Chaska Sofia invokes her activism, art and unique personal history both onstage as “Precolumbian” and in her community in Philadelphia. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Chaska has lived in Philly for over a decade, but has called D.C. and Northern Virginia her home.
Precolumbian preaches inclusivity through her music, using the stage as her pulpit, and tropical bass sounds as her sermons. Her congregation consists of partygoers in the LGBTQ community, allies, and, frankly, anyone wants to have a good time without judgement. A transwoman herself, Precolumbian intimately understands the challenges of cultivating zones that encouragement empowerment and acceptance over degradation and rejection.
While Abdu Ali warmed up the crowd for the March Kahlon party, Precolumbian describes how she creates safe spaces, the importance of playing Latin music in her sets, and why house parties are her favorite places.
Q: In Phillesbian, you described yourself as “genderqueer.” Why did you say genderqueer, especially since the LGBTQ label has become more complex. Do you feel that’s the best description so far?
PRECOLUMBIAN: I feel like my gender and my identity [are] always evolving. At the time I did that interview, I was still probably early on in my transition, so I feel like my presentation and way I identified was genderqueer and gender-fluid. I feel like I identify more as a woman now; I’ve been transitioning for almost five years. I like the term “genderqueer” because it challenges, not just sexuality, but also gender. It’s not a particular thing, where I have to perform a certain way. That’s kind of why I use genderqueer. It doesn’t box me into a certain thing. It leaves it more open for me to be freer with my gender and sexuality.
“I like the term ‘genderqueer’ because it challenges, not just sexuality, but also gender. It’s not a particular thing”
Q: Do you consider yourself a musician or activist first?
PRECOLUMBIAN: Probably both at once. I feel like my politics are my art are my life. As a brown person, as an immigrant, as an indigenous woman, an indigenous transwoman, I feel like the art I produce is inextricably connected to my politics and my ancestry, and my upbringing and my uprooting, and my experience as a person of color and transwoman in the world. I feel like I’m both all at once, all the time.
“The art I produce is inextricably connected to my politics and my ancestry”
Q: You place an importance on having safe spaces. What do you do to ensure you have a safe space?
PRECOLUMBIAN: I think the idea of a “safe space” is impossible to obtain. I like to do more safer spaces, more particularly creating guidelines for folks to follow: these are the things we don’t tolerate, these are our politics, and I feel like that in of itself will already weed out people that usually make spaces unsafe.
The events that I do are very intertwined with the queer community that I’m a part of. I feel like promoting it through them, and word-of-mouth, and in different ways, not just posting up fliers everywhere, posting for everybody to come. I want certain people to come. It’s kind of weird, because people think my spaces are inclusive which means that they include everybody. They are inclusive of certain things, but excluding elements that are fucked up, and that make spaces unsafe, like misogynistic behavior, racism, fat-phobia, homophobia, transphobia – any of those things. Those things exist all over the world, even in party spaces, so it’s about subverting party culture, and being like certain things aren’t okay to happen here. And that’s kinda how I go about creating these safe spaces.
“[My spaces] are inclusive of certain things, but excluding elements that are fucked up, and that make spaces unsafe, like misogynistic behavior, racism, fat-phobia, homophobia, transphobia”
Q: How important is it to incorporate music from Peru or Latino music in general?
PRECOLUMBIAN: It’s very important for me. I love Peru, I love my culture, I love the Andes, I love meeting other Peruvians. I love Peruvian cumbia, chicha. I feel like it’s [been] a very vibrant and visionary culture, for thousands of years, you know? There’s just amazing things that have been created there. I love weaving that into my sets.
And same with my name “Precolumbian,” which is mostly associated with latin american indigeneity, is a nod to my ancestry and do away with the notion that indigenous folks are invisible now – that they’re now extinct – and that we’re just these caricatures. So I want to do that as a reminder to let folks know that people existed before European conquest, and bring elements of that into modern art – so like a contemporary indigenous artist.
Q: Are there elements of a set that can’t be replicated in a club setting, as opposed to a house party?
PRECOLUMBIAN: It depends on the crowd. I really tailor myself to the energy in the room that I’m in. At a house party, I’m really free. I started DJing house parties and it’s my preferred mode, my preferred life environment. But I feel like the things I tailor more [depend] on the city I’m in, because I feel like different cities have different cultures different diasporas and different folks. For instance, when I play in New York there’s a lot more brown and immigrant queers. There I can feel freer to play more like the global bass stuff, and South American and Caribbean shit that I don’t necessarily play at Philly club parties, where I play more club music, more pop music. But I always slip in a cumbia here and there, but it mostly depends where I’m playing. I just like a house party because they’re just raw. People just let loose.
“I just like a house party because they’re just raw. People just let loose”
Q: What is your side of meeting DJ Haram?
PRECOLUMBIAN: It’s like the same – I came back from a trip and said ‘oh yo, who’s this cool-ass person in my house just now?’ I had just gotten back and there are people here. Then we invited her to move in, and it was dope. She’s been someone who’s been supportive of me and my art.
“I’m a transplant to Philly, but it’s been a real good home to me.”
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
PRECOLUMBIAN: In five days, I’ll probably just be at home getting ready for a bunch of shit. We got our Stage Fatality party in New York, and then the following week I’m going to SXSW, and after that I’m going to the Insight Women of Color Conference in Chicago. So I’m going to be getting ready for all these trips coming up. In five months, I’m going to be in summer, getting ready for fall, loving life in shorts. In five years, I’m just going to be real old, you know? I don’t know where I’ll be at, but probably in Philly. I love Philly, Philly feels like my home. I’m a transplant to Philly, but it’s been a real good home to me. I’ll probably just be there, continuing to build things there.
Thanks Precolumbian for the interview! You can check her out on Facebook and see where she’s playing next!