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.

Photo by Abena Boamah.

Photos: Here's What Happened at Daily Paper & Free the Youth's Design Talk for Accra's Young Creatives

Founders of the popular brands discussed all things African streetwear in a conversation facilitated by OkayAfrica and moderator Amarachi Nwosu.

Last week, Amsterdam-based, African-owned streetwear brand Daily Paper and Ghanaian streetwear label Free the Youth held a talk for young creatives at the Mhoseenu design studio in Accra, Ghana.

Moderated by Melanin Unscripted creator Amarachi Nwosu and presented in partnership with OkayAfrica, the design-based conversation explored everything from sustainable practices in manufacturing, to the overall evolution of streetwear globally. The founders of Free the Youth, which was been called Ghana's number one streetwear brand, expanded on how they've been able to build their audience, and shared details about their community-based initiatives.

They event, which took place at the Daily Paper Pop-up Store in Accra last Friday, drew a fashionable and creative-minded crowd ready to partake in a design discussion between West Africa and Europe.

Check out some of the action that took place at the Daily Paper x FYT event below, with photos by Abena Boamah.

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South Africans will tell you that December is not just a month, it's an entire lifestyle. From beginning to end, it's about being immersed in a ton of activity with friends and family as well as any new folk you meet along the way. Whether you're looking to turn up to some good music or watch some provocative theater, our guide to just 14 cultural events happening in South Africa this December, has something for everyone.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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