DJ Cami Layé Okún. Ilustración: María José Sardiñas, a partir de una fotografía de Ingrid Lobaina Ruiz.
DJ Cami Layé Okún. Ilustración: María José Sardiñas, a partir de una fotografía de Ingrid Lobaina Ruiz.

DJ Cami Layé Okún: "What unites us is dementia"

16 minutos / Rafa G. Escalona

06.11.2019 / Interviews

Never before has the act of listening to music been so easy or so lonely. You don't usually think about that much, but the process of dematerialization of music consumption - as has happened with a good part of the entertainment industry - has turned us into an atomized mass, submerged in your headphones, with hyperpersonalized lists thanks to the which we don't have to interact with anyone to build our sound universe. We have concerts and festivals, which are on the rise at this time, but that only represents a handful of hours in the year. Along the way the gregarious factor of music has been lost, to gather around the only device available and discover together the melody that makes sense to be alive.

Luckily there are people like Camila García Valentín. She is the coalition of many worlds. The one of the anthropology and the curious investigation on the batá drums ; the one of the globetrotting artist with a biography that crosses the Latin American continent and there is the occasional escape to Europe; that of the lover of vinyl records as music media, but above all as pieces of lives trapped in an object. With those ingredients, of the many possible cocktails, Cami Layé Okún was born - a poetic game that refers to the sea breeze - a DJ that only plays with vinyl and tells stories through music.

She is a Dj in the most classic sense of the term, that of before the revolution of electronic music, where this name referred to the selectors of music of radio stations and dance halls. To think that not composing makes her job less professional would be to fall into the trap of simplicity. “I don't make music,” she defines, “I share it, especially the one that is forgotten. It's music that I like very much and I don't want to accumulate it, but that others listen to it. ”

His first approach to vinyl was through the records that his parents kept, and they was who gave him the initial impulse by giving her a part of his collection, but above all by transmitting the spirit of appreciating the act of touring with their eyes that surface of thirty by thirty centimeters and the exercise of putting the needle going around the grooves.

It all started formally in 2013, in Bolivia, his father's land, where he lived for three years. There she began playing at friends' parties, essentially Jamaican music, but this led her to find the tip of a skein of sounds she has been pulling since. “What has motivated me to follow is the connection you begin to feel,” he explains, “one thing leads you to the other; the Caribbean takes you to Africa and suddenly you are in the stories. Through the records I have learned history of things that I would never have imagined to know. ”

There she began a much more conscious journey of search and learning, to attend not only the stories contained in the records but also those of their owners, sometimes as fascinating as the musical ones.

Hace casi dos años volvió a Cuba. “Regresé sin nada; solo traje un bolsito con reggae por si surgía alguna fiesta, pero mi colección la dejé en Bolivia”. Entonces Camila dice algo que hace sospechar que lo suyo no es exactamente el coleccionismo, al menos no de objetos físicos. “Me da un poco de nostalgia tenerlo guardado, pero igual es solamente algo material; aquí hay cantidad de música”.

For years she has been trying to lead a double life as a DJ and a story collector, where the search for albums for his set as a DJ is just part of the motivation, the perfect pretext to connect with certain spaces and people who would otherwise be hard. If not, it would be very rare that it is so common for her to get to a neighborhood, knock on the doors of strangers and get into her family stories while they give her coffee and show her her records. "Only through music do I open the door of his house," he says.

How is that music search process on any given day?

“It's like embarking on a treasure hunt. You arrive and find a lot of records and none of them works for you, or the opposite happens and you find amazing things. I have had different strategies. First I went to how easy it was to look for people who sold records in Revolico, but local music seekers have already swept away, so I had to change my tactics and started walking, knocking on doors, talking with old people and asking them . One learns that there are neighborhoods where people have more things stored, but it is also something intuitive, and sometimes the person or family you least imagine has a collection. In addition, there is the luck that everyone here is so friendly that they say 'No, I do not have, but look, go see the neighbor', and you end up finding something. ”

Going for records is like an anthropological work, he says. “I love going to people's homes and being told; Many times there is no apparent story behind because the person who owned the vinyl has already died, but despite that you always find something. You get [for example] to a place, and there are 10 albums of the same genre, and then you realize what that person liked. ”

In the last year, a new reef has been added to her search for Cuban and funk music: Angolan records. "Music has always traveled in some way," she says; "I am very interested in the topic of music travel circuits before the Internet." Camila discovered that, after the war, many Cuban soldiers returned with music, not only from Angola, but from Guinea, Mali and other African countries. “Somehow [what I do] is a type of research: go to people's homes, talk with them, then listen and classify the music. [I am interested] in the fact that I can find so many African records here, which do not necessarily respond to a relationship of cultural heritage, but to a political issue such as war. ”

How was your relationship with local collectors?

