Making it in Phoenix: DJ Musa Mind Weighs In On Nightlife Between the Coasts

Cultura Dura is a Remezcla and Mike’s HARDER content and event series highlighting emerging Latin urban culture. We’ll be exploring scenes that haven’t really gotten any coverage anywhere else – from block parties and street art to underground sports and raw, young artists making movements pa’ la calle.

Conversations with creative people quickly go off topic: DIY house projects, how to crochet, eating raw veggies, squatty potty, their tía’s best hangover potion or how to properly prep my own pee if I go the orinoterapia route. Nothing directly related to art, right?

With DJ Musa Mind, it’s the fermenting process. We’re at a downtown eatery; I’d planned to waterboard my daily sorrows with a pint of barley juice, but agree to wine instead (despite its promise of a pestering headache tomorrow). Musa orders some grub and maybe it’s the whiff of freshly baked bread that slaps our nostrils but the conversation takes a sharp dive into all things fermentation. I’d recently been to a bourbon distillery, so naturally I thought I had some level of insight, but she quickly one-ups me when she starts explaining how she makes Kombucha at home. I want to ask if she’d consider changing her stage name to DJ Kombucha… suena guapachoso. My terrible ideas for DJ names never cease to amaze me.

“Our ancestors and humans all over the world settled in part because of alcohol. When we started fermenting our food, we realized we could get fucked up with it and decided to settle,” Musa says while sipping her vino. Maybe this story will be all about a crazy fungi beverage with seemingly curative properties that actually turns people into brain-eating zombies.

Phoenix is rising, there’s a movement, people are waking up.

She explains the process, how community-based the practice of fermenting fungi is (WTF?) and how one can achieve Kombucha Jedi status by experimenting with flavors and potency. She also mentions fungi-sitting places in San Pancho (yes, people who travel and pay for their shrooming to be taken care of).
I voice my fear of the non-magical kind of zetas… you know, the type that once inside of you, manipulate your thoughts? She laughs at me. This Grigio is one good serum.

But Musa has more to talk about than kombucha. The DJ who was voted the 2011, 2012 & 2013 Pheonix New Times Best Hip-Hop DJ (Reader’s Choice), is at the forefront of Phoenix’s nightlife scene, and is starting to dive into original production. The deeper into the wine we get, the more knowledge she drops:

Musa on La Phoenikera having its own sound…

In jazz, Kansas City had its distinctive sound, so did St. Louis and Chi-Town; I ask if she thinks Phoenix has its own musical identity. “Phoenix has its own sound. A clear example of that is DJ Melo, with cumbia electronica and Moombahton,he’s doing really cool stuff, and I really admire his work… Phoenix is rising, there’s a movement, people are waking up… Riot Earp is also another name that comes into mind. But there’s so many people in the scene, Nube is also an example. I like what’s happening in Phoenix, that’s another reason why I started producing tracks.”

Before she made that last comment…

Musa is a late bloomer, she started DJing in her bedroom at 28 back in 2010. After playing behind closed doors, she moved to living rooms and friends’ parties. She savors the memory of her fingers spinning at her first gig back in 2010 at Bar Smith’s “Bassement Dowstairs” for Fuse Fridays. She pretty much summed up that progression between sips of chilled grape poison. She started for the same reasons all DJs do: attention. In her case, Musa found her muse. “I wanted a girl to like me, so I started practicing, then I didn’t like the girl anymore and just wanted to be a DJ… ironically a few years later I quit for some other girl, she didn’t like me DJing,” Grigio choked that last sentence.

I’m also in it to show that women have all that is necessary to be great producers.

On producing…

“I’m still on my bedroom production phase, I haven’t moved to living room phase yet with my production, but soon enough, I’m working my way up,”explains Musa. I slur a question about why she isn’t confident enough to show her work as a producer. More fermented grapes please! “I think we all have fear of judgment when you’re trying new things or when you’re out of your comfort zone, but I’m heading in the right direction,” says the 32-year-old turner.

On being a full time DJ…

“I’m paying my bills man! I mean, I would like to make it. I’m curious as to what “making it” means to her. “Paying my bills, produce, make music, travel… But I’m really blessed right now, I’m a full time DJ and I’m ok, but I’m ready more. “People can make it in Phoenix, I personally know that eventually I will move out of state for some time so I can grow as an artist.

But something special is happening and we need to nurture it instead of wasting time comparing our city with other major ones in the East or West Coast; we’re only 100 years old as a state, we’re the fifth largest in the U.S. Give us some time, we’ll catch up!” No more vino. We moved on to brewsters. After the second gulp Musa says that to make it, you need to promote yourself like pan muerto on November 2. Awesome advice from a beer mustachioed deejay.

Why people move out of Phoenix to make it…

“I think people move out because they see more established scenes elsewhere and that’s fine, but we need to grow our community now, no one will do it for us. Local businesses are growing, people are doing their own thing and being successful.” She’s considering leaving too. Maybe Texas or Colorado. She says that Phoenix will always be her rock. All do.

This, I don’t understand, people love this town and defend it to death when someone dares to talk shit about it. But yet, when given the chance to bounce and maybe make it or to stay and build something, and they usually go with the first option. Sad.

On EDM movement in PHX…

Drug and teenager filled EDM underground parties happen all the time in Phoenix Metro Area. A night of pill popping, glowing stuff, demonic beats that override any conscious decision and everything that makes hedonism a religion is a text away, especially with the recent craze for speakeasies.

To make it, you need to promote yourself like pan muerto on November 2.

“There is a growing scene, we see bigger crowds at events and more underground parties, but now it’s kind of weird because we’re under the EDM umbrella and there are so many different subgenres within it that sometimes is confusing…House is not the same as Trance, Ambient, NuGaze, Dubstep or Miami Bass. But I definitely see progress from when I started and I’m sure that it will continue to grow.” Musa says she would like to see more acts that mix cumbia and house and a group of DJs here in Phoenix are planning some groundbreaking events that promote Latin and EDM mixes.

On female producers…

Being a fatalist about the dominance of men in the music is easy and justified. We rarely hear or read the accomplishments of female producers and though their tunes makes us lose it like that kid at the baseball game, we ignore tend to ignore them. Some names come into mind: Cooly G, Isa GT, DJ Rekha, Santigold, TOKiMONSTA, or Grimes. Musa doesn’t know why there aren’t as many female producers that we know of. “In a sound engineering class we were two girls and most of my other classes were all male with a few exceptions,” recalls Musa. “At the same time, that’s why I’m also in it, so we can show that women have all that is necessary and more to be great producers.”

It is true that we need more engineers (and poets if you ask me), and there is an increase in women seeking engineering degrees (18% of all U.S. engineering students are women), but Musa points out that there are more types of engineering, especially when you want to have a career in the music industry. “There are a few options for engineering in music, you can be a live sound engineer, design concert halls or whole sound of an album…there are so many things you can do with a sound engineering degree and I want to see more women doing that.”


The server brings our check for the fifth time, side-eyeing us because we kept adding shit to it and he’s probably ready to cash out and leave. It kills our mood, but it’s also a school night and apparently now the cool thing is to sleep.

As we walk out of the restaurant I ask Musa if her heart beat was a song, which one it would be?

“When The Fire Starts To Burn,” by Disclosure, she replies.