Meet June's Leona of The Month: @DJBembona
Xiomara Marie, better known as DJ Bembona is one of the latest female DJs to emerge in the underground music scene. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, DJ Bembona rocks parties by blending the sounds of her neighborhood with the sounds of her culture. Growing up in a Puerto Rican and Panamanian household, DJ Bembona was exposed to many different genres of music, including: Salsa, Funk, Merengue, and so much more. It was that exposure that created the theme of her mixtapes, including La Sala. Released last October, the mixtape is a true representation of DJ Bembona’s Afro-Latina heritage. Her desire is to “… bring her Latino community one step closer to embracing their blackness.” And she does that with every mixtape she releases and every party she DJs.
In the interview below, DJ Bembona talks about her musical influences, her womanhood, DJ experiences, and much more.
What’s the biggest thing that you've learned about womanhood through DJing?
In the short time that I have been DJing in public, one of the biggest things I've learned would have to be the importance of sisterhood and the importance of us women in all aspects of society. Being the woman that I am, I have affirmed that I AM important, I HAVE a voice, and I can do WHATEVER I set my mind to, all by simply being me! I have learned that power is truly within us all and that the more we build each other up, the more we all win. Just by observing other female DJs, who I have been blessed to meet through this journey, I have noticed that the support is beautiful and real. I’d never experienced such true support from women before I started DJing. We are breaking societal and patriarchal boundaries!
What music genre influenced you the most and why?
Without a doubt, it is Salsa...especially la salsa de antes (60s, 70s, and 80s). Salsa has always been a big part of my upbringing and my identity; it runs through my blood. Salsa has taught me so much about composition, the importance of story, and the beauty of afro-rhythms and instruments. It's beyond just the contagious urge to dance sin parar; its pain, its love, its celebration. It's a calling back to our roots. Salsa has made me a better DJ. It has taught me how to take the crowd through a musical journey. Besides being a musician for a long time, Salsa has made me a better listener, it has made me appreciate production and rhythms so much more. This is why almost everything that I play is heavily based on contagious rhythms and tracks that bring the crowd back to a state of nostalgia and/or a state of euphoria.
What music genre are you currently listening to the most?
Current chart-topping hip-hop music is definitely at the top of my most listened to list; especially en Español…I call it “SpaniTrap.” The production is what makes it so addicting! I would say Baile Funk, Dembow Dominicano, and Kuduro would all be a very close second.
Do you recall a moment where someone treated you like a second rate citizen because of your hair or skin color?
It saddens me to say that I have dealt with way more ignorance and weird treatment from my very own culture, mis Latinos. I wouldn't say treated as a second rate citizen but, definitely treated as if I didn't belong. Only until they realized I spoke Spanish because I am Latina and not because I learned it in a classroom, they would then embrace me. "¡Ay Dios Santo pero, hablas español tan bien!" I have heard that plenty of times. It saddens me to think that I had to be Latina to finally feel accepted by my own Latinos. What if I was just black or of another cultural background...would I not be accepted then? Growing up, I've always had the issue of not being accepted by Latinos and not being accepted by Blacks. This is why I do what I do. I am working on bridging that gap and bringing both complex communities together.
If you could do a DJ set to open up for anyone who would it be and why?
This is an extremely hard question! I would have to say M.I.A. She's one of the few artists that I have on my absolute favorite of all-time list. It would be an honor to do an opening set for her because she's a bad ass, a rebel, a true artist, and a remarkable woman. From her style, to her production, to her bold opinions...I can definitely envision my DJing style and personality as a compliment to her energy on stage.
What makes you fearless?
I am not afraid to fully embrace my emotions and to express my feelings. Anyone that truly knows me, knows that I am an emotional being. To me, the word emotional has been used in such negative connotations as weakness and "womanly"(whatever ignorance that means) but, I see it as the complete opposite. I see it as powerful! Anyone who can fully embrace and express their emotions, and recognize that they are still going through the journey of loving themselves completely is a fearless being!
What was your favorite bodega growing up and what was your favorite item to buy there?
Funny thing is that I have never gotten the chance to fully experience a bodega. The area of Brooklyn that I am from has grown into an area of development, extreme gentrification in progress I would call it. I do remember the days my familia and I would go visit my Abuelito (que descanse en paz) in the Bronx and right below his building was a bodega. I always loved those cheap Icees that came in a plastic tube, a .25 cent bag of chips, or some kind of candy.
What is the aim for your mixtapes?
The aim of my mixtapes is to not only tell my stories and keep people moving but, to also address the issues that I am either going through or am observing. My newest mixtape, Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: The Mixtape is in collaboration with the project/organization of the same name that is fighting gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn and beyond. This mixtape will act as a musical accompaniment to their amazing work. It will showcase bold statements through lyrics, community unity, and rhythmic representations of the cultures that currently live in Bushwick.
What was it like growing up Puerto Rican and Panamanian?
Growing up Puerto Rican and Panamanian is probably the most amazing way to grow up, haha. But in all seriousness, I never knew I was growing up Boricua or Panameña, I just thought I was growing up like anyone else. Besides both cultures, Brooklyn and the Bronx had huge roles in my upbringing as well! Musically, it was a beautiful blend of Salsa, Merengue, Motown, RandB, Pop, Old School Reggae, Boleros and more. Food wise, I grew up on a lot of arroz con habichuelas, pernil every Christmas, hojaldras, platanos, chicken cooked in every way imaginable and much more. Language wise, it's always been “Spanglish.” My parents are fully bi-lingual so there's never been any barriers but, it was definitely a MUST know Spanish household. I mostly grew up on Puerto-Rican slang on my mami's side and definitely a touch of Caribbean slang through my daddy's side (the Jamaican influence via Panamá). Growing up Boricua and Panameña was and still is an experience of absolute pride, lots of love, and family!
What has been your favorite live crowd so far?
It would have to be D.C. Shout out to Kristy La Rat and Carmencha of Maracuyeah for allowing me to experience such a beautiful crowd! They are doing amazing things for the Latinx/POC/LGBT community out there! I don't know if it was just because it was my first performance outside of NYC that made it extremely special, but the crowd of Maracuyeah quickly welcomed me with open arms! The crowd was not only diverse, but they were responsive to everything I said on the mic and to all of the classics that I was playing. They made me sweat like no other crowd has done before! I even had some people say that they were waiting to catch me spinnin' in D.C. for a while which, definitely took me by surprise. They were ready to dance with me, were hype to listen to my next transition or my next drop, and were ready to buy me drinks. I definitely felt the unity and the love. My experience at Maracuyeah was a confirmation that being an artist was exactly what I was born to do!
You can find DJ Bembona's mixtapes on her Soundcloud page and follow her music filled life online: