Aaah, Rita Indiana. I feel weird explaining what’s up to people since the easiest thing would simply be to wait — soon enough she’ll be as well-known in the US as she is across the Dominican Republic. But here we go-
Rita’s a former model who first enjoyed fame as a writer. Her two novels, La Estrategia de Chochueca and Papi, enjoy cult status among fans of contemporary Caribbean lit. Her innovative writing straddled pop and street, leading to her current stint as screenwriter for Grammy-winning reggaeton group Calle 13’s upcoming movie. But she’s spent the last year taking over her hometown of Santo Domingo via a musical project, Rita Indiana y los Misterios. With effortless swagger, Rita has achieved the holy grail: cutting edge musical & lyrical innovations that draw on local roots and enjoy populist success (read: capacity crowds at 1000 person venues).
[Rita Indiana y (algunos de) Los Misterios]
Rita’s powerful sound â€“ which includes choreographed stage dancers, daring outfits, and a 5-person band â€“ creates a space where old school merengue fans, new-school mambo thugs, hiphop kids, rockers, and fashionistas can all party together. She’s performed live on Caribbean and Miami TV stations over a dozen times in as many months. Rita’s low, powerful voice captivates listeners on timbre & flow alone, and her incisive, sexy lyrics display some of the smartest songwriting around. Sounds like hyperbole but isn’t!!!!
She sings in slang-filled, proudly Dominican dialect, refering to herself as ‘la montra’ (the monster). Rita Indiana was nominated for a 2010 Cassandra Award (the DR’s Grammy equivalent) as ‘Best New Act’ and performed at the star-studded televised ceremony. (read: Omega!)
We’d been in touch since the days of her Miti Miti project, vibing on a shared love of contemporary sounds shot thru with roots and existing on a similar platform-agnostic multimedia storm tip. I have to say, it’s been an incredible process, from receiving practice-room demo recordings of her nascent project to watching Rita transform into a major cultural force.
And despite TV and youtube portraying Rita Indiana as recently coming out, she’s never been in the closet. As one blogger explains: “It really turns what has been the mantra in Latino music marketing totally upside down – with promoters, producers and managers telling gay performers to keep it on the down low – and it’s totally refreshing… people don’t really know what to make of Rita Indiana but they certainly love the music and, at least for now, she is being able to play her looks, her sexuality, her music and her openness to full advantage in a country not necessarily known for being that open.”
A few months ago Rita + I labbed up for an intense week in my Brooklyn studio, enlisting the help of producer Matt Shadetek and Domincan percussionist Ivory NuÃ±ez, writing new material and producing multitrack recordings of Rita with her band.
The monster tune from the single translates to ‘The Devil’s Takin Us Away’ & is streaming over at Club Fonograma, who say:
â€œNo Ta Llevando El Diabloâ€ has been a favorite on all her live shows, a tune so bold and out-of-this-world, that it really seems like a trip to hell. This is how we like our Rita Indiana, with those powerful upbeat songs that only she can do. The press release notes the song â€œclocks in at a breakneck 185 beats-per-minute.â€ Just like in “El Blu del Ping Pong”, Rita’s story-telling qualities are starting to be identifiable, complex songs in the rush of the moment, and you got to love her shameless pop culture shout outs, this time singing a bit of Yuri’s “El Apagon.”
Last but not least: A couple months ago Geko Jones texted me from Bogota, Colombia. He was at a club or bar and the DJ put on a Rita track, Jardinera. The crowd started singing along… they knew the words! The words are awesome. Like all her songs, once you hear it you listen again. And again. And soon enough, the words live in your head, too. Here’s some footage from a hometown performance of Jardinera (everybody’s singing along here, too):
MORAL OF THE STORY: fearless is beautiful.