“It's amazing, there is a local collector scene, with a profile even. There are many men, the majority are over forty years old and have some type of access to people's homes, such as bill collectors, for example. There are also those who proclaim, which are more sellers than collectors, focused on Cuban music or rock. What unites us is dementia. ”

The collector's motivating chip is more in what he does not have than in what he owns, and in a country like Cuba - which for decades has stopped producing and importing vinyl commercially - there will come a time when this fund is practically over .

Have you found something weird?

“Yes, I have found some oddities, especially discs of private seals pressed before the Revolution, which are difficult to find. But personally, the weirdest thing I've found here is those African records.

“When you are in this you already investigate more, and you learn that there are things pressed in one country that can be more interesting than if they are pressed in another. It is much rarer to have The Beatles edited in Angola than in the United States, for example.

“I care that a record is in good condition, I'm interested in the covers, the stamps, the year, but in the end the most important thing for me is the music, that it sounds good and that I can do things with it, that I can play it, that I can hear it; It doesn't help me anything that's scratched.

“I collect records, but I think that the fact of playing makes me look rather for my music within my own records, instead of the desire to have, have, have. I would like to have everything I can hear and what I like.

“Not being able to play here more often causes me a lot of anxiety, because I can't share everything at the moment I have it and it accumulates. For me it makes sense when you share it with someone in your house, at a party, on the radio or on the Internet, you give it as a revitalization of music. If not, you took it out of a cave to take it to another.

“In any case, the line is thin. Sometimes I sin, there are many things that I want to have and I know that they don't generate anything for me, although they can help me to change with other people. There are many boleros that I know are good, but I don't buy them because I don't have money; then I start to think that when I am 50 years old I will say: 'All the bolerones I let pass ...' ”.

In Cuba, although there is a settled community of DJs , there are not many experiences in the way Cami Layé Okún approaches the show. In your set do not expect to find any hit of the day, nor the beats beats of the electronics intersecting. Her thing is to dig up songs - a lot of Cuban music, but also Caribbean and African music - and start enjoying melodies that you probably never heard in your life.

"Vinyl is another total sound experience," she says. “I feel that when you listen to a vinyl, the sensations are completely different from when you hear that same sound in digital, no matter how good it is. What distinguishes me is that, working with vinyl, with music that sometimes is not even on the Internet. In addition, there is the opportunity to listen to other music, with a load of history; I work with objects that have been and are being rescued from becoming handicrafts or going to waste. I am not superstitious, but I feel that this moment is like reliving a dead person, I feel it is a different energy and experience, especially at parties.

“There is no scene of this type of DJ here, it is like a virgin terrain to experience; there are a lot of things that people have never heard, nor are they used to such old sounds, and I like to play with that. ”

How have you been finding a way or a method for Cuban reality?

“There is so much music, there are so many options that you can experiment with… Here I know I can't play more than two or three [salsa songs] in a row; On the other hand, in other parts of the world, what they want is precisely that, because they stereotype you and what you have to play is tropical music.

“It is always different. When you tell the story at the party it's about going up and down. I try to go to so many places, and for that I prepare; I carry everything I imagine that can work for people in that show, but something totally unexpected always happens. I am more than a DJ, I do not mix, I am not interested in showing my skills mixing one theme with another, but rather the musical selection, the search, the curatorship ”.

What are the elements to achieve a good curatorship?

“It is very subjective and personal. What I put may not like many people. I think you have to like your music and believe in that, that you have the power and space to share something there. At parties, for example, it has to be danceable, I can't put a vals.

