DJ Bembona Found her Afro-Latina Identity Through DJing

We talk to Boricua-Panameña DJ Bembona about finding her identity through DJing.

DIASPORA—DJ Bembona—also known as Xiomara Marie Henry—felt an immediate connection to the Afro-Latino Festival of New York when she first heard about it three years ago. Soon after, the 26-year-old Boricua-Panameña DJ and activist began to spin professionally. In the process, she also began to explore, in-depth, the connection to her Afro-Latina roots.

Skip ahead to this past weekend at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza and you would have found DJ Bembona assuming the role of house DJ as Afro-Latino artists came and went from the stage. It was her second year at the annual two-day festival, which dedicated its 5th edition to “Women of the Diaspora."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it so important to have the Afro Latino festival in New York City?

The space that they've created for us here on a local scale—Brooklyn, Harlem—and on a broader scale, New York and the nation, is really important. These festivals are really rare, especially for Latinos that identify as black—who know our ancestors came from Africa.

This festival is also a way to bring us even further into the Latino and American mainstream. Because people are so set on what Latino is that they don't really know we come in such a large variety, and I think it's important for people to learn.

Photo by Redens Desrosiers

How did you come to identify as Afro-Latina?

When I first started DJing, I didn't know what direction I was going. One person that impacted me a lot was Riobamba. I heard one of her mixes before I started—she had political issues mixed to music. It was exactly what I wanted to do. During that journey of exploring these new sounds I was awakened to, 'Who am I? What do I identify as?' I had never identified myself as Afro-Latino before.

What role did DJing play in that process?

I'm really into rhythms—that feeling you get when you start dancing. You can't really explain it in words. It goes back to a spiritual connection that I just feel in my blood. In my soul. This is right. I know this is where I belong—what I am.

What are the kinds of spaces you have created as a DJ and activist?

My monthly party is called Vibras NYC. It's actually a year old this month. It's important for me. I'm black, I'm full Latina, and I'm a woman. It's kind of rare, in the city and abroad, to be that and be a DJ and an artist or musician. I felt like it was important to create a space where I can play music that you don't hear in the club or in the mainstream.

The Latino community still has an awakening to go through. We're still going through that process. And I feel like my space allows that to happen. I would say they the parties are a safe space. Whether you're queer, whether you're black, Latino, or whatever you identify as, if you come to my parties, you will feel at home with one of my sounds.

You recently went to Colombia for your first trip abroad to DJ. How did it go?

I went to Bogotá and Medellín, and spun in each city. They treated me like a queen. I just loved the people there. I did notice some things about race, obviously, coming as a black woman. I definitely stood out, but I never felt like I wasn't a part of their community. It was an amazing experience.

Photo by Tatiana Nancy.

You've also been working with the Fania label, including their Armada Fania series and a mixtape of Fania artists. What has that been like?

That's been a dream I didn't know I had. Fania is my childhood. The salsa genre is one of my favorites. Just to be part of it, honoring my favorite artists, honoring my abuelos and my parents, who raised me on that stuff. I can't believe I did it. I want to be more involved in the future. Because I really think it's important.There are a lot of underground salsa artists in New York and abroad, and they need something like Fania to help bring them out to the public.

What have you been listening to and playing lately?

Afrobeat helps me to have this connection to my roots again that I probably didn't have before I was DJing. I'm also really into Latinx trap right now. Now that they're using the same American sounds, they're creating a bridge between the cultures of Latin America and the US. I think it's powerful. That gets me hype, that gives me energy. Dancehall, too!

Check out DJ Bembona's new residency at Bembe in Brooklyn and her work on the weekly Loca Vibes Radio program. At the end of the month, she will be spinning at El Museo del Barrio as part of Uptown Bounce, an annual summer block party hosted alongside the Museum of the City of New York and El Museo del Barrio. In addition, she will be spinning at an event to commemorate the 70th birthday of Assata Shakur.


Kofi Jamar Switches Lanes In 'Appetite for Destruction'

The Ghanaian rapper and "Ekorso" hitmaker presents a different sound in his latest EP.

The drill scene in Ghana has been making waves across the continent for some time now. If you're hip to what a crop of young and hungry artists from the city of Kumasi in Ghana and beyond have been doing over the past year, then you already know about rapper Kofi Jamar.

Towards the end of November last year he dropped one of the biggest drill songs to emerge from Ghana's buzzing drill scene, the popular street anthem "Ekorso." In the December and January that followed, "Ekorso" was the song on everyone's lips, the hip-hop song that took over the season, with even the likes of Wizkid spotted vibing to the tune.

Currently sitting at over 10 million streams across digital streaming platforms, the song topped charts, even breaking records in the process. "Ekorso" maintained the number one spot on Apple Music's Hip-Hop/Rap: Ghana chart for two months uninterrupted, a first in the history of the chart. It also had a good stint at number one of the Ghana Top 100 chart as well, among several other accolades.

Even though he's the creator of what could be the biggest song of Ghana's drill movement till date, Kofi Jamar doesn't plan on replicating his past music or his past moves. He has just issued his second EP, a 6-track project titled Appetite for Destruction, and it would surprise you to know that there isn't a single drill song on it. Although drill played a huge role in his meteoric rise, he wants to be known as way more than just a drill rapper. He wants to be known as a complete and versatile artist, unafraid to engage in any genre — and he even looks forward to creating his own genre of music during the course of his career.

We spoke to Kofi Jamar about his latest EP, and he tells us about working with Teni, why he's gravitating away from drill to a new sound, and more. Check out our conversation below.

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