Todo el mundo pide cumbia!
If there's something that I appreciate more than a female artist doing her thing, it's a local female artist doing her thing! Cindy Zavala has been doing some amazing things in the DC music scene so naturally I was super excited to interview her and learn more about her projects, inspiration and background. Following in the footsteps of her father by working with Maracuyeah DC to promote and bring artists to perform in the DC metro area, Zavala has also expanded to music reporting and was even crowned the reina for Miss Sister City, which took her to the Carnival of San Miguel en El Salvador in 2008. This has been a big year for Zavala, who introduced her side project as a cumbia rapper with the clever stage name La SalvadoReina. From performing with Helado Negro, La Sonora Dinamita and Olmeca to opening for Calle 13 in September, La SalvadoReina is taking DC by storm with one cumbia rap at a time.
Zavala's recent release of her first self directed, produced and edited music video, Cumbia Capital, is a promising look of what is to come from La SalvadoReina. Like any good cumbia, the beat of Cumbia Capital immediately beckons listeners to dance, while Zavala's lyrics and delivery introduce you to the La SalvadoReina and her community. Between shots of the capitol building and other iconic DC landmarks, La SalvadoReina also shows us Salvadoran landmarks and events such as the Banda El Pulgarcito performing in the Fiesta DC parade, as well as Gloria's Pupuseria in Columbia Heights. Regarding the process behind the video and song, Zavala shared, "Locals in this area know that DC is not all about what happens on Capitol Hill. DC is made up of many communities and neighborhoods. DC has a Latino population that consists of a Salvadoran majority and I want people all over the United States to know that. We are here, we exist and our voices should be heard too." Zavala's creativity, passion and drive shine through above all and I can't wait to see more from her!
I love the fusion of cumbia and hip hop in Cumbia Capital, especially because it showcases your talent as an MC. Cumbia has been a a big part of your life, but when did you get interested in hip hop? What influenced you to fuse hip hop and cumbia together?
CZ: I started getting more into hip hop during college at American University and also from hearing urban sounds and music living in DC. Rapping and being a cumbia rapper was always in my head, but I didn't have the courage to do it. Like many other first generation kids with immigrant parents, it can be difficult to get into music like hip hop because our parents have expectations of success for us, like going to college and becoming professionals, doctors or lawyers. Being a cumbia rapper just seemed too crazy to me and my family, but after the first time I rapped, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I also went to classes where well-known DC rappers, hip hop artists and dancers mentored youth like myself through teaching elements of hip hop. My family is happy to see me doing what I love but they are still being realistic with me. You know, the balance that artists need to find between their art and also the "realistic" world.
There seems to be a big resurgence in artists who are reinventing and redefining cumbia, especially using it as a vehicle for social an political messages. As a community organizer, how do social and political issues inspire your music?
CZ: Cumbia has always been an organizing tool for me and I experienced this since I was young because of my dad. He worked as a carpenter but was passionate about organizing huge cumbia concerts in the community, and in general bringing people together to accomplish things like building houses or starting a soccer academy. It wasn't super political or anything like that, but I saw through my dad's organizing that music can do so much by bringing people together. I have a huge appreciation for the stage and see entertainment as an outlet, and that's the best part- being with friends, family and the community hanging out, playing music and organizing.
Your video shows the "other" Washington DC, which is a diverse city with diverse populations and neighborhoods away from the capitol and federal government. Do you see cumbia and your music as something that can conjoin these two different worlds?
CZ: I hadn't thought of it like that, but I would hope so. This is so important to me because growing up in DC I never saw much that represented me or the Salvadoran community and I would have wanted music or something like this when I was growing up. I think it would be awesome to eventually have workshops to work with kids and teach them about music, culture and history since it's not well represented here. Because of cultural and media perceptions, people really have no idea about the REAL DC beyond the capitol and the government; especially how diverse it is and also that there is a significant Salvadorian population. Another thing is that Salvadoran artists here can be so competitive that they lose sight of supporting one another and being organized, so I hope to work with other artists to organize so we can support each other.
2014 was a big year for you, what does 2015 have in store for La SalvadoReina?
CZ: Yes! 2014 was amazing and I'm working on a lot of stuff for next year. I'll be writing more and putting more songs together; I have four solid songs and a lot of pieces of songs and other content so I'm working with my friend Efrain Ramirez to put my beats together. I've just been calling this a project, I feel weird about calling it an EP or an album, so 2015 will be all about getting people aware about what I'm doing and finishing this project. I'm also collaborating on a track with Salvadoran rapper FenomeDon and I'm really excited to work with him, as well as the Salvadoran hip hop collective out of New York, Los Reyes del Bajo Mundo. In the long term, I might not stick with hip hop and will move into a more natural cumbia. A dream of mine is to have a cumbia band because this is something I grew up seeing, but I know it will take a lot of time to find musicians and make connections with them. I also just graduated college, so I'm job hunting as well! (laughs) but for now, I just want to finish my project and see where it goes!