DJ Guagüis’ Monthly Party Envisions a World Where Women Aren’t Tokens in Hip-Hop

Photo by Juan Carlos Ruiz

Once a month in the upstairs bar of a Mexico City pulquería, women are the stars of a hip-hop party. They spit verses on stage, they flex their turntablism, they laugh and dance, and at the end of the evening, they’re left to plan the next month’s edition. The party’s name may be obvious, but it drives home the spirit of the function: All The Ladies In Da House.

The monthly is an opportunity for Mexican hip-hop fans to catch talent from across Latin America, with a curation that leans heavily towards the politically conscious. For the January 19 edition, the headliners are Krudas Cubensi, a queer, feminist duo from Havana who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in 2016 and wield their outsider status like a lyrical saber. “They’re people who were born with no privilege who have come to have this voice for equality, peace, justice, love,” says the party’s founder Ali Gua Gua, (aka DJ Guagüis). “And they have a sense of humor. Their music isn’t horrible and boring; it’s sexy.” Joining them is Isa GT, a Colombian DJ who started Girlcore, the precursor to techno-feminist collective Discwoman, in London during the mid-aughts. Sidu La Chiquita Maravilla, a rapper from Estado de México, also joins the lineup.

Guagüis came up with the event out of irritation surrounding the invisibility of women in some of the city’s hip-hop scenes. She ran into her friend, filmmaker Kyzza Terrazas, shooting for what would later become Somos Lengua, his thoughtful documentary on Mexican hip-hop. She noted the lack of women onstage and Terrazas told her he couldn’t find any to shoot (for the record, he eventually did — the doc’s final cut includes artists like CDMX’s Mujeres Trabajando crew). Later, she related the story to a friend, who told her to do something about it. And Ali was the right person for the job.

DJ Guagüis. Photo by Alex Jimenez
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The promoter and musician arrived in Mexico City in 1992 from her hometown in Veracruz, and ever since has been building a queer, feminist community of underground artists and fans. She’s played drums and guitar and sung in bands like Kumbia Queers and Las Ultrasónicas, and was a founding member of cumbia group Afrodita. (She left the latter before the first album came out, choosing instead to perform bootleg versions of the songs she’d helped develop in a touring act she jokingly called Afro Dyke.)

“It’s a party where the female presence is the protagonist.”

Today Ali can seem ubiquitous, spinning everything from cumbia to reggaeton at mid-sized music festivals (she’s booked at next month’s Carnaval de Bahidorá alongside Princess Nokia and Kali Uchis), alt porn screenings, and on the roof of CDMX’s famed queer commune Casa Gomorra. She’s one of the city’s beloved butch and queer performers.

Though Gua Gua had never focused on hip-hop events in the past, she sees her work as anti-genre. Ultimately, she tells Remezcla, the projects she is a part of have more to do with empowerment than any one sound. “I hate labels,” she says. “Hip-hop goes well with that — I’ve always loved how you can take parts of rock and metal and combine them in a blender.”

The first time she ever heard a DJ scratch was Grandmaster DST on the breakthrough 1983 single “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock, another artist who loves to straddle multiple styles. As a little kid, she loved hip-hop dance, graffiti, and the way its artists fought back against censorship and the class system.

She values the genre for its accessibility and universality. Rapping, Gua Gua says, is “easier than learning an instrument or taking voice classes. In that sense I think it’s powerful, the strength of the voice and words.” Elsewhere in Mexico, hip-hop has even been used to speak out the country’s dire rates of gender-based violence.

Photo by Juan Carlos Ruiz
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At first she thought it would be difficult finding enough artists to fill a monthly lineup at Pulquería Insurgentes, the dive bar that also serves as a unofficial cultural center for many of Mexico City’s alternative communities, from marijuana legalization activists and Afrobeat fans to radical performance artists. But it soon became clear that there was a network of national and international artists eager to include Mexico City on their tours. Guagüis’ base of fans were ready to support — it was an “if you build it, they will come” situation.

The party’s first edition featured Karen Pastrana of Actitud María Marta, an Argentine group whose success during the mid-90s was one of the early signs that women always had a place in Latin American hip-hop. “This is a way more of a girl generation than mine was,” Ali says of the proliferation of such artists in Latin America today. Performers like Mérida’s Las Hijas de Rap, Zapotec rapper Mare Advertencia Lirika, and Ximbo and Jessy P from Mujeres Trabajando have made appearances at All The Ladies. DJs are encouraged to play vinyl, in keeping with Ali’s old school preference for turntables.

Every once in awhile, Guagüis will throw in some outliers, like punk-inspired performance art trio Hijas de la Violencia, who were known for their combative interventions against CDMX’s street harassers. The evenings begin quietly at 8 p.m. with a fan zine or book presentation — at January’s edition, Mexico City subculture magazine Revista Generación will share content from its current issue focusing on muxes, the third gender in many of Oaxaca’s indigenous communities. In February, Ali is planning a high-profile anniversary party which will be free, just like every other edition of All The Ladies.

Gua Gua likes the no cover approach because she wants the events to be accessible to everyone. The importance of the party, she says, is not limited to what happens on stage. All The Ladies’ peak moment is when a room full of women (and their male allies — the party welcomes everyone regardless of gender, though Gua Gua councils tall men to consider standing at the back of the room so that everyone can see the performers) have lost themselves in the music in a way that rarely happens in mainstream hip-hop clubs.

“It’s a party where the female presence is the protagonist,” says Guagüis.

After all, the goal is to recenter the hip-hop experience, to provide a space where the experience of women can be spat and heard. “When they can forget the world, and they’re dancing, that for me is the most beautiful moment,” Guagüis says. When all the ladies are in the house, it’s possible to envision a world beyond tokenization, where women’s voices are not the exception in hip-hop, but their due portion of the norm. The verse goes on from there.

All The Ladies in Da House returns to Mexico City’s Pulquería Insurgentes, tonight, January 19. For more information, click here.