Meet the Women Smashing Mexico’s Male-Dominated DJ Scene
Musas Sonideras may not be as well-known as their male counterparts, but they are making waves with fans and skeptics alike
Marisol Mendoza takes to the DJ booth in a personalized black-and-purple windbreaker. Her name, embroidered in bright block letters, adorns the right arm, and the left arm displays the flags of Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Cuba — three of the most iconic producers of tropical music. The back of Mendoza’s jacket flashes with several other embroidered logos, the most eye-catching a yellow-lined silhouette of a woman holding a microphone above bright pink letters featuring the name of the all-female music collective that Mendoza founded and runs: Musas Sonideras.
Mendoza is representing Musas Sonideras tonight along with another woman known as Sol Salsita. They’re playing music in the white-walled hall of SOMA, an art school in Mexico City’s upper-middle-class neighborhood of San Pedro de los Pinos. As they prepare to play, a chant arises from the crowd: “Musas! Musas!” They start off their set with a cumbia hit, “Oye Mujer.”
It’s not the typical crowd for musicians like the Musas, who represent the sonidero musical tradition born in Mexico City’s working-class neighborhoods in the 1950s. A sonido refers to a street dance with massive sound systems playing cumbia, salsa, guaracha, and other tropical rhythms. The sonidero — somewhere between an MC, a DJ, a party promoter, and a hypeman — brings the party. They typically set up the sound system and announce and spin the music, punctuating songs with saludos, or shoutouts that partygoers submit handwritten on pieces of paper. In many parts of the city, sonidos are a ubiquitous part of any neighborhood event: a celebration for the feast of a patron saint, a particularly blown-out birthday or quinceaños bash, or the anniversary of the local market.
Less ubiquitous, though, are women like the Musas. Mendoza founded Musas Sonideras in 2017 to bring together the small population of women playing music in Mexico’s sonidero scene. Mendoza says there…