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caliXta: Molding her career as a VJ/DJ
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-06-24

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Isabel Buchanan Arellano transforms into caliXta, a dual VJ and DJ—it's a job she created because "I didn't see [the dual role] happening in Chicago," she said.

Her first venture was as a DJ, which she ended up learning out of necessity when she and some friends were interested in similar music, mostly from Latin America, but would lament that they weren't hearing those sounds at bars, clubs or shows.

Several months after she started working as a DJ, a friend and fellow DJ wanted to do visuals for a show he was working. He asked if she would help and she agreed "because I thought it would be interesting to learn," she said. Two days before the gig, he showed her how to use a VJ program, which basically allows you to do live visual/film editing. After their 20-minute lesson, "I jumped right in doing some visuals for his gig that weekend," she said. "It was very experimental for me since I was basically exploring what he had briefly showed me, but I thought my visuals came out great considering everything.

"I really enjoyed doing visuals for the party that night and saw the potential for bridging space through music and visuals, so I continued to learn, mostly through self-guided learning."

caliXta, 26, who lives in LaVillita and is "dating a wonderful woman," admitted that she was "very nervous" before her first gig as a VDJ. "I wasn't sure if people would like the music I played since it was going to be pretty new for almost everyone," she said.

caliXta was VJing at the 2015 South by Southwest ( SXSW ), an annual film, interactive, and music festival and conference held in March in Austin, Texas.

"A friend, fellow DJ and one of my original inspirations for scene-building through music, DJ rat from the Maracuyeah DJ collective in Washington DC, asked me to be her VJ. I was really honored and excited to work with her again, and SXSW is a highlight for a lot of artistic careers," caliXta said. "We played the Sol Life label launch party and official SXSW showcase, organized by Sol Collective."

One of caliXta's crews is the CumbiaSazo! crew, which organizes the monthly CumbiaSazo! party at Double Door in Wicker Park. "I've been working on doing more hand-made stage decor and decorations for the party, which has been really fun and an exciting venture," she said. "I like thinking of new ideas and themes that I can work with to incorporate hand-made art and projected visuals with the music.

"In general, I take all the gigs and moments of my career as highlights. Every experience is special and is something I can learn from. Even if a night or an event doesn't turn out how I imagined, I [still will] reflect and learn from it."

Some of her favorite career moments have been VJing for Los Macuanos and Maria y José ( two separate events ), who are two of her favorite artists. "VJing for them has really brought it home for me that the work I'm doing, along with other Chicago DJs, artists and friends, is creating a space in Chicago and bringing artists that may not have come before to our city," she said. "The Los Macuanos show was organized by the Festival de Musical Electronica Latina ( Festival of Latin Electronic Music ), and Maria y José was the headliner for a CumbiaSazo! party."

When asked why she does what she does, caliXta replied, "For myself and the people I've collaborated most deeply with, my and our work has been about more than just being able to listen to or see certain artists/music in Chicago—it's a movement to bridge the beautiful, often revolutionary and political messages, of different artists to our home, and to re-shape the boundaries of what Latinx music is or can be, especially when it is so often pigeon-holed into very traditional sounds, artists, songs and genres. [Note: "Latinx" queers the Spanish grammatical Latino ( universal or male ) and Latina ( female ) adjectives by replacing gendering ( o/a endings ) with the unknown "x."]

"Latino culture tends to be stereotyped in dominant society, so I think it is important to show that we change, develop, grow, fuse, expand and innovate beyond tradition. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with traditional Latinx music, artists, songs or genres, and I love that music very much and it constantly influences me. The point is that it's not the only music out there from Latin America or Latinxs, but that there's a very active, growing and innovative Latinx music scene happening that is bringing together past and future sounds."

caliXta said one of her career goals is to VJ/do visuals for Javiera Mena, another favorite artist of hers, and also book an overseas gig, preferably in Tokyo or Seoul. "I'd like to get into making custom visual graphics for clients, produce my own music tracks, and also toy with the idea of making music videos," she said.

"I love creating. I've always been someone who has a million ideas and images in her head and now I feel like I have an outlet for them."

caliXta said that the events she does usually have a heavy queer contingent. "I think that's because myself and others work very hard to make parties, in particular, a safe space for everyone and also because a lot of my friends and their friends go," she said.

The CumbiaSazo! party is held every fourth Saturday at Double Door.


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