- Photo by Richard Lomibao
- From left to right: DJ Abrilita, DJ Lady Z, DJ Chatoyance, and DJ Cherry Moon
In Oakland's nightlife scene, you'll find DJs at nearly every venue in town. However, there are few women of color behind the turntables. That alone makes the all-women-of-color DJ collective B-Side Brujas stand out, but it's not just because of their gender. The crew has developed a name for itself by spinning an eclectic, all-vinyl mix of soul, electro-funk, disco, and salsa.
It was a love of oldies that brought the five women together. In spring 2016, DJ Tuff had invited Zakiya Mowat (aka DJ Lady Z) to spin as a guest DJ at his First Friday party Suavecito Souldies at the Golden Bull in order to bring visibility to women DJs. The collaboration gave Zakiya the idea to form a collective of women of color DJs. She knew there were other young women out there who would be eager to join her.
One of them turned out to be April Garcia (aka DJ Abrilita), who also attended the Suavecito parties and met Zakiya through a friend. Zakiya also met Cherry Bogue (aka DJ Cherry Moon) through a mutual friend, and Toya Willock (aka DJ Chatoyance) through her boyfriend, whom Zakiya has been friends with for years. Finally, Zakiya recruited Moe Alvarez (aka Mi Vida Pocha), whom she has known since they were teenagers. (Moe now resides in Los Angeles, but she's still involved with the collective). That's how B-Side Brujas was born. "Just being Bay Area deeply rooted, we were all supposed to meet and come together," Zakiya said.
They had a shared love of collecting records, listening to punk and soul music, dancing, and representing women in the heavily male-dominated DJ world. The need for representation is such that twice a year, Suavecito Souldies puts together an all-female lineup party, appropriately called Suavecita Night. On Mar. 2, DJ Abrilita will join other female DJs from Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Oakland behind the turntables.
B-Side Brujas are not only music lovers, but music connoisseurs. Cherry began collecting records when she was 13. "My grandpa gave me his 45s, and it turned into way too many records, way too many CDs, and way too many cassettes," she said.
For Toya, her love affair with music began when her mom would listen to Motown. "There are all these songs embedded in my memory of my mom, my aunts, and my cousins," she fondly recalled. "My mom had so many records, and she left so many behind in Philly when we moved here." Toya also grew up singing and dancing.
April's upbringing closely resembles Toya's. She remembers her family listening to salsa music. "Every Saturday we had to clean, and the music playing would get us going," she said. Originally from Southern California, April developed a love of oldies by listening to The Art Laboe Sunday Special on the radio every week. "I had a handheld radio that I would put under my pillow because people would dedicate me songs," she recalled.
It was Jamaican '90s dancehall and rock steady played by her mom that developed Zakiya's love of music. As she got older, she would go on quests to find the origins of samples she'd hear in rap songs. "I feel like a huge music nerd," Zakiya said. "I spend all day on YouTube listening to music and learning from other people."
With about two years under their belt, B-Side Brujas are a relatively new collective, but they've already established themselves in the Bay Area nightlife scene. DJ Chatoyance plays a weekly Thursday night set at Room 389, and the Brujas have a monthly residency on third Fridays in the downstairs side room at Starline Social Club. Just last month they nailed a monthly show at Missouri Lounge in Berkeley every fourth Thursday. Their gigs are not limited to the East Bay; the Brujas also play clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the occasional show in support of immigrants, women, and social justice. Golden Bull, however, remains home base for the Brujas, thanks to the connection they share with the Suavecito Souldies crew.
But being women DJs has come with its share of harassment and mansplaining. "Your womanhood is visible, and some people feel like they have the right to comment, or treat you whatever way they feel like it," Cherry lamented.
They also deal with sexism within the industry. "Record collecting is such a boys club, and it has been for a long time" Zakiya said. "We did a big show in Long Beach, and we were the only women vinyl club on the bill and got treated like shit."
Thankfully, these unfortunate situations have not derailed the passion the Brujas have, and being role models is one aspect that continues to inspire them. "I DJed my work party, and there was an 8-year-old girl who came up to me and said she wanted to learn how to do it," Zakiya said. "We taught her and she DJed the rest of the night."
"I kept showing her — this is funky, this is disco, this is slower," Cherry added. "She was seamless — it was the trippiest thing to watch."
The Brujas' residence at Starline is also a platform for them to bring other women DJs on board. "We're certainly not the first ones. There's so many OG's, like [the late] Pam the Funktress, one of the best ever," Zakiya said.
In the two years since they started the collective, the Brujas have noticed a shift in demographics at their shows. Instead of seeing all friends (and friends of friends) at their gigs, now there are often people they don't recognize. While this may sound like an encouraging change, the Brujas say it signifies more people moving into Oakland and making it harder for them to afford living in the Bay Area. "Our rent was just raised so we were just talking about it," said Toya. "Do we work harder? Or do we look for something else so we don't have to stress?"
For now, B-Side Brujas are focused on building an inclusive community by bringing more women DJs on board to spin alongside them. "A big shout-out to all the women in the Bay Area, and those who love music," said Zakiya. "Keep on rocking."