DJ BEMBONA'S SONIC BOOM BREAKS BARRIERS & BEATS
Story by Marina Kaganova
She states this plainly, unequivocally, without a hint of ego, and it’s true. Bembona is a Black Puerto Rican-Panamanian woman known for spinning what she describes as a “blend of Afro-Latino sounds.” “My core,” she says, “is always African base. Rhythm comes from Africa, that’s just a fact.”
Bembona revels in her complex identity; in fact, she uses it as a megaphone to highlight issues that affect marginalized communities--all to a danceable beat. “Why should I have to choose one thing?” she says, “I am Puerto Rican, and I am Panamanian. And I want to represent both to the fullest.”
When Bembona takes the stage, dressed in bright, sexy, saturated colors, you can’t take your eyes off her. As she builds beats, layering Top 40 hooks over esoteric calypso samples, whatever crowd is assembled--whether it’s a house party or a huge venue--grooves along with wild abandon.
Sometimes they’re grooving along to political slogans, too; at an August show at New York City’s Irving Plaza, Bembona’s beat blared, “Fuck Trump” over and over again, with a crowd of hundreds shouting along, pumping their fists in the air.
Bembona’s not just here to party; she’s here to say something. Her stage name literally means “big lower lip.” “And you know,” she says, “I like to talk!” She’s long used her platform as an entertainer to talk about issues in her community, both locally and globally.
In late November, Bembona teamed up with Baila Society and Riobamba to play a benefit show for Puerto Rico and Mexico, after Hurricane Maria and a massive earthquake hit those areas.
And the rampant gentrification in New York City is a big topic of our conversation, as we sit in a Fort Greene café not too far from where Bembona herself has spent most of her life. “I’ve been here for ten plus years,” she said, “and the changes are crazy, gentrification is real.” Bembona’s anti-gentrification activism goes hand-in-hand with her music. She’s worked on an anti-gentrification mixtape and holds a monthly party called Vibras NYC, specifically geared toward Black and Latinx revelers. She says she wants to empower people from marginalized communities and give them a space where they can feel themselves. “I just want to make people feel like they belong, and they’re safe and they could just do whatever and be whoever,” she said in a recent interview for Remezcla.
“I see other parts of the problem, and it’s bigger than just gentrification. Yeah, it’s bad, and I’m against it, but there is a bigger picture to all of it. The levels of society, and how they want people of lower income, and straight up, black and brown people, they want to keep us down,” she said.
Bembona’s parties and DJ sets are a way of rising up against that, of creating a revolution you can dance to. “This is a way show people that look like me, that they can do it,” she said, “We can take over, we can run the room, run the dance floor and own it.”
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