Hey DJ: TR4VI3ZA

"The harsh sounds that I work with always remind me of the metals, the smog, the cars that I saw while growing up waiting in line at the border," says the Mexican-American DJ.

As a visual artist, producer and activist, TR4VI3ZA makes experimental beats interlaced with messages of political awareness and resistance. Growing up on the border region of Tijuana and San Diego and crossing the border everyday for school, her childhood experiences heavily influence her musical sound today.

“When it comes to the experimental side of me, the influence comes from my body experiencing the daily border crossings. The harsh sounds that I work with always remind me of the metals, the smog, the cars that I saw while growing up waiting in line at the border,” she recalls.

We caught up with TR4VI3ZA about her upbringing, ideal utopian vision, and political passions. Catch TR4VI3ZA for a live performance this Friday, Sept. 29 at Gray Area Art + Technology.

Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing/producing.
I have always been a visual artist and painter. Listening to music was always a thing but what I loved the most was to experiment with color and texture. It wasn’t until last year where I had a complete inspirational block that I began to consciously experiment with sound and beats. At that point in time, I wasn’t finishing projects and everything that I drew didn’t feel right. I was so frustrated because my soul wanted to scream through the paint, but it only looked like whispers. One night I asked my partner to teach me the basics on how to use his drum machines and other electronic toys. When we plugged them into the big speakers and I started hitting all the pads, it was like my body let it all out. All the creative juices that had been building up for so long were out — and I was loving what was coming out. Ever since then, I started shifting my focus to building on sounds that felt and sounded good.

Describe your musical style.
Well when I started playing with sounds I was using a drum machine that had samples from the Field Recording Working Group, a Bay Area-based radical audio collective that investigates the politics and poetics of urban soundscapes. Their sample packs contain sounds like glass breaking, chants, and footsteps from mass community mobilization that really spearheaded the way I maneuvered electronic toys. Everything became more intentional. Layering protest samples over my set, that can go from really dark experimental stuff to booty poppin’ dembow to a hybrid of both, becomes the central part of my musical style.

How did you come up with your DJ alias? How exactly is it pronounced?
All meXicanos and some Latinxs know that we have all been called traviesos or traviesas at some point in our lives — either by our parents or that really mean nosey neighbor. Traviesa translates in English to “troublemaker.” Always causing trouble. Defiant. My identity as a queer meXicana who grew up in both Mexico and the U.S has been and always will be seen as defiant. So I own that. I reclaim what has been said to me as a “get back in your place.” I won’t adhere to the standard norm.

My name TR4VI3ZA contains a 43 for two reasons that are very important to me. One, I l0v3 typ1ng w1th numb3rs. And two, Mexico’s relationship to the number 43 has always been one of both pain and resistance. On September 26, 2014, 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero were abducted by the Mexican state in an attempt to repress their communities. The family, friends and all of Mexico are still missing 43 students and have yet to get any answers by the state. This number not only carries pain and violence but also carries tremendous amounts of community resistance. I carry this number in my name to continue pushing back against the invisibilization of their disappearances and along with it the murders of thousands of people by the state of Mexico and its allies.

What was it like growing up on the border region of Tijuana and San Diego?
It’s a complete experience that is really hard to put into words. For me, I better express this experience through music, but I can share a few thoughts. When I was younger, I would cross the border every day to go to school in the U.S, and I remember having to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to begin our 2-3 hour border wait. I give huge props to my mom for being the one who took on that work for my brothers and me.

It wasn’t until I was older and moved to San Diego that I realized how my body and psyche would change depending on what side of the border I was on. I was always on high alert on both sides, but it felt different. My body’s instincts were different. The way that police work in Mexico is also very different than the U.S., and I had to learn how to maneuver my body, words, and identity depending on which side of the border I was on. After time, the transborder psyche becomes instinctual.

How has that experience influenced the music you make?
I can thank the Kumeyaay lands — known as Tijuana — for taking a huge part in influencing my music. I was hella young when I started going out in Tijuana. $10 can get you a lot in TJ! Because we were underage, each time we went out to TJ, we knew we had to wait till morning to cross back and avoid getting caught. I think that’s when I began building my endurance for long sleepless nights. My partner at the time was also older and knew where all the good music venues were. I would link up with him and his friends, buy some caguamas and see some dope performers who I still look up to today. When it comes to the experimental side of me the influence comes from my body experiencing the daily border crossings. The harsh sounds that I work with always remind me of the metals, the smog, the cars that I saw while growing up waiting in line at the border. Very heavy. Very industrial. But shamefully very much at home.

You mention that you strive to “cultivate spaces that transport people into utopian worlds.” What does that look like for you?
Because we are constantly being fed normative ideas of how society can function it becomes difficult to imagine what a different world can look and feel like. A world without violence, hate or militarization. When I get behind my equipment and the soundwaves flow through the speakers, my intention is to actively participate in cultivating a space where feeling of resistance and hope over power feelings of fear and violence.

What issues are you most passionate about in channeling through your music?
Growing up as a woman in Mexico, I am very well aware of the gendered violence that impacts the daily lives of women in this country. Known as feminicides, the increasing number of murdered and disappeared women show us how we are seen as dispensable and disposable. We can’t leave our house without fearing that the man down the street is going to stalk us again or actually succeed in grabbing us this time. It is a reality that so many of us live but not all of us survive. An ever-growing movement that resists the feminicides is being cultivated by survivors of gendered violence and by the family of the victims. Because I live with the scars of gendered violence it is only inevitable that my work will channel my feelings of rage, healing and resistance.

Why is it important to you to create music in the current sociopolitical atmosphere?
A huge part of what I do is actually aside from making music. I work for Justice Now, an Oakland-based organization that works with people inside California women’s prison. On-the-ground organizing is as important to me as cultural production. As an able-bodied, documented, and white-passing Latina living in occupied indigenous lands, I see it as my duty to dismantle colonial institutions with everything I got. Whether it be through music, cultural events, or grassroots organizing, it is vital for me to push forth narratives of resistance and change that can inspire others to do the same. As artists, we must not be passive during these times. We must push beyond our computer screens and cellphones. We must invest in our communities. We must organize.

What will you be showcasing in your set on Friday? 
A lot of bass, resistance imagery, ancestral rhythms and so much love!

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