November 4, 2010

The Dominican Dominance

One of the latest additions to the Mad Decent (Diplo’s Label) family, Maluca, made a lot of noise with the release of her single ‘El Tigeraso’ (produced by Diplo) last year. The song is an electro-heavy track with merengue sounds like nothing you have ever heard before; hear it just once and it has you asking for more. Born and raised in Manhattan by Dominican parents, Maluca’s music is a resonant and resounding representation of her ancestral heritage and urban influences. She’s a much-needed breath of fresh air in the industry and someone to keep a close eye on in 2011. When The Wild Magazine caught up with her for an interview, she told us stories about her career, her writing process and being Dominican in NYC, proving that she is as unique and special as her masterful music.

©Giovanna Badilla

To be honest with you, I wasn’t familiar with your music at all until recently. When I was first introduced to it, I was told you were a Latin version of M.I.A. Do you think it is a fair comparison?

Well, I don’t think our music particularly sounds the same but I can understand why people make the comparison. She is super talented, she was an intricate part of the whole world music meets hipster sound and we are both brown (laughs.)

If you had to place yourself within a genre though, would you agree that your music is kind of similar to M.I.A.’s in sound, or it’s completely different?

I grew up with Diplo and a lot of producers in that circle. I always say I’m half hoodrat, half hipster (laughs.) I’m Dominican and I’m from New York City so my music is very New York, very urban but it’s still a combination of producers like Diplo and that whole kind of sound.

You just mentioned working with Diplo. How did you guys meet up?

We met years ago at this Karaoke bar that I was working at. I was bartending there. My friend was friends with Jasper and we all met. We did Karaoke all night and that’s pretty much how it happened. I didn’t know too much about Diplo and I didn’t know who he was when I met him. Diplo and Mad Decent knew that I made music and they kept asking me to send them something. It took me a year to do it.

Did the songs from this demo ever come out?

No they didn’t come out. But I’m waiting because I want to put them on my album.

When you first started to work together, was the direction of your music pretty obvious or did you create a new sound with him?

It wasn’t planned at all. It was very organic. I’ve written a song over rhythms from The Dominican Republic and I sent it to him. He had an idea for a beat with another sound from The Dominican Republic; so we combined forces.

I read that you describe your style of music as “tropical punk.” Can you tell us a little more about it?

I’m very inspired by the sound coming from the E.S.G., a post-punk band from the Bronx. They are four Porto Rican girls and what they did was that they took Porto Rican sounds and mixed it with a little punk. Even though my music is not punk rock, it’s still on the outskirts. It’s raw and that’s why I called it “tropical punk.”

What are some of the others genres that have influenced you?

Hip-Hop, obviously, and music from The Dominican Republic and other Latin countries. I think that New York, more so in general, influences me as a musician and as an artist, visually and sonically.

Speaking about New York, what was your experience as a Dominican girl growing up in the city?

Growing up, I always felt like, on the outskirts because I was never Dominican enough. Living downtown, the neighborhood that I moved in was predominantly white so they didn’t really get it, they were like: “What are you? Are you black? Are you white?” It was interesting. I think I felt more comfortable being a Dominican because I met so many Dominicans who were, like, the weird ones, still representing their culture but willing to experiment and push the boundaries of what a Dominican is supposed to be like.

There are a lot of different genres of Latin music that haven’t yet crossed the seas to Europe. Do you think your music, as a mash-up of all these genres, will help people to get familiar with them?

Yes, with ‘El Tigeraso.’ When I visit countries, and I’m touring, and some of these kids, their English is really broken—and to hear them yapping with me in Spanish it is a big thing because that’s the whole point. Especially here in America, you rarely hear Latin sounds on [Hot] 97. Sometimes you go overseas and you see kids singing in English and they don’t even know what they are saying sometimes. I like to do it in a way that’s not very obvious. I just don’t want to do Merengue, so it’s important for me to expose myself and hopefully expose other people out there to different types of music.

Having Dominican origins and making the music that you make, how are you perceived by the Latin Community in the US and in South America?

I don’t know. I think it has been very well received but there are still people who don’t get it. It’s too weird and it’s not traditional enough. It’s fresh and it’s new. I really would like to push the boundaries and experiment with this kind of sound.

Your song ‘El Tigeraso’ made a lot of noise when it dropped last year. Can you explain the meaning behind it?

El Tigeraso’ is just a guy who is a bad boy, who has swagger and who’s always trying to holler at you and call you over and your mom doesn’t want you to date him. The song was inspired by my experience growing up uptown, walking down the streets and just being called over by guys on the corner. I was just poking fun at the old experiences.

Aside from the music, you seem to develop your own style of fashion too in the video for the song. Did you use a stylist or did it all come from you?

I worked with a stylist but with everything I do, I’m very hands-on. Whether it is with my music, visually or with my website—everything that I do. I had a concept of what I wanted to look like, but sometimes you need a stylist to execute what you have envisioned and to pull out stuff from showrooms and stuff like that.

Was it easy to find the cast for the video because I assume a lot of these dudes got some ego to them?

No, because we have casted a lot of my friends during the video and I wanted to have a mix of uptown and downtown kids. The video was shot in two predominantly Dominican neighborhoods so to have the hipsters from downtown go uptown, it was so new to them and they were like: “What is this?” I meant to have a lot of the kids from the streets in the video too. It was like a culture shock I guess because the kids from the streets were like: “Who are these weird kids?” (laughs) It was kind of easy to get everyone in a room, I guess.

You said that ‘El Tigeraso’ was inspired by your experience. Is experience your only source of inspiration when you write a song?

It depends; sometimes some songs are written by my experience, my life and some songs are inspired by something else. I always sleep with my laptop in my bed so I never know when I’m going to have a “cookie dream.” Or sometimes I write someone else’s story.

What’s the craziest inspiration you had so far?

We were touring in Sweden and it was dark and wintertime and I had the worst jetlag and I was really bugging up. I have this song called ‘Hector’ and the inspiration was that I wanted to free myself and do what I wanted to do, then it evolved. I was very inspired by Sailor Moon and Captain Planet. A part of it was that I felt my team at the time, my DJ, my dancers; we have our own special powers separately but when we come together it’s like a big force. If you listen closely to the song, there’s a man’s voice behind Hector’s story… he’s from 3009 and they took his music. He picked me to tell his story. I literally woke up from a dream and wrote this song in 10 minutes.

The video for the song used footage from the anime “Sailor Moon”. Were you the person behind it?

It was collaboration between Paul Devro and me. We didn’t really have much money for a video so we decided to make it look like a YouTube video with references to the generation like the YouTube kids. We took images of the Dark Sailor Moon and had it colorized and added epilepsy. A lot of people were like: “Why didn’t you put yourself in the video?” But it wasn’t about me, it was about this guy named Hector so I thought it would be cool to keep me out of the video and just have it really trippy.

The song appeared on your mixtape, “China Food” this summer. What made you go with this title?

Growing up in New York City, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to go eat Chinese/Dominican food. There’s a lot of Chinese in our culture so we would go to these restaurants and see egg rolls and rice and beans. It was nothing to us. So I just felt like it was a testament to New York and how we are so diverse.

The mixtape can be split into three parts: I wanted to show people what inspired me, what kind of music I’m making at the present and where I want to take music in the future.

I was wondering: every time I hear about one of your performances, I’m told that you have a lot of energy. Is it hard being Maluca all day?

Maluca is obviously an integral part of my personality but when I’m in the shower by myself, I’m just taking a shower. (laughs) I have my moments when I’m taking a shit. Maluca is taking a shit like everybody else! (laughs) But it is important for me to have this character and really push it because we are in a recession and you don’t know if these kids would be able to get the money to get your shows and you don’t know what’s happening. There is no time to go on stage and find that your sound is bad and there is no room for any of that kind of shit because it’s not about you anymore. Once I’m on stage, there is no ego. It’s not about me, it’s about the people in the audience and getting them the best show possible. You need to give your 200% and if they like it, they like it. If they don’t, that means that you didn’t give them your best and it’s good because it makes you push harder. If everybody likes you, it’s boring because nobody would talk shit about you on the blogs. (laughs)

Do you check the blogs to see what people say about you?

Hmmm, you know people would say: “I don’t look at that stuff.” That’s a fucking lie! (laughs) I’m a human being; sometimes I want to know what the people are saying. I’m not obsessively on every blog, but sometimes I check it.

What’s the feedback so far?

There is a lot of positive feedback, but you still have some people who are like, “Oh Maluca has a camel-toe” or just like dumb shit which just makes me really laugh. Some people hate me like, “bitch get out of here” and I’m not mad because I know they are going to buy my album. They just don’t know it yet.

Speaking about your album, can you give us a few details about it?

I can’t really talk about it but there is definitely an album coming. That’s the next step.

©Giovanna Badilla

text by: Joseph Isho Levinson

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