Elysia says she’s like a cheje: a bird, manchado, stained with imperialism and indigeneity at the same time. That’s where her art and her stament comes from, a trans gender american and aymara woman at the same time, that managed herself to find her voice in all her herence, so heterogeneous and bonded by history. Elysia Crampton is a producer born in California but with a Bolivian herence, who uses music as a healing language to reconstruct the narrations of our history.
by / Mercedes Galera & Julián Solís Morales
In july of this year, she published her second album, Demon City; the sonority that goes trough it can be thought inside of electronic music, with a sound that is hard to describe or categorize, but that definitely contains the intensity of someone who tries to know herself through music, becoming empowered by that language: Elysia transmits in Demon City oral stories of her latin and american herence, that overcomes the frontiers of the nation states and the removal mechanisms of colonization processes. In a poetic statement of her record, Elysia thinks about this theme inside of the Severo style, understood as “an accumulation or accretion, an ongoing process of becoming-with, made possible by the family-networks and communities that have inspired and sustained our survival and collective search for transformative justice”. Revista Ramera talked to her to understand more about how she did to become-with herself, and connect that way with her Bolivian herence and her immigration story.
R: The geography of your life story appears in your music. How was the process of mixing and fusing those sounds, all different from each other, to turn them into Demon City?
E: I was thinking about deep time and oral histories as these ongoing things that exceed our own concepts of history, which are continually obscured by coloniality’s horizon..
R: All songs of Demon City are productions made with other artists. Do you live musical collaborations as a philosophy of community?
E: The collaborators that appear on the album were always involved in my work in one way or another, since I began experimenting with music. The philosophy or any theorization, for that matter, always comes out of the practice, not before. Emotion and a desire to touch —to be touched— a need for connection, to make sense of this life, has always been my first impulse, before philosophy, before speculation, before grammar, before the written word — before any object of theorization is produced. I am aware my ability to theorize is crude and limited, because I am uneducated and messy! However I embrace that messiness and use that language to perhaps invite those with the ability to engage intelligently with our music and construct their own theories about it, and in that way build a future together, one I could not build on my own.
R: You are a trans gender woman Aymara, Bolivian and American. What internal or external tensions did you have to balance? Was the music the language you found to face them?
E: Yes music has been my language for grappling with the trauma and difficult truths of reality and society I was born into. I learn new things from the sounds I produce, it is a process of education, an alternate oral history that goes further than my own state-sanctioned indigeneity and identity. Growing up in America, I was lost, because my aymara family had surrendered so much of themselves in order to survive, yet that aymara-ness marked me to the world — colored me, shaped me. Even my own family in the states could not comprehend or connect with my queerness within modernity’s limited horizon. Returning to Bolivia where I was accepted by my native family as I was, as travesti, as marica, quewa, etc —and learning of the precolonial queer legacy of the aymara people from friends like Colectivo TLGB— all of that allowed me to repair the colonial damage and violence internalized for decades by my American family and through the sacrifices made by my migrating Aimara family. That is not to say there is not anti-trans violence and homophobia in the Aimara communities of Bolivia— even in the altiplano, patriarchy and the ideas of folkloricism and indigeneity crafted by the state (and crafted for survival within the state’s grasp), obscure the full spectrum of our power as indigenous queer people. Some ‘originarios’ would say my grandparents were ‘bad indios’ for traveling to another nation state — a movement that throws into conflict this static notion of a native meant to remain on her land and in her folkloric costume.
R: In Demon Days appears the figure of Bartolina Sisa. What does her story represent to you, more than 300 years after her struggle?
E: That’s the thing —her struggle continues to this day— it didn’t end with the quartering of her body because her work of liberation remains unfinished — this is what Che Gossett would call “becoming-with” as the unfinished project of Abolition, an Abolition that spans the colonial boundaries of nation states and continents. The scope of possibility for her and her people then, their concept of freedom and dignity was shaped by the centuries of colonial occupation that preceded them. It is part of my work to continue to radicalize our notions of being-with and becoming-with, our notions of being together and living together in this world, not just between humans but everything that makes this universe, makes pacha. This is the unfinished labor of abolition which is a continued arrival.
R: Is there a political act of queer activism in your work?
E: I think my strongest suit has always been when I’m not intentionally being political, when I’m not taking the banner of ‘activist’ and attempting to confront the state directly. Sometimes we have to show up when the state asks us too, but today with all the braided paradoxes of colonial life, we have to make calculated decisions for survival and to ensure the archive continues in the face of those that would erase it from the earth. It’s a complicated dilemma, a narrative we have to simultaneously uncover and create —my language ability limits me here— it’s frustrating!
My ability to theorize anything, let alone my own work, is crude and limited because I never finished my education. However, I push myself to theorize as a means to invite those with a better capacity to do so. I try to inspire intelligent thinkers to engage with my work because I still believe music is one of my strongest languages — definitely better than my English, Castellano, or Aimara!
R: Recently, the minister of security of Argentina presented a project that rages against illegal immigration policies. Since you have an immigration history: How do you think we can resist such policies?
E: I heard about this — it’s important to understand these types of detention centers are part of the prison industrial complex’s scope and not separate —this is why trans-national solidarity is so important in these times, even if its seems too big in scope— as we have been taught (at least in american politics) to appeal to local reform rather than systemic change. But reform is important too, because lives are being affected right now, lives are at stake ‘right now’.
The prison-industrial complex has always been more than the prisons — it is the institutions, like the schools, hospitals, banks, the civic areas, as well as the borders, the checkpoints, the militaries —because imperialism is internalized through sovereign subjecthood— immaterial as much as it is material. Resistance comes in many forms, there was never one clear-cut way to do it. This is why we all need to participate, because we each have something to offer for liberation. There are those that are better at local organizing, those good with institutional language and law, those that are good at communicating difficult concepts into relatable emotions, through art, for example — this is why I believe the site of imagination is part of the battleground. If we cannot imagine a different world, how will we ever arrive there?
R: Last question, where are you from?
E: Contrary to what the press says about me, I was not born in Bolivia! I was born in Riverside California, in the Inland Empire —my mother’s family moved to Barstow after leaving La Paz— the landscape is very similar to province of pacajes where my grandfather’s family is from (my grandmother is from Sur Yungas). There is a strong /ongoing legacy of queer and brown resistance in Riverside, and I am proud of where i come from. I am cheje, manchado, stained with imperialism and indigeneity at the same time. my consciousness, my voice, come out of the paradox of those two things living together, side-by-side, but never synthesized or assimilated, mixed into one. speaking the truth of this position is a conflict I will be learning to communicate my entire life. I will seek to apply for dual citizenship when I return to La Paz in November, where I will probably live for the foreseeable future.