“There are certain types of things that I try to be aware of, such as not putting any lyrics that can be racist or sexist - although sometimes I play so much music that is in another language that is more about feeling feeling and how they feel music and rhythms, but at least in what is Spanish and English I try to be careful. In this sense it happens to me that there are super good voices that I cannot put them on - reggae and dancehall especially - because in popular music there are many lags that I do not share and continue to crawl, and it would be counterproductive to issue and reproduce that message.

“Another thing that is super important in this selection is that you have to insert in the same set things that are unknown. There are classics that everyone likes, that everyone knows, but I think if you have the opportunity to put the B side of a disc, you can not miss it. It is not about showing unknown things because yes - I think that would be something pretentious; it is rather to show things that sound and that have some interesting information, both musical and sound. As I told you, music you like. There are DJs and selectors that are very involved in carrying the weirdest, the most difficult disc to find. It may be, but that doesn't work with people here. ”

DJ Cami Layé Okún. Illustration: María José Sardiñas, from a photograph by Alejandro Reyes.

DJ Cami Layé Okún. Illustration: María José Sardiñas, from a photograph by Alejandro Reyes.

Paradox: in a country where music is practically breathed in the air, her project has had a warm reception. "I don't like to generalize, but here people are not very willing to listen to discs that don't sound, unknown things," Camila tries to explain. “For example, I am used to playing many tropical things such as salsa and other Afro-Cuban rhythms, which in any other place are well received, and it happens that not here. I feel that it is related to the phenomenon of tourism, with which people think that this is what they play in hotels for gringos, when in reality it is super good music, with tremendous feeling , to which however many people reject it " feeling, to which however many people reject it "

As a good DJ this has not spoiled her, but she has been moving the spectrum and has discovered that things like the funk work in the Cuban public - including the Cuban funk, that great absent of many counts -, the cumbia and sounds of Africa. Along the way she has had everything: unforgettable parties with others where people have not understood what is happening. She says that this has not only happened to her in Cuba, but she believes that little by little people understand that it is a different proposal and sound.

The systematicity of the proposal could help a lot. How did it go in that direction, in the search for a space?

“Here, to make a party with vinyl or to play at another party as a guest, you always have to deploy a logistics that involves not only carrying the discs, but also renting the machines and transport to move them; There is no space to which you go and everything is armed, and simply take your records and touches. However, I'm doing pretty well with that; I know people who rent the record players and now it is much simpler than it was at the beginning . Then when it's my turn to make parties is more complicated. ”

For some weeks, Thursday afternoon-nights at Bodegón de Teodoro - a decadent and underutilized bar, at the beginning of San Lázaro, very close to the University of Havana - lived a moment of fleeting celebrity animated by parties organized by Cami Layé Okún, antecedent of his project called La Chancleta. But doing La Chancleta - which since last October 18 seems to have found a temporary home at the Fajoma bar -, so far at least, has only brought her the benefit of gathering a group of people to listen to her play the music she likes . It has not come up with a formula to make it profitable, and faces the challenge of finding DJs to invite, who should not only play with vinyl but also develop a similar aesthetic line. Not to mention the time needed to produce a party.

What would be the ideal environment to do what you want to do?

“Here, even if all the ideal working conditions are not there. If not, I would not have stayed again [in Cuba]. What I do think you have to have a lot of patience, due to the fact that there is no vinyl scene, [but] it is a place where to make a soundsystem on the street, all you have to do is propose it yourself and propose it; there are many people who are fused with the same with the same ”.

Camila believes that if she presented her project to tourism, it would surely work, because of Cuban music and others, but that is not where she imagines working. In the days that this interview took place, she was about to leave for a series of functions in Europe, where there is a circuit of collector DJs with whom she are in contact and get linked to festivals and other activities. Meanwhile, she dreams: to save enough to buy her own equipment and not depend on the rented ones, to find a space in which she can reach a fair deal so that the profits can cover expenses, by allying with other DJs with whom to share Vinyl and willing to experiment with sounds other than electronic music. It is not easy, but who knows if one day La Chancleta materializes, and that is the place we can go for Camila to tell us a different story every night.


Rafa G. Escalona

Certified Journalist. Father of a music magazine.

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