12 Queer Artists Changing Latin America’s Music Industry

Lead Photo: Rico Dalasam. Photo by Henrique Grandi. Courtesy of artist
Rico Dalasam. Photo by Henrique Grandi. Courtesy of artist
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Pride is back and rearing its colorful head all through the month of June. With summer just kicking off and spirits soaring high, we can’t help but be reminded that it’s not only a time to celebrate, but also a time for reflection on the battles waged for dignity and equality.

We have seen great victories in the last year, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same sex marriage nationwide. The end of 2015 also saw the Pentagon announce they’d allow transgender personnel to serve openly in the U.S. military. Chile legalized civil unions, Argentina repealed the ban on gay and bisexual blood donors, and Colombia ruled in favor of full adoption rights for same sex couples, later passing same sex marriage in early 2016. With President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to pass marriage equality in all of Mexico, and New York City now recognizing and protecting 31 gender identities, it seems the future is brighter than ever.

However, where walls are torn down, new ones are built. The backlash to the marriage ruling found its voice in Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk whose refusal to award marriage licenses to same sex couples landed her in jail, sparking heated debate. Conservatives have rallied nationwide, drafting thinly veiled discrimination laws that have either passed or are currently up for debate in as many as 15 state legislatures. Religious freedom bills passed in Indiana and Mississippi allow open refusal to employment, service, and housing against LGBTQ individuals, and North Carolina kicked off a series of bathroom bills that prohibit and punish transgender folks using restrooms not corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. And that’s just the domestic crisis, without delving to deeply into the 77 countries that still find sexual diversity punishable by law, as well as the epidemic of violence against trans communities – especially against trans women of color.

These hurdles are bitter reminders of why we as a community fight and celebrate our history. Forty-seven years after the Stonewall Riots kicked off the modern LGBTQ movement, we’re still fighting. Thirty-three years since homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and 26 years since the Center For Disease Control first diagnosed AIDS, we are still fighting. With marriage equality just one year old and gender dysphoria still considered a mental disorder, there is still much fighting to be done.

The list of queer artists we’ve curated for you this year is comprised of musicians working to bring visibility and humanity to the art they’re creating within their communities. Where we could write about icons like Juan Gabriel and Chavela Vargas, or current standard bearers like Ricky Martin, Javiera Mena, and Rita Indiana, we’ve decided instead to feature artists that may not yet have your attention, but deserve every bit of it. These artists are making music on their own terms and carving out audiences for themselves. In the spirit of justice, here are 12 queer Latinx artists making music you need to hear.


Rico Dalasam (Brazil)

Brazilian hip-hop received an impeccably styled shot to the heart last spring when Rico Dalasam burst on to the scene with his debut EP, Modo Diverso. Building hype for some time, the São Paulo native rap-battled his way up Brazil’s hip-hop ranks, and has been getting serious online and radio play with singles “Riquíssima” and “Esse Close Eu Dei” ahead of the release of his first full-length, Orgunga. Every bit an extrovert, Dalasam started his career as a hair and fashion stylist, and shot one of his first music videos at Bushwig, Brooklyn’s infamous drag festival. Dalasam raps about what he knows, being black and gay in an oppressive society, but doesn’t identify with the queer rap movement. In an interview with Guia Folha, he tells the publication, “There is no such thing [as queer rap] in Brazil, there isn’t a scene here like in the U.S.,” referring to the context of his music. “What we have here is Rico Dalasam making the music he makes. Orgunga synthesizes a pride that comes from shame. I’m telling that story and celebrating that pride.”


(Me Llamo) Sebastián (Chile)

Chile’s Niño Rosado has been making waves for years with his flamboyant persona and catchy but often risqué pop songs. Along with his message of body positivity and a proud member of the bear community, he is redefining gender expression and queer visibility through his colorful and glittery exterior, regularly donning spandex and make-up in his videos and live performances. No subject is off limits for (Me Llamo), who, through his songwriting, tells stories of homophobia, polyamory, trans folks, and sex workers with a cheeky delivery that brings levity to the heavy subjects he sings about. Though he is an outspoken and crucial activist within Chile’s conservative society, (Me Llamo) Sebastián is poised for stardom. Singles from his last two albums, El Hambre and La Belleza, received radio play in his native Chile, and he’s been touring non-stop domestically and abroad. If his new partnership with Chilean superstar producer Cristián Heyne is any indication, (Me Llamo) Sebastián will be blasting into the collective consciousness sooner rather than later.


La Prohibida (Spain)

La Prohibida is a singer and drag queen from Cadiz, Spain, and a staple of the Europop club scene. Starting her career by working small clubs around Spain as a stripper, vedette, and occasional singer, La Prohibida was eventually discovered in 2001 by Alaska, front woman of Fangoria, who recruited her for the band’s Xpandelia tour. She recorded her first album Flash in 2005 and instantly became a hit in queer circles around Europe and Latin America. Her following has become so devoted that when crowd funding for her most recent album, 2015’s 100k De Años Luz, she reached her goal within the first day, and tripled it by the end of the week. Though her music tends to stay in ultra saccharine disco territory, her perspective on gender and sexuality flips the script on classic pop tropes. Campy and glamorous, La Prohibida is all one could ask of a drag pop star, and though not directly political, her mere existence and success attest to the subversive nature of the art form.


Precolumbian (Peru)

Precolumbian is the pseudonym of Philadelphia-based Peruvian DJ Chaska Sophia. A staple of Philly’s queer party scene, Precolumbian has built a following the old-fashioned way, playing non-stop at downtown clubs and house parties, her preferred medium. Though she’s been in transition for many years, she still identifies as genderqueer and as she explained in an interview with Electric Llama, “I feel like I identify more as a woman now; I’ve been transitioning for almost five years. I like the term ‘genderqueer’ because it challenges not just sexuality, but also gender.” Precolumbian is adamant about incorporating her experience as an indigenous woman and immigrant into her sets, always finding room for cumbia and chicha to set the room a blaze. She has dubbed her mixture of global bass and traditional rhythms as tropical madness, a perfect description for both her train of thought and the atmosphere she creates on the dance floor.


Fran Straube (Chile)

The prolific Chilean musician has made a name for herself as one of the busiest women in the country’s now fabled indie scene. As drummer for both Fármacos and Miss Garrison, acting also as frontwoman in the latter, and with her atmospheric solo project Rubio, Fran Straube has gained notoriety for her ability to collaborate and innovate when needed. Last year she performed back to back at Lollapalooza Chile with both Fármacos and Miss Garrison, and this March she made her SXSW debut with Miss Garrison, who began teasing new music with their spring release “Al Sol De Noche.” Late in 2015, she also crowd funded to get her first Rubio EP off the ground, and new promotional images for the project have begun surfacing on social media. Fran Straube’s queerness is neither secret nor a defining feature of her music, serving as a marker for the acceptance and respect she has gained through her art and work ethic.


Alegría Rampante (Puerto Rico)

Alegría Rampante is the brainchild of Eduardo Alegría, a project of meticulously crafted and highly theatrical rock from Puerto Rico. Boasting influences like Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright, and Morrissey, Alegría was one of the co-founders of now defunct pop outfit Superaquello. After the band’s split, he sought a more intimate approach to songwriting, drawing from his own experiences with queerness, addiction, and living on an island drowning in economic instability. The band’s debut, Se Nos Fue La Mano, was in the works for years before finally seeing the light in late 2015. The video for their first single “El Recipiente / Tsunami,” a gut-wrenching modern dance piece shot in black and white, made it to the Puerto Rico Queer Film Fest, and their subsequent release “Cícero” is a glorious nostalgia trip featuring clips of Alegría as an art and dance student in 1990s New York, spliced with contemporary scenes from Puerto Rico, serving as commentary on youth, naiveté, and life’s hardships.


Liniker (Brazil)

This 20-year-old from Brazil made a splash last year with the release of Cru, his first three-song EP. Originally from the city of Araraquara, a few hours north of São Paulo, Liniker strongly embraces his African ancestry in his music and personal aesthetic. His influences range from soul to rock to samba. That source material and his theatrical background coalesce into a raw, emotive combination. Having recorded and released live versions of all the songs on his YouTube channel, he found himself a viral sensation by combining his powerful and undeniable talent with his own chic gender-defying style. The videos feature the young singer heavily made-up, wearing a long skirt and turban, and have become both instantly recognizable and the perfect mission statement for Liniker as an artist. As he said in an interview with El País, “Why should I wear jeans and a T-shirt and present myself as just a voice? My body is political. I need to show my audience what I’m living.”


Zemmoa (Mexico)

Singer, socialite, model, filmmaker, jewelry designer – it seems like there is nothing Zemmoa can’t do. Mexico City’s nightlife princess has been active since she was 16, when she started making a name for herself in the local club scene. Her first single “Fashion Victims” was a 2006 electro clash takedown of the fashion world, and caught the attention of Canadian artpunk Peaches, who invited her to open her Mexico shows. This boost in profile led her to also open for bands like Erasure and Technotronic, as well as modeling gigs for Calvin Klein Mexico. Her name, a play on the French “c’est moi,” is fitting as she refuses to label her gender. Though she presents as feminine and prefers female pronouns, she explained in an interview with OUT, “I’m unique, as is everybody else. This is my expression; this is who I am.” Generating lots of buzz with popular club singles, her undefined gender identity was considered problematic by record labels continuously refusing to sign her. Proving her unstoppable nature, she has since started her own label Zemmporio Records, released two albums (2013’s Puro Desamor and 2015’s NNVAV), performed at the Life Ball in Vienna, and appeared in videos with Simpson Ahuevo and Los Master Plus.


Arca (Venezuela)

Alejandro Ghersi, the provocative and mysterious Venezuelan producer known as Arca, has become one of the world’s widely sought production talents. Having worked with the likes of Björk, Kanye West, and FKA Twigs, much has changed for Arca since his early days of performing in heels and jockstraps in small Caracas art spaces. His own avant-garde and often baffling music – a blend of proto hip-hop beats, spooky synths, and erratic electronic glitches – has also earned him a cult underground following. Building buzz for years with a series of EPs released through UNO NYC, Arca first received major attention with his self-released mixtape &&&&&. His first two albums, Xen and Mutant, both tackled themes of gender, sexuality, and belonging, reflective of his own struggle for self-knowledge. As he explained in an interview with The Guardian, “I hoped that being attracted to men might go away, but what I never ever hoped would go away were the feelings of femininity, and of softness and fragility, that could live inside of a boy. They were private but they were mine.” Arca teased his upcoming album Reverie back in February with an Instagram video of an orchid; the kind of bizarre offering that encapsulates the artist’s unpredictable beauty.


Miss Bolivia (Argentina)

Miss Bolivia is the fiery stage persona of Paz Ferreyra, an outspoken MC from Buenos Aires. She started out as a psychology student who eventually turned her meditations into song lyrics, releasing her first mixtape in 2008. Now, with two LPs under her belt, 2011’s Alhaja and 2014’s Miau, Miss Bolivia has fully developed her sound as a mix of reggae, cumbia, hip-hop and dancehall, which she pairs with strongly political rhymes. The notoriety she has built at home has allowed her to play prestigious stages like Lollapalooza Argentina and Quilmes Rock, as well as tour in Uruguay, Brazil, and Mexico. She regularly incorporates her own experience into her art, like her name, which she got from the street she grew up on, in the neighborhood of La Paternal. As an openly bisexual musician, Miss Bolivia uses her platform to bring attention to LGBT rights, often performing at Pride parades and rallies, and has been recognized by the city of Buenos Aires for her commitment to human rights activism, as well as the fight for marijuana legalization.


Dani Umpi (Uruguay)

Dani Umpi is an accomplished writer, actor, visual artist, and musician from Tacuarembó, Uruguay. Umpi is a prominent queer figure in contemporary Latin American literature, on par with Pedro Lemebel and Rita Indiana, and has published four novels, two short story collections, a book of poetry, and a children’s book titled El Vestido de Mamá that details the experience of a young boy who wears his mother’s favorite dress for a day. The same range displayed in his writing also manifests in his music, a mixture of danceable pop and surreal imagery. He has released albums of dance music, piano ballads, and even a collection of classic rock and pop covers called Dramática. He has also collaborated with the likes of Fito Paez, Wendy Sulca, and Miranda!’s Ale Sergi, and tours extensively with performance residencies in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Spain. His forthcoming album Lechiguna is due out later this year, and in May released the video for its first single, “La Yuta,” a colorful high-fashion gender-bending short heralding Dani Umpi’s return to the dance floor.


Nomi Ruiz (Honduras)

This sultry house diva of Honduran descent is a New York City staple, known for her work with Hercules & Love Affair and Jessica 6. Ruiz’s career path has been everything but static, with stints in the fashion and art worlds, though she recognizes music as her first and biggest love. Her 2005 debut Lost In Lust showcased her heavy hip-hop and R&B influences, but it was her involvement in Andrew Butler’s house and nu-Disco project Hercules & Love Affair that thrust her onto the world stage. She has since gone on to collaborate with queer icons such as Debbie Harry and rising star Anohni, and in 2007 formed the band Jessica 6, whose hit “White Horse” was featured, along with Ruiz herself, in Mugler’s 2012 menswear campaign “Brothers of Arcadia.” Ruiz speaks candidly about the struggles of being a trans woman in the mainstream music industry, but keeps her art and activism separate, maintaining that she is first and foremost an artist. Ruiz’s career shows no sign of slowing, making regular appearances at fashion and art events around the world. In 2015, Jessica 6 released their sophomore album The Capricorn, where lead single “Down Low” was an underground club hit.