DJ Riobamba Spins Music, Politics and Community Together
If you live in New York and enjoy its endless and eclectic nightlife, chances are, you know DJ Riobamba. Sara Skolnick, the Ecuadorian-Lithuanian DJ, and producer has been a staple in the nightlife scene and music industry for the past eight years — in recent years, she has started to use her platform to raise awareness to the current political climate of the country.
“The world has changed a lot since I started,” she told BoldLatina during a recent conversation. “I started when I was 24, and I was also discovering my voice, the music I liked, and how I could fit into the industry.”
Riobamba’s DJ name pays homage to her Ecuadorian heritage — Riobamba is the capital of the Chimborazo Province in central Ecuador. The name is made up of a combination of the Spanish language, and the indigenous language, Quechan.
Since getting behind the decks almost a decade ago, Riobamba has been a champion of the Latinx sounds that at one point gained international notoriety, as was the case with artists like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Ivy Queen, and many others. Reggaetón has recently flourished, but in the late 2000’s and early part of 2010, this music wasn’t a widely popular as it is now. Riobamba didn’t care; to the contrary, she understood the need to showcase these once marginalized sounds.
Her advocacy towards bringing these sounds to the New York nightlife hasn’t gone without controversy. As a white Latina, she’s had her share of people questioning her Latinidad. “What am I supposed to say to that?” she said, “that’s that person’s expectations or limitations of Latinidad.”
Riobamba knew that getting to be a DJ was a significant way to occupy a space for her to showcase different sounds, and have those listening and dancing to her sets fully connect to the roots of the music she plays. “It’s who I am, my influences all coming together, and the uniqueness of the human being that I am,” she explained.
This past June she made her way to the Bay Area to play a string of shows in San Francisco and Oakland. During her gig in Oakland, she made use of the screen behind her with a lighted up message that read: “Abolish I.C.E.”
— Azucena Rasilla (@ChroniclesOfAzu) June 24, 2018
While for some it may seem controversial, more and more artists are using their platforms to denounce the Trump Administration. For Riobamba is personal and political. “My mom was born in Ecuador, and my grandparents came to the United States when she was super young,” she recalled, “and they were separated until she was eight years old.” She also acknowledges the intersection of music and community. “How can I play música en Español and not talk about this supercharged political moment,” she emphasized. “Whatever platform you have, you have to say something.”
Riobamba also has a multitude of other projects she’s working on. She’s the co-host of a monthly radio show called “Bien Buena Party” through Red Bull Radio alongside Que Bajo alum, Uproot Andy — the show is the first to showcase musica urbana.
She also recently launched her record label, Apocalipsis. She knew that there’s a lack of spaces to showcase unrecognized talent all across the United States fully. “There’s a lot of voices that are being left out,” she said. “Not only on the industry level in terms of visibility, but also in terms of who gets those resources, who doesn’t. Who has financial security and who doesn’t.” Riobamba is not limiting the label to signing just artists from the East Coast, “it’s not going to be geographically limited,” she said. The first artist under the label is ‘amaF alaM‘, an indigenous artist based in Ecuador. The second, Afro-Latinx artist Kelman Duran based in L.A.
She also understands the importance of bringing awareness into the roots of Reggaetón which has been whitewashed by mainstream record labels and its artists. “Artists like J Balvin, he’s not even branding his album as Reggaetón, he’s calling it ‘global pop,’ and when you call it global pop, that’s erasing the history of the beats in the album,” she emphasized.
Riobamba will continue using her platform as an essential form of activism with shows all around the country. In August she will travel to Atlanta to play at OYE Fest, where $5 of each ticket sold will be going to UNITED WE DREAM, an organization that provides support to immigrants through programs like DACA, deportation resources, and more.