Albina Cabrera is Breaking Barriers & Bringing Spanish-Speaking Music to the Airwaves

Every Monday, thousands of people across the globe tune into KEXP to hear DJ Albina Cabrera. There, she hosts El Sonido, the long-running Latin and Ibero-American music show at the internationally recognized radio station. She’s the first Latina to host the show at the storied 50-year-old institution, and she traveled from Argentina to Seattle to make this dream a reality. 

Before arriving at the radio station, where she began as an intern in 2018 and then became a content producer and host, she was storming her way through Buenos Aires. She hosted and curated shows at numerous stations, worked press for indie alternative bands, and created podcasts for a national news agency. In 2019, Argentina’s senate awarded her for contributing to Argentine culture. 

Since arriving in Seattle, Albina has brought a new vision to KEXP (all while also hosting two other radio shows for Argentina’s Nacional Rock 93.7 on the side). She not only guides and curates the music programs and bilingual content online and on air, but partners with organizations and stations across Latin America and Ibero America. Thanks to Albina’s connections, the station has partnered with embassies in Seattle, broadcasted alongside Ruidosa Radio, going live from Argentina and Mexico City.

Much like KEXP, credited with being the first station to play Nirvana on the airwaves, Cabrera is also dedicated to introducing new music to the station’s listeners. In particular, she has brought Spanish-speaking music to KEXP’s audience, often for the first time. For Cabrera, who has had to deal with her own immigration challenges, bringing music to listeners from beyond is symbolic of her own boundary-breaking experience.

As a content producer and radio host, Cabrera’s success is a testament to her skill and passion, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been met with statistics that work against her, as her success story is not universal. Studies have repeatedly shown that women are underrepresented in audio engineering, production, and broadcast roles. The University of South California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report found that fewer than 3 percent of working audio production professionals are women. It’s worth noting that this study doesn’t specifically address the experiences of Latinas.

Still, Cabrera has spent more than half her life honing her musical talent and making space for herself in an overwhelmingly male industry. Remezcla caught up with Cabrera for Major Mujeres to talk about her passion for music, her journey to KEXP, and the power of community. Read what she shared below.

This interview has been translated, edited, and condensed for clarity.

When was that one moment or turning point in which you felt you were in the right space?

Music was always the place where I felt freest. Professionally, I had found my scene, my community — the people that surround you, and in my case, it was a musical one. In turn, I found myself constantly working somewhere music-related. It’s a path that runs in different circles, as there are many different routes you can go, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

So often, we see people advancing in their careers or making “big moves” on social media, but it’s rare we hear or see those introspective moments in which a person considers quitting or transitioning — did you ever have a moment like that, and how did you overcome it?

I have had those difficult times during my career. If I had to choose one moment, it would be my current condition as a migrant. Growing up in a country for 30 years, not just for a few years, and then moving to another country and getting used to it, it’s an entirely different process. That was really hard, purely from a human point of view, what it is to emigrate, but it’s also challenging from a professional point of view. Radio in another language with other backgrounds, with other ideas of alternative Latin music, or even with different ideas of me as a South American and how I began to understand, being here in the United States, that concept of Latinos having to be diverse. That transformed me.

Were there any mentors or other women that inspired or helped you get to where you are now?

Yesterday, I was talking to one of them, an Argentine, a great broadcaster: Carla Ritrovato. She was the first woman I listened to at night with the radio to my ears, showing me that you could talk about rock or be in front of Ozzy Osborn or Ricky Espinosa with the same looseness as the guys in these male-dominated spaces. As women, where we stood in these environments, we were either the photographer, the reporters, or the groupie, which is a terrible label. Carla was my first mentor. I also want to mention Barbi Recanati, an Argentinean artist, guitarist, and founder of Goza Récords, the first label for lesbian and trans women in Argentina. I also came to Seattle because I became a KEXP fan watching Cheryl Waters in front of a camera getting equal opportunities and seemingly fostering a culture of respect, affection, and not misleading. But in reality, I also admire a ton of colleagues. 

What’s one of the biggest hardships you’ve faced as a woman — or even as a Latina — in the music industry?

It’s a structural issue that is a constant battle about where we stand and fundamentally about us taking the reins of our careers or being in more executive positions or positions of more responsibility within the industry. It is challenging to answer this question, but the work also speaks for itself. If one looks at those who are contributing to these transformations within our music industry, the truth is that it’s women who are behind it. This industry’s changes result from many women’s hard work who have made the paths for these things more accessible and smooth. It is what I can do to open the way for others. This is an everyday question and one of collective learning. I can’t say one challenge in particular or the most difficult one because it is so general and touches many spheres. Inequality, micro-violences, and the truth it’s also a matter of trying among all of us to work on this.

What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?

The possibility to connect with diverse worlds from a platform like the one I am currently working with. The friends that this journey has given me. Those are the things I enjoy the most, having that circuit of colleagues with whom to exchange music and having that community all over the continent in the Americas and Spain as well. The traveling – being exposed to other things. It’s a very big world and a very short life. 

We’re seeing more and more women artists and music creatives speak out about how their work went unprotected or their trust was abused in the industry — what has been your perspective on this, if any? Is this something you’ve seen happen?

Historically our roles as women within the music industry have been classified into little boxes. We have not always been publicists, managers, or producers. That has changed. But generations of women have had to overcome situations like this, become stronger, and find the courage to avoid being generalized.

What do you feel can be done to make the music industry feel more safe and collective for women?  

There is still a long way to go. Undoubtedly, we keep listening, reading, and sharing stories of colleagues with different experiences than I am sharing with you now. In other moments of my life, when I had just left Mendoza for Buenos Aires and was building my career there, I felt more vulnerable. The only way I have found to face challenges is by sharing with this community. If  I can tell you all the challenges and stories we hear daily, I think that’s the only way to battle them – with visibility and community.

Historically our roles as women within the music industry have been classified in little boxes. 

But it’s not just men, women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel mentality (“if I can’t have it, neither can you”) is harmful to women? 

Yes, of course. It is a fact. It’s a matter of historical constructs that even we, as women, are not 100 percent conscious of. But it’s important to note that not receiving support when working towards your dreams can kill them. It can really make you doubt yourself so much that you decide not to pursue your dreams. We also have to look at how the lack of space for us impacts us. It generates this natural but awful competition that makes no sense. We have to support one another.

What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space? Talk to us about your legacy of (the importance of) making space for others while on your journey. 

Wow, I have much more to learn. I can’t think about a legacy yet. What I can say is that every time I receive a message from a colleague from some province of Argentina in some corner of Latin America who identifies with my story, all of this is worth something. I want to support and see more fellow migrant women able to build their careers and heal — to find ourselves with more freedom. That if you want to stay in your country, you can stay in your country; if you want to move to the United States, you move to the United States; or if you want to travel all the time, that can happen, too. That the system doesn’t push you out because you come from another place, have a different skin color, or have a particular sexual orientation — that your life needs to be confined to only certain opportunities. What needs to be the end goal for all of us is to make the world a little more equal.