CumbiaSazo: Chicago's tropical bass party to heat up Bedlam

CumbiaSazo, from left: DJ Itzi Nallah, Tifflove, VJ caliXta

CumbiaSazo, from left: DJ Itzi Nallah, Tifflove, VJ caliXta

CumbiaSazo run the biggest cumbia and tropical bass party in Chicago, possibly even the U.S. Yet since their humble beginnings in 2011, they’ve remained rock-solid in their party’s intentions: To be an inclusive, DIY space that centers people of color and provides a way to build community by way of the dance floor.

“In general, it’s sort of like an ecosystem of artists and musicians and small business owners,” says MC/dancer and CumbiaSazo co-founder Tiffany “Tifflove” Hinton. She, along with DJ Itzi Nallah (aka David Itzi Nallah) and VJ caliXta (aka Isabel Buchanan-Arellano), makeup CumbaSazo’s core crew.

Hinton explains via Skype that, “It’s not just a party. It’s a whole entity.” And that entity includes not just their robust monthly DJ line-ups and tripped-out video projections, but also giant stage installations that they make with their own bare hands. Local artists and vendors set up shop as well, contributing everything from live painting to fashion to food.

While their Chi-Town party regularly draws 700-800 people every month, CumbiaSazo will bring a distilled version of that to the Twin Cities on Friday at the Bedlam Lowertown. It’ll also be the kick-off to their first-ever national tour. On Friday, they’ll partner with local DJs Demex, Rudedawg, and Radio Pocho’s Miguel Vargas, as well as artists who will be a part of the nighttime arts market.

“We just want to build, and we just want to connect with people, which is why this is the Connection Tour,” Tifflove says. “[We’re] ready to dance and bring that dancefloor healing to all these cities.”

Musically, CumbiaSazo focus on the Latin American diaspora and global digital underground.

Live painting at CumbiaSazo at the Double Door in Chicago.

Live painting at CumbiaSazo at the Double Door in Chicago.

“CumbiaSazo's music holds cumbia in all its forms (new and old) as a backbone rhythm of the party, with ‘tropical’ and ‘global bass’ music incorporated as our exploration into new sounds and cultures,” Itzi Nallah writes via email. “Far off the beaten path of larger Latin@ music scenes, there are individuals, bands, and communities exploring new combinations of traditional music mixed with their own local flavors, and so connected together, these individuals form a worldwide community of people finding common ground in music.”

Over the years, they’ve invited artists the likes of Mexican dj/producer Javier Estrada, Argentine “tropi-punk” rockers Kumbia Queers, and members of NYC’s whip-smart Dutty Artz collective, to name a few.

As the primary musical curator of the group, Itzi also stresses the importance of collaborating not just with international artists but with local artists as well, “especially those who aren't usually featured within the greater music scene — [email protected], people of color, women, queer, and younger DJs.”

The individual members of the CumbiaSazo collective come from diverse cultural backgrounds — Filