I mean, I could do it, but when it starts to be something limiting me because I have to perform what you think I am, I get mad. And the last story I had with a guy, he was like, in that moment I didn’t understand if he liked me or if he was really deep into my music. “Oh you play such an amazing music, so weird…but you should use a lot of colours!” Fuck it. You’re dressing me up as something! What is that supposed to mean? I know it’s coming with good intentions but it’s awful.

And I can give an example from when I was starting my career, with a visual arts master in Milan with the NABA. The context to this is that 9 years ago I felt that I was white! This is funny and sad. Why? I was from a nice family and I had access to culture, and I felt that I was white, and I never thought that I was different or that I didn’t have the privileges I had up until that moment. So when I moved from there… this is gonna sound so crazy but I felt myself like being a French girl! And even my haircut was sort of like that. And I was “ah I feel so European right now!” And that was such bullshit, but in my mind it was true. And when you start to hear from the outside “ah but you’re from Latin America, and…”. Well, let’s say specifically: the director of the visual arts of the NABA tells you “oh, you’re Venezuelan, you should do performance”. Well he didn’t say the rest of the phrase but, like, ok we have a tradition of performing, and Latin American women do performances, it’s like, you should try with that because it’s your tradition… what’s that supposed to mean? And I believed in it! That’s the failure! I started to believe “ah, I am supposed to do this, because they expect me to do this, because this is who they tell me I am”.

And it took me many years to realize that, ok, that’s the beginning of the colonial problem in my case – and I think it’s everywhere and we – and I say we referring to the colonies and the people that are from the colonies – we have this problem of internalized colonialism. It makes it even more terrible! But once you realize that this is it, and that there is a lot of work to do, but I prefer to know! Yeah, well, I think there is another side to this story, because for me it was the condition that let me realize what was really happening, and this is not what I thought, but I am gonna do something with this. This is what I am doing now. Let’s see how it goes.

5. Sexism

Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá
Daniella Isamit Morales - photo credits: Luna Tristá

Do you think this exoticization also intersects with sexism in a way? Like, with some expectation because of being a female DJ?

I am not really sure. Well, yeah, if you’re a Latin American woman is like “oh, the sexy bomb!” So fed up with it. But we’re talking only about Italy. Now in Barcelona is not like this, but is kind of… ok it’s not anymore about the exotic issue, but is more like “ahh is a woman, can she play? Does she have the technical tools?”. The last experience that I had here searching for a studio… I posted about it on Facebook: “we want to make some experiments, we don’t know what’s gonna come out”. And in this world if you say that you’re experimenting, people get scared. Because it’s like “what are you really doing? What are you doing for a living?”. Well I am here visiting, like David Bowie “Oh, I’m just visiting”. Why do we need to attach, to crystalize who we are? Well, anyways, writing to some Venezuelan guys about it, we had very hostile answers or we were ghosted, like what the hell! If I was a guy and telling you this, that I am experimenting with a friend I am sure it would be different. When a man is experimenting, he's a genious, when a woman is experimenting she's just beeing vague.

Also, I am reading a book that talks about the Tuky, the Venezuelan genre, and they talk about women like the groupies, or the DJ friends, or the audience, obviously. And there’s never ever mentioned a woman. It’s so weird that also in that kind of literature that’s like the cliché of the woman: when she likes music she’s in love with the musician, she's a groupie, and of course she doesn’t play music herself. Oh well, this is could be a whole other project!

I was reading the description on one of your mixtapes where you’re referring to liquid identities, cross-breed genres, and I was thinking: do you consider your music queer?

Sometimes… but I am not really sure. I think so. I have to work a little bit more with my techniques and also with genres, I don’t wanna have genres anymore. At the beginning I wrote this text for the mixcloud bio because, at a personal level, it’s the definition of heteronormativity that doesn’t fit me, I don’t feel that reflection of a specific type of woman with a specific kind of guy who performs a specific kind of sex fits me! And same thing goes with the music genres, I have a similar sensation. There's not enough space inside a word, inside a tag. And I wonder if I can reach that “state” in which you play with some genres and you set them together in a dyamic interzone, almost genre-less.

About the Author

Alice Venir

Freelance researcher with a background in Sociology and Anthropology, interested in social movements, sexuality and identity, and how they reflect in arts and culture. She divides her time between Romania and the Netherlands.

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