If you don’t already know, the self-identified “banjee rose from the concrete jungle” is the Dominican goddess of the underground, cookin’ up fun, yet hella woke songs to the sound of ghetto tech and tropical punk in New York’s Washington Heights.
Maluca, 35, often tackles Afro-Latina feminist themes in her music, from critiquing anti-Black beauty ideals, like "pelo malo," and harmful cosmetic advertisements, to calling out cultural appropriation and reclaiming the “loca,” the “bruja” and the “mala” as fiercely empowered women.
Whether on a track or at a march, Maluca is helping to crush the patriarchy. Here’s how:
Your stage name, Maluca Mala, is brilliant. Can you tell us where it came from and what it means to you?
I grew up being called Maluca. It was a very endearing name. But one time I searched its meaning, and I learned that it’s used in Latin American countries to describe a Black woman, or really like a woman in blackface, which is obviously bad and has a negative connotation. But, for me, it’s always been positive, never a way to put me down.
You also added “mala” to the name. What does being a “bad girl” mean to you?
I never think of it as a bad person. For me, it's like bad as in good. I grew up with it in hip-hip and urban culture, so it’s organic and made sense to me. I see mala as a badass, a woman who’s mischievous, daring, atrevida.
In your music, you are always bigging yourself up, whether in “El Tigeraso,” where you're saying que "tengo fly, tengo pari, tengo pura sabrosura" or in “Mala,” where you say things like, "como fuego mueva la cintura" and “te pongo loco, pero así te gusta.” Why do you think it’s important for women, especially women of color, to boast about ourselves?
I feel that, at least for me growing up, being like this in the neighborhood, or even within your family, you were told that “you think you’re all that” or “you’re being conceited.” You’d get a lot of shit for feeling good about yourself. And now that I’m a grown ass woman, why wouldn’t I feel good about myself? Why wouldn’t I feel confident and proud of my body, my hair, my feelings and my talents? And I think something that we as Latinas and Black women should tell our youth is that they should feel good about themselves. We don’t have enough of that, and that can lead to being in unhealthy relationships and having unhealthy views of our bodies.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE " I've been an activist since I was a kid. There is a spiritual component to activism. There is a lack of compassion in the human race. It's important to get back into compassion. Just having a sense of compassion for our brothers and sisters and the planet" Thank you @papermagazine @annatrevelyan @daniellelevitt for having me involved in this shoot with so many other amazing women who came together in front and behind the camera to resist misogyny and bigotry ... Today and EVERYDAY we have an opportunity raise our voice and fists to shut it down! And REMEMBER where you came from .... someone's
I know that the song “Mala,” where you talk about “pelo malo” y “suelto como una bruja,” came years after being told your hair was bad and that you looked “crazy” and overcoming the self-esteem problems that came from that. How did you find the power to say, “f**k it. Regardless of the shit y’all say, I know I’m bad af, and I’m going to yell it, sing about it and dance to it?”
I think that comes with life experience and age. As you get older, you really just don’t give a f**k anymore. But a lot of that also comes from like having life experience and undoing a lot of the conditioning that I was taught as a kid. It was about letting myself have new experiences, getting off the block, traveling and taking risks.
What role do you think music, especially underground music, can play in empowering Black and brown women to feel good about themselves?
So many things. I think a lot of the music coming out right now in the underground scene, it gives Black and brown women the space to experiment and really be themselves, and also to question, what is it that I like? It gives permission to be like, I like this and that’s OK. A great example is the Ghetto Gothic Movement and all that Venus X has done giving children a space to go to. Also, when people come to my shows, or they see Princess Nokia or Mykki Blanco perform, when they see their reflection in us, it gives them permission to be who they want to be.
Your song with Nire (Neye-yer) and Nani Castle "Commie Mommie" was labeled a "feminist party anthem." What does feminism mean to you?
I guess what that word means to me is to really embrace self-care. I feel like that’s one of the things Black and Latina women really need. We are taught that we have to put people first, put men first. But I found through life experience that by giving myself permission to do things that make me feel good and alive, I become more authentic and I can empower and be of service to other young women.
What does self-care look like for you?
Well, I’m getting my nails done as we speak. But I also see self-care going beyond that. It’s going to therapy, going to workshops, doing things that we are doing in private but in public. If you’re an artist, painting may feel selfish, but it’s allowing yourself to do it anyway. It’s giving yourself time to do things that fill you up and make you feel alive, and that’s a must.
Your activism doesn't stop at music. I know that you’re involved with Refuse Fascism, a group working to impeach Donald Trump, and others. Can you tell us about that?
I get involved with a lot of different things, and I’ve noticed that political sub-cultures can be very pushy and very exclusive, so I’m very particular about who I f**k with and their message. What I like about that particular group is that while a lot of the members are communists and maybe don’t believe in God, it’s inclusive of like everyone, including Baptist preachers and heads of Muslim congregations. And that’s so important. Activism is such a big part of my family lineage. At a time when everyone in the Dominican Republic was supposed to have a photo of Trujillo in their home, my grandmother refused. My stepfather is a political artist. Personally, my earliest memory of doing activism was when I was 10. I saw a teacher hit this kid, and I was like, oh, hell no. I got a group of kids together and we started marching and chanting, “fire miss ‘whatever her name was.’” So activism, for me, is done through my music, through protesting, volunteering, donating and even self-care.
Any new projects you have on the way?
I’m working on a new project now, but I’m not sure yet when it’s slated to release. I’ve been going back and forth to New York and Los Angeles working on it. I’m super excited. It’s still shaping, still taking it’s form, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. And there will be visuals and a tour.
How do you see your work as helping to crush the patriarchy?
It’s from the music that I write and the way I approach my videos. In my "Lola" video, we were showing queer men and trans women. I feel like just my being, just me being who I am, is shattering all those ideas because that’s so engrained in who I am and who I’m supposed to be.