They have been able to speak for the larger conversation on race, sexuality and women’s rights that is taking place in this country.
The world was experiencing technological advancements when rappers such as Arianna Puello and Milka La Ma Dura entered the hip-hop scene en espanol. These lyricists were known for their humorous wordplay, gritty references and sexual agency. They would inspire women all over the island and beyond with their inspiring lyrics.
But, it would take over a decade before women could be seen in Dominican rap and the dembow movement at a higher rate. Further advances and the rise in social media have made it possible for underrepresented and marginalized groups to be seen and heard more often without the need of cosigns from industry gatekeepers and backing by major labels.
Today’s globalization of music has made it possible for Dominican women to use music as a tool for cultural identity and resistance for equality and sexual liberation.
They have been a part of larger discussions on race, sexuality and women’s rights in the country. The queer community and women’s right activists are demanding a revision by the Senate to the June approved criminal code. It fails to repeal and amend the ban on abortion and protect against violence, discrimination and torture based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
With reproductive, gender, and sexual issues being the epicenter of Dominican politics, women, more than ever, are claiming their power and sexual liberation. We spoke with five women who are making strides in the creative scene in the Dominican Republic through their music and voices. Their existence in a patriarchal, religious society and dominated by men is revolutionary.
Gailen La Moyeta
Q: Tell me about your childhood and how music was a part of it.
GLM: I can remember walking in my uniform to school and then going down the streets to a studio. I didn’t know where it was. She didn’t like it. She was a Christian woman and kept it away from me. Producers would then charge me about 50 dollars per production. I saved up for that. My first song was “Adivina Quien Manda?”. (Guess Who’s In Charge?). I was 16 when I first heard Cirujano Nocturno. He was an incredible rapper. He was very realist and that is why I loved him. El Lapiz Conciente is a great rapper and I have always loved him. I was inspired by these two artists to rap.
Q: You made it into the scene by performing in rap battles or freestyles.
GLM: It all depends on where you were raised. I was raised in a hood full of men. This gave me a masculine outlook that didn’t bother me. I could freestyle with men, and they could say anything I wanted.
Q: What does this make you feel?
GLM: Negative comments and their effects on your skin color are not something you can allow to guide you. In particular, for me, this would make me feel more shy. You mentioned that we all grow up with the same type of skin – there might be 1 or 2 Black people if you refer to it internationally. This gives us the confidence to know that beauty does not depend on the color of our skin.
Q: You’ve also proudly spoken of being Haitian-Dominican.
GLM: The Haiti and Dominican Republic topic is very extensive, we’ve been working on that for a long time because of the state of Dominican-Haitian relations. I’m arrayana, I’m both. I have always said that I am proud of both cultures, and that I don’t lean towards any one.
Q: How can men become better allies in the movement and create a safer, more pleasant environment for women?
GLM: Respect your colleagues and let them know your boundaries. How can [women] develop? You need more support. If you are able to make international visibility for yourself, and I support you, we can both rise to international heights. If an artist becomes self-centered and focuses on their own success, there is no substitute. Because there wasn’t enough collaboration to push these movements, you will hear that “this sound or this genre disappeared”. This is why I hope that there’s more mutual support to ensure that dembow doesn’t disappear. The Dembow movement is well-established and internationalized.’
Q: How did growing up in an entertainment environment play a part in music and dance?
RosalyRubio: I was always supported as a child. My family knew it, but I was able to confirm that when I sang in school. Sin Bandera’s “Te Vi Venir”, I sang it. It was dedicated my mother and my dad, who both wept. My dad has managed artists his entire life and it was almost like he saw a star in his eyes. Their support has allowed me to reach this point and helped me achieve so many things.
Q: You are creatively driven and inspired by pop stars in the early 2000s. How did this era influence your life?
RR: I was inspired by Britney Spears’ red lipstick and wanted to emulate her. I remember taking my Estee Lauder red lipstick from my mother to school one day and, while at recess, sitting at a table, charging other girls 5 pesos for lipstick. I can also recall singing along to the music, but not knowing English. Until one day, I decided to learn English on my own. I learned English through music because I needed to understand the music I was listening. They were the biggest stars at that time. They danced and sang a lot. These medleys were a highlight of the dance and would be performed during their shows.
Q: Do you think of a dancer in that space?
RR: Literally, sometimes I have to ask the producer “how can we dance to this?” I make music for women to dance to. I want people to have fun and feel free listening to my music.
Q: Although women are the number one consumer of pop music, we don’t see enough representation within the industry. This alone should make it a reason to push women into key positions. You spoke of the frustrations and messaging that women face in society. Can you elaborate on this?
RR: I feel pain when I see other people suffer. I feel the pain of other women. As an artist and a Sagittarius, it’s ingrained in me. I feel what other women are going through. The mic has been given to me as a powerful weapon. To empower listeners to be themselves, to talk and rock their hair how they like, and to express their emotions in the best way possible.
Q: Tell us about Dominican music and what you would like the world to know.
RR: There is a lot talent. Real talent. Urban music is becoming a major industry. Dominicans have much to offer and much to share about culture.
Q: Last year, “Mi Regalo Mas Bonito,” launched your career. You can look back at that moment.
Ross Maria: Prior to [Mi Regalo Mas Bonito], there was “Tu Vas a Tener Que Explicarme”, which was also a successful freestyle. It went viral on TikTok, and I knew it would be a hit. We have kept that success thanks to God.
Q: That’s a lot pressure. How has it been to navigate music and media?
RM: There were not many women in the music industry at that time, except for those who have worked here such as Mely Mel, La Insuperable, La Materialista and others. Many people told me that there was no gender equality. It’s not only in Dominican Republic, it’s all over the world. It was very satisfying to prove that I could do what a man can do and I did. They shut up, I did it and I’m still working towards it. If I had to offer any advice, it would be that women, regardless of their limitations, should fight for their dreams.
Q: Tell me about your decision to pursue your dreams. To truly pursue your dreams.
RM: I was a bit shy at first, but I uploaded a few videos to Instagram and I felt confident. Two years later, I would have my first collaboration and officially drop a song with 829 Music. This was the beginning of a boom in my career. There are no regrets in my life. This is the life that I envisioned and it’s all thanks to God.
Q: What do you think the world should know about Dominican music and culture?
RM: We’re versatile. It’s not just me, I can do any type of music. But I don’t believe that I am the only one who can do it. I am aware that my country is full of talent and that there are many hidden talents who create and support high quality music.
Q: What’s your first music-related memory?
La Perversa: Although I have always danced, I started to take it seriously when I was 10. I danced to Ali Baba. (Dominican genre). Many of the steps in salsa and Dembow are also reflected. I was a member of a dance group that danced Ali Baba and later, Dembow.
Q: Can you tell me about the moment when you first got involved in music?
LP: Although I have always wanted to make music, I gave up on the chance to get involved with dance. It came at the right time for me and I chose to take it. Since I was 10 years old, I have dreamed of making music.
Q: At that age, I believe we are more adventurous with our wardrobe. Identifying our aesthetic preferences in terms of style and attractiveness.
LP: It’s hard to know what you like in terms of style and beauty. Identifying what style and beauty we love. I love sneakers, Jordans especially. My flow has been consistent, but I now have greater access to more things. I may wear more street-style clothing in baggy clothes one day, and another day I might opt for a classic look.
Q: Your father encouraged your artistic side.
R: My father knew that doing what we loved was going to make us good. It would still be acceptable to him, even if it didn’t look right for the rest of the world. He wanted us to do the things we wanted, without hurting anyone.
Q: Dominican culture is obsessed with hair. Can you tell me about the moment you decided to shave off your hair? And how have you found this space.
R: That’s what I try to teach girls. I feel comfortable in my skin. I feel comfortable with hair or no hair. I’m comfortable wearing tight jeans, mom jeans, or baggy cargo. I can wear a crop or big hoodie.
Q: People look at you as if you are different. How has it been to navigate as a chick who dresses gender-neutral, breaking down those clothing stigmas?
R: Today at the barbershop someone suggested that I dress more like a woman. Because it will make me feel more confident. I find that it just makes me want to wear this style even more. It should be possible for everyone to do it. It doesn’t matter who they are. You will be loved by anyone you love, even a fan.
Q: Women are the most criticised part of TV. Interviews should place more emphasis on women’s creative process. In a 30-minute interview, why is it that 15 minutes are spent asking about your sexual orientation? Which person are you in a relationship with? Is it you or someone else? Is your body ready? How do you cope with that?
R: I knew that if my answer was “I’m bisexual”, I would have to provide more information about my sexuality. It was not something I felt comfortable with. So I decided to say no and that I was straight. I am bisexual, and I feel comfortable with that. However, if that was what I had said, it would have cost me 15 to 20 minutes of my interview talking about my sexuality. That was not what I wanted.