Puerto Rican Women Killing It In The Independent Art Scene: Rosamalia

 

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, and libraries like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

Rosamalia is, as she calls herself, “an audio creative. I wear many hats: composer, DJ, musician, pianist. I think pretty much on a full-time basis about music and sounds. I own an audio studio, Dungeon Jams, which offers services of sound design, music, and post-production for media or commercial purposes. Currently, I am the director of the audio department at Gladius, a visual media production studio. I also often think about how I can help improve the local music industry. I am concerned about the lack of aid and tools for artists, and from my personal experiences have identified problems that could be solved in order for our industry to take the ‘next step’ and  thrive.”

What got you into music?

My grandmother has a piano in her house, and she used to babysit me often. I would listen to her play and started experimenting and getting curious about the piano. Then my mom put me in classes after seeing my interest when I was around 5 years old. I’ve spent most my life on-and-off piano lessons; I love the piano, but didn’t love practicing and struggled to maintain interest. Looking back now, I think it was a flaw in the way I was taught. It was very traditional and classical, not like nowadays where you can learn music with iPads and fun softwares.

As an adolescent, I began to develop curiosity towards cinematic and electronic music, and through a movie soundtrack (My Summer of Love) discovered and became obsessed with the band Goldfrapp. Their music is a mix of jazz, trip-hop, electronics, kinda like Portished.  As a kid, a lot of the music I listened to had synthesizers or had digital instrumentation, No Doubt, P!nk, t.A.T.U, all these bands used electronics and cool sound effects.

Then, when I discovered clubbing and after-hour culture, I got super hooked for life on dance music. I love dance music culture and philosophy, people coming together happily for hours to dance and have a good time. I think dance music is very powerful, and good DJing (or any kind of artistic live performance) requires deep psychological and anthropological analysis of people. I fell in love with the electronic sounds of dance music, house, techno; I think dance music producers are great sound designers!

I wanted to learn more about electronic music and production, which I self-taught  during college. I enrolled in jazz at the Interamericana and later Conservatorio de Música, but what I wished was to learn music tech and production. I became frustrated with being forced traditional music and was becoming successful with playing gigs and becoming known and sought-out in the industry, so I stopped studying and for the past two years have pursued full-time my music career as composer for media and DJ.

This August, I am re-enrolling to the Conservatorio, but this time I’m entering with a clear mission: to help the academic community be involved in electronics. I think that every musician needs recording and technology skills in order to compete and succeed in the current global musical climate. Technology has become so fun and accessible, it is an amazingly powerful tool for musicians, and they should embrace it to help their careers prosper and evolve. I now understand that the academic community needs new leaders who understand technology and can guide the community to evolve their curriculum. This is where SAFA comes in! Sonic Arts for All is a non-profit organization bringing music tech education to schools. They just opened a chapter in Puerto Rico, and I joined their team to spread the message of electronics. My plan is that with my re-enrollment, I can bring in SAFA to the community and we’ll pitch something like an after-school electronics community hub or club at Conservatorio and see where it goes from there!

How did you develop your style?

I’ve developed my style/tastes by listening a lot and digging deep in the internet, reading many music history books and composer biographies as well.

My composing style is a mix of dreamy impressionist piano (Debussy), blues, jazz, and Latin styles I learned in school, psychedelic jam-rock (Warpaint), and clubby house music (Jamie Jones, Martinez Brothers, Seth Troxler).

As a DJ, my style is very groove-oriented music. Groove is essentially the “rhythmic feel” and repetitive patterns made by the drums and bass of a track. I really like songs that have interesting groove elements and hooks, or play with humor through the vocals or sounds. I choose music that is fun and moving, music that makes you dance and lose yourself in enjoyment. Even when I select ‘darker’ songs, maybe more to the techno side for example, they are still very moving and rhythmically interesting songs. Dance music is very physical music, you can ‘feel’ the bass on a sound system, so selecting songs with proper groove and bass is a key ingredient to get those bodies movin’ on the dancefloor.

How has it evolved through the years?

I think I can identify two major shifts in my taste in music as a DJ. One was when I was introduced to afterhours club scene here in Puerto Rico. Up till that point, the only DJs I knew about were big Trance/EDM DJs like Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, etc, and had been to big festivals like the Electric Daisy Carnival. When I entered the afterhours scene, I felt like I had discovered a cozy, intimate secret society of passionate electronic music fans. It was ‘weird’ and intriguing dance music I had never heard before, and I became hooked. I started listening to DJs like Maceo Plex and Art Department, which I’d describe as being more on the techno/’darker’ side of club music. I then discovered many other ‘underground’ DJs thanks to parties here in Puerto Rico, traveled to festivals in the US (Ultra in Miami, and Movement in Detroit), got connected in the NYC dance music scene, and I had my first visions of being a DJ and curiosities were born about DJing equipment and how to start DJing.

The second shift happened when I actually learned to DJ. Two years ago, a friend of mine, Ozzie Forbes, and my girlfriend were planning an all-girl party for the queer community, and we needed a female DJ. They both suggested I be DJ, but up at that time, even though I was involved in DJ culture, I had never used DJ gear or mixed before. Ozzie said ‘no problem, I’ll show you’, and he gave me a quick class at his house. Since I was already a technologically-inclined musician, DJing was super intuitive and easy for me to understand, so I ran home and bought my first DJ controller.

My taste shifted from trippy, melodic electronic music to more pumpin’ bass and beats heavy music for the dancefloor. Now, I don’t really dig those darker, melodic dance tracks any more. I prefer the fun and mischievous bangin’ dancefloor vibes of DJs like Jamie Jones, Dyed Soundorom, Martinez Brothers.

I’m constantly digging for new music, and every venue or crowd you play will require a different selection so this naturally causes you to evolve. I really like more ‘underground’ and interesting music, but sometimes I get booked for things that require a more ‘pop’ approach and I need to adjust to that and play less challenging music. For example, in the previous Heineken Oasis in 2018, I incorporated my ‘underground’ sounds mixed with some more pop stuff like Bad Bunny and music in Spanish or EDMish stuff. The challenge I face when playing that style of music (pop, hip hop, trap, etc) is that it requires a different mixing skill. The songs’ tempos are very different and usually require really quick mixing in and out of songs. The music I specialize in, house and techno, have their own skill sets, which are usually long drawn out mixes and layering tracks that work well together harmonically and are at the same tempo. So when I try to blend other styles, sometimes it works, but often it is risky and could “throw off” the vibe of smooth mixing.

But recently, and the more I grow as an artist, I have people come to my shows to specifically listen to the new and different music I present, so I’ve felt more at ease and accepted when playing ‘underground’ or challenging music. This has a lot to do with the venues and crowds you play at and, luckily, I’ve found really great crowds of people who are passionate and open-minded about house music and let themselves go on the dancefloor.

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

I am inspired by observing. I take the time to pursue my curiosities, learn and read. As a DJ, I’m influenced by Jamie Jones and Peggy Gou. Jamie has been DJing for about two decades and not only is he a successful heavily-touring DJ, but he also runs a very influential label, Hot Creations, and dedicates time to studio-work and actually recently did a concert performance called Opus 1 with the London Electronic Orchestra. I have seen him live a couple of times and have observed him a lot on YouTube, and his passion for dance music oozes out of him. It’s crazy that he travels around the world year-round and still makes time to dedicate himself to cool influential side projects and shows up smiling and ready to have a good time at every gig he plays. You can tell that music drives his life.

Peggy is also a DJ who travels the world year-round and takes the time to really dedicate time to her fans and document her life on Instagram. That might sound silly, but it takes a lot of time to make content for Insta, to think of a caption, to follow up with comments or DMs, etc. You can tell Peggy is humble and thankful for the position she is in and works damn hard and deserves all the success she’s had and more to come. Also, she oozes with style, sophistication, and humor, makes you want to be her best friend.

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

My mind is pretty much full-time thinking about music, but I am involved in animation arts, as a sound designer and composer, so I’ve learned a lot about the process of animation and film. I guess I’ve also been pursuing the art of communication. As a freelancer, I handle most of my customer and client relations and communicating clearly to the point it can be an artform! I have a booking agent who manages some of my DJ client relations, but even communicating with your agent requires skill.

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

I think there are huge opportunities in the arts scenes. In music for example, I’ve observed there are opportunities for technology to facilitate musicians’ jobs and business management. I think there is a new era of artists who were born with or grew up with technology, and there is lots of room for creative industries to expand and grow by incorporating tech.

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

I think it’s steaming with opportunities to disrupt. One of the issues that has been brought up by musicians is the lack of associations, industry community hubs for information or education, and lack of standardized industry practices. I speak for myself from personal experiences when I say I feel it’s pretty wild-wild-west right now, which has its pros and cons, but in the end makes it uphill for artists to live off their art full time. I do envision there being a huge potential for the industry to get organized in order to grow and become more stable and ‘comforting’ for artists.

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

I’d say pursue it, be obsessed, be curious, ask questions, experiment. Always be true to yourself, true to what you feel. Pursue knowledge, and if you don’t know something don’t be afraid to ask. We, humans, aren’t born knowing everything! Talking with others and building your network is a huge part of ‘making it’ as an artist; you have to go out, leave your bedroom, and show people who you are and what you do. As an artist, you will most likely be a freelancer, meaning you are your own business, so developing business and finance management knowledge (and getting a trusty accountant and a lawyer!) should run parallel and equally important to your development of art skills and talents.

What is your biggest goal right now?

Right now, besides from going back to school, I am working on expanding my studio. I’ve been wanting to recruit other freelance composers and sound designers to work together on projects, and thanks to my work with Gladius animation studio this is starting to seem more of a necessity. As Gladius grows, my studio should also be growing to better suit their expanding needs.

I’m also working on those opportunities I mentioned previously about the industry improving. I’ve identified possible solutions to some of the pains we musicians experience, and am developing some ideas involving technology. Stay tuned for more on that later through the year!

What do you seek to achieve with work?

I envision a thriving music industry in which musicians have the tools and support they need to live full time off their art. I’ve witnessed this in other cities of the world; they have a thriving community, tools, and hubs for artists, and I have no doubt it can be achieved here. I’ve never wanted to leave Puerto Rico to pursue music, I’ve pursued it here and have seen it is possible, but needs a lot of improvement and a huge push. But it takes people who are aware of these issues to make time to actively work on solutions. Luckily, I’ve connected with like-minded people who share this interest in seeing the creative industries thrive and I’m excited by the possibilities to come.

Listen to Rosamalia on Spotify

Listen to Rosamalia’s DJ Sets on Soundcloud

Find Rosamalia on Instagram