WASHINGTON, D.C.—The old neighborhood doesn't look the same anymore. The tienda latina and old chicken spot have been devoured by high rises and condos.
But there are still some parts of the old U Street Corridor that are holding it down. Judy’s Restaurant has been serving up Salvadoran food for more than 20 years. It's also an institution that cultivates and promotes local music—from traditional live Cumbia on Saturday nights to the newer Maracuyeah parties.
Although many people have been displaced from the neighborhood by D.C.’s aggressive gentrification, some come back to enjoy comfort food or attend the music parties at Judy's. It's something familiar in an ever-changing urban landscape.
“This block is totally different. The walk to the party is not the same walk. We are walking through the canyon of condos now,” says DJ Carmencha, of Maracuyeah, a womxn DJ crew.
But Maracuyeah is also creating something new in an old space. Their parties are about creating a safe space for queer folks, womxn, black and brown people. It's about celebrating the people and struggles on the margins of mainstream society, but also establishing relationships with local businesses that are becoming increasingly marginalized in an ever-growing city.
I recently caught up with Maracuyeah on a rainy Sunday in at Judy’s Restaurant, which recently hosted the DJ crew's fifth year anniversary party. We drank coffee and tea, and ate Salvadoran tamales de elote with pupusas de queso. A soccer game playing at the bar.
Maracuyeah remains a love project DJ collective known for remixing and crisscrossing cultures with a mixtape-style Pan-Latin-to-the-Future sound that can shake the crowd. The crew—DJ Rat, DJ Carmencha and DJ Mafe— also mix the traditional and popular tropical rhythms that they grew up listening to.
With roots in underground radio and the social justice movement, DJs Mafe and Rat started Maracuyeah in a pivotal moment when alternative sounds were coming out of their native countries of Colombia and Peru. It was a time when the D.C. music scene was also starting to shift towards new types of inclusive and collaborative projects.
Having grown up in D.C. listening to cumbia, Afro-Peruvian festejos, hip-hop and American soul, DJ Rat says hybridity had a formative influence on Maracuyeah. It was also informed by her previous creative projects — a nena-centric crew that threw parties in Peru, and a D.C.-based all-day DJ crew known as Anthology of Booty.
Mafe, who grew up in Colombia and later moved to Miami, also points to her roots in salsa and punk. It was an immensely riveting feeling “to belong and rebel in music,” Mafe tells me.
The two DJs linked up in D.C. through radio and activist circles, and Maracuyeah was born in 2011 as an overlap of music and social justice. Their first party brought together more than 100 people and was hosted by Judy’s Restaurant, the same venue they play today.
Dj Carmencha joined Maracuyeah a couple of years ago, after growing up listening to Fania records with her family and working in KPFA’s La Raza Chronicles. DJ Carmencha says she has always been drawn to music. When working with La Raza Chronicles, a Latino public affairs show in California, her “favorite part was picking the music in between” segments, she says.
Although female DJs have been spinning records for close to 40 years in Washington, D.C., women in the music scene still face struggles—from not getting paid at gigs to harassment. Maracuyeah is trying to change that by carving out a space for those DJs on the margins. It's part of the collaborative spirit that has always been a part of the female DJ scene in D.C., and has helped build community, according to Mafe.
Maracuyeah is a part of this legacy, sending out the ripple effects they felt when they first started in DC scene years ago. So if you’re nena-centric artist like Maracuyeah, reach out to them or enjoy their energy at their next party at Judy’s.
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Jessica Diaz-Hurtado is a multimedia storyteller and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. She focuses on culture, gender and civil conflict.