When La Niña Almendra began DJing in Guatemala in 2013, she never would have imagined that in a few short years, she would be throwing parties in the U.S. focused on women in nightlife. She didn’t have a plan laid out, really – she was following her heart, honing a skill that she saw few women around her take up. But within a year, she started to expand her vision. “I needed something to do when I wasn’t DJing,” she explains, and she saw few platforms for local talent. That’s how the recurring club night La Real Academia del Ripio was born.
“When I began [DJing], all you ever heard was EDM,” La Niña Almendra (aka DJ LNA) tells Remezcla over the phone. Growing up listening to plena, DJ Playero, and early Puerto Rican underground artists, La Niña Almendra felt naturally attracted to moombahton, and La Real Academia del Ripio became a home for emerging nightlife in Guatemala. Slowly but surely, more DJs began experimenting with subgenres and other directions. “Also, in that time, the technology became much more affordable,” she explains, “so a lot of people were able to become part of the scene.”
La Real Academia del Ripio, or RAR, had one main goal: support local artists. “[We wanted to] support talent in Guatemala, and create a 100 percent national party.” LNA says it was fun, but it wasn’t always easy. “You have to have patience to support local scenes. I think sometimes people don’t have a lot of patience.”
While La Real Academia del Ripio didn’t consider gender too closely in its booking back then, La Niña Almendra was one of only a handful of women selectors in the scene. As a result, aspiring DJs looked to her for mentorship and advice. “There were a lot of women who came up to me to ask me how they could become DJs,” she said. But despite the excitement and curiosity, they were afraid – of what their families would say, of the difficulty of building a career in this space. The initial seeds of thinking about gender and platforms for women were planted.
“You have to have patience to support local scenes.”
At some point, La Niña Almendra realized she wanted to continue to hone her talents, but she’d hit a wall. “In Guatemala, I advanced as much as I could, but there weren’t a lot of options,” she says. In 2017, she moved to California to study music production, a longtime dream and goal.
Finding herself in a new environment, she began exploring the city’s Latinx nightlife community. She met DJ Izla, a queer femme Latina DJ, who commiserated with her about the lack of diverse and eclectic spaces for women and LGBTQ people. “Izla has really opened up our point of view,” La Niña Almendra explained.
“I had a lot of success as a DJ in Guatemala,” she says. “I focused on doing my job, always kept it about the music, and that served me well in establishing a space for myself [there].” And though she recognizes that there are far fewer barriers for women who DJ in the U.S., she realizes that the platforms for these women can be inadequate. “Even though times have changed, it’s always good to have a helping hand along the way. Part of my philosophy is to give back [the opportunities] that have been given to me.”
When the chance to relaunch the party in Los Angeles came along, she knew the new iteration of the club night would feature only women. In fact, this sense of sisterhood permeates every aspect of the party: La Niña Almendra’s sister, who left for the U.S. while they both were teens, is working with her to promote the party. “It’s like getting to know her all over again,” she said. “It feels good. I never would have imagined [working with her].” LNA’s sister is more of a hip-hop head herself, but even she has begun listening to more Latinx music, something that brings her sweet joy. “Now she texts me about Ozuna songs!”
“I feel like this is a rebirth.”
As La Real Academia del Ripio prepares for its relaunch, LNA says the experience feels at once familiar and brand new. “I feel like this is a rebirth.” She is less familiar with the scene here – things operate differently in L.A. than they do in Guatemala, and though most would find that daunting, La Niña Almendra considers it a promising challenge. “I’m not in the system, so there’s no way that I can create something that’s a product of that system,” she explains. The unfamiliar territory allows for a newly blank canvas, an opportunity unlike any she’s had before. At RAR’s U.S. debut, expect moombahton, reggaeton, cumbia, and more. “Our goal is to have parties every two months, and to fill [the lineup] with women…from there we’ll see!”
And though La Real Academia del Ripio is currently a single club night, the vision is much broader. “I want to release music, experiment with becoming a label. Seek out emerging producers, and be a place where they can release it,” LNA explains. The idea is to maintain the original spirit of the party and grow an independent platform for the music to thrive – no compromises. “With major labels, you have to give up a lot.”
She hasn’t forgotten about her home though; part of the goal is to look back. “[I also want us to] be a platform for artists emerging from Guatemala.”
Listen to DJ Izla’s mix in celebration of the L.A. launch below. La Real Academia del Ripio hits Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 27. Advance tickets available here.