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In Maracuyeah's DJ Sets, A Home Away From Home

DJ Bambona, also known as Xiomara Marie, at Maracuyeah's fifth anniversary party in Washington, D.C.
Antonio Hernandez
DJ Bambona, also known as Xiomara Marie, at Maracuyeah's fifth anniversary party in Washington, D.C.

Maracuyá means "passion fruit" in Spanish. For the DJ collective Maracuyeah, it's all about a passion for music — and connection.

At the D.C.-based group's fifth anniversary party, the dance floor at Judy's Bar & Restaurant is packed with a diverse crowd, from punk artists to recently arrived immigrants and buttoned-down, office types. Nohora Arrieta Fernandez, a Ph.D. student at Georgetown University who identifies as Afro-Colombian, says there's something for everyone here.

"Something that's really interesting about this dance night is that the music, the tone of the music, allows for a dialogue," Fernandez says in Spanish.

That's how Maracuyeah began: with a dialogue, one between cousins who lived on different continents.

For a lot of immigrants or even second-generation people in the United States, staying connected to a home culture is often hard. Almost 20 years ago, Maracuyeah DJ Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, who co-founded Maracuyeah with Mafe Escobar, and her family were living in Northern Virginia. Calls to their family back in Peru cost around $1 a minute, so Kristy's mom decided the best way to reply was by buying her kids a Fisher-Price tape recorder to send their own little audio missives back across the thousands of miles that separated them from their relatives.

"We did it kind of radio show style, podcast style, almost," Chavez-Fernandez says, "where we would be putting different recordings from our surroundings and doing messages and singing music, or singing our own renditions of musical pieces."

But the tapes were more than that.

"I think those tapes were kind of these weird projects about our own stories, which for me felt fragmented," she says. "But also, those tapes were a way to heal that."

Chavez-Fernandez carries that feeling to the DJ sets she curates — a blend of reggaeton, chicha music, merengue and American pop — with an ear toward providing a home for the Washington, D.C., area's many immigrant identities and some of their musicians.

"We try and invite and respect and document complex stories, in a space where people can be, maybe, more whole," she says.

Chavez-Fernandez's DJ partner, Carmen Rivera, agrees that a sense of family translates to the dance floor and extends to queer people and all people of color.

"Our intention is for it to be as safe as a living room dance party at your parents' house with your favorite song," she says. "Do whatever you want. Move however you want. Sing as loud and as off-key as you want. Be there with all your friends. Enjoy it."

Maracuyeah's next dance party takes place on June 10 — for Pride weekend.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 9, 2016 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote. It's Maracuyeah DJ Kristy Chavez-Fernandez who said, "We try and invite and respect and document complex stories, in a space where people can be, maybe, more whole," not Dominican-American singer Fuego.
Anne Hoffman is Delaware Public Media's youth producer and general assignment reporter. Anne reports from Mount Pleasant High School's radio station WMPH as part of Delaware Public Media's youth media partnership with Brandywine School District. Anne covers news in New Castle County, and produces History Matters and other features.
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