In “Rita Indiana: el huracán caribeño,” Alejandro Marín (El Tiempo) speaks to Dominican-born singer and writer Rita Indiana about her life, the pandemic, and music. Here are translated excerpts from the interview. See full article at El Tiempo. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]
To call Rita Indiana “a writer,” “a visual artist,” or “a musician” would be to simplify a powerful complexity for these homogeneous times. Although she is well-known for her literary work—Caribbean science fiction and wild novels that have made her part of the Latin American ‘Zeitgeist’—it was her great versatility that led her to music, alongside Los Misterios in 2010, and what made of her a figure that not even she wanted to be, but that occurred like art: a ‘big bang’ borne out of exploration and instinct.
Rita has been living in Puerto Rico for 10 years—the first place in the world where her literature was published—and she is a neighbor of Eduardo Cabra, Visitante (Calle Trece), with whom she has returned to music after the overwhelming success of ‘El juidero,’ a work of cult music, full of heat, merengue, ‘thrash,’ and ‘punk.’
Her 7-year absence ended last week with her song “Como un dragon,” in which she opens, as usual, a sharp and unexpected range of audiovisual sensations, also directed by her wife, Noelia Quintero Heredia, and with the post-production of a small but important Colombian audiovisual producer called DiptonOnce. [. . .]
How long did you “Como un dragon” on the back burner? It’s been ready since Christmas, but we were waiting to finish post-production of the video, directed by Noelia Quintero, my partner, and which we co-produced with Diptongo, a Colombian firm that was in charge of the 3D animation—a collaboration for which I am very grateful, because it ended up being super cool.
How did you arrive at that collaboration with them? Through networks of a friend, Emil Medina, a producer here who has worked with Bad Bunny and is a super professional guy. He recommended Sebastián Mejía and told me to speak to him. There is a lot of collaboration between Colombia and Puerto Rico these days in post-production, filming, also in the musical world.
The example is you, Balvin, and Bad Bunny, right? There are many communicating vessels between us. Colombia is also the Caribbean. There is very cool chemistry.
Where does the spirit of the video come from? Noelia’s idea was that of a laboratory. I was baptized ‘la Montra’ in my country, which is ‘la Monstrua’ [The Monster]. We wanted to bring up that character: to see ‘La Montra’ in her laboratory, creating her musical experiments, or experiments of any kind.
I read that there is something from Os Mutantes and Iron Maiden … How do those worlds connect? That’s me, that mix of tastes. At 12 years old I was already involved in what was thrash and punk, but I used to listen to merengue in my house without my friends knowing it (laughs). My music is just that, a mixture of all the things I like. And this album is very powerful, it brings punk, postpunk and a lot of metal, but mixed with all these Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and there is a lot of theatricality too; that’s what I meant by Iron Maiden, that “Maiden theatricality” on stage.
How did you get to ‘thrash’? bThere was a store in Santo Domingo called the Skateboard Shop, where all the hanging out was. Everyone who skateboarded was out there … I think they sold a t-shirt a year (laughs), but it was an organic cultural center for all ‘outsiders.’ When I got there, I was listening to Guns n ‘Roses and things like that, and then, the tígeres there recommended Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth … and from there I started to explore more acid stuff… From hand to hand, so to speak, as it used to happen.
How does one live outside the idiosyncrasy of the Caribbean, under the rules of ‘metal’ and ‘hardcore’? There was a very interesting persecution that went on in the late 1980s. A TV presenter appeared showing Judas Priest records, and people went crazy. They sent the police out to chase us if we were wearing Maiden T-shirts … They cut your hair … it was a ‘heavy metal’ panic. I talk about it in one of my books.
Why did it take so long to make a new album? Because I came from the ‘underground,’ from literature, from the conceptual arts, and I stared making popular music with ‘El juidero,’ and it went super well. And I wasn’t ready to deal with what it meant to be a popular music figure at the time. It was too demanding, too much exposure, my children were little … I also wanted to dedicate time to literature. So, I wrote a couple of little novels that I had inside and which I had to pull out, and now I came back, led by the hand with Eduardo Cabra (Visitante), who had been asking me for some time to get to work on a record …
[. . .] When you were hiding from your friends and listening to merengue, what were you listening to? At that time, what was in fashion was the Coco Band. It was at the beginning of the 90’s. That faster merengue was fashionable, that super-nasal tone, very false; but also, whatever they put on the radio: Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura, my favorites. It was not their golden age, because that was the 80s era. Bonny Cepeda … Los Hijos del Rey, Fernandito Villalona, of course … all those people who transformed merengue from a motley thing, from the domestic sphere, from the Trujillo days [el trujillato], and took it to the street and turned it into something truly urban.
Did it ever occur to you at that time that you were going to link thrash with merengue? No, because they were very opposed worlds. To be called ‘merenguero’ in the metal “hang” was an insult. But the internet has helped people to get out of those little worlds and to try other things.
Do you feel that, at that time, what was happening with merengue between those metal tribes and the ‘thrash’ and the ‘punk’ the same thing that is happening today with reggaeton? Definitely. It makes me very funny to see merengueros like Johnny Ventura speaking ill of dembow, reggaeton, or trap; because that’s how they were considered. They forget that, at some point, they were the transgressors; all those who were making music that, for the previous generation, was nonsense. There is always that spearhead in popular music with someone who transgresses the established order: people jump all over them. But I feel that the division is not as strong or as aggressive anymore, because I know young people who hear everything with much more freedom than we did twenty years ago.
Do you think reggaeton is bad music? I don’t think there is bad music. Who am I to tell someone—someone who hears reggaeton, who is moved by it, by a music that makes them get up and enjoy, to dance “perreo,” to fuck around, and to be alive—that this is shit? Music is made to feel, and for human beings not to go crazy. There are some atrocities out there that are poorly produced, poorly made, poorly written … but surely there will be someone who loves that shit. And I respect that.
Do you feel that you are an activist? I highly respect that term. It is used a lot to refer to me because I am a lesbian, because I am an artist, and because I talk a lot about these things. But I don’t consider myself an activist because I have many friends who are, and I understand that they are doing a job of educating and organizing that I don’t do. I do cultural work. [. . .]
Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full interview, see https://www.eltiempo.com/cultura/musica-y-libros/entrevista-con-rita-indiana-el-huracan-caribeno-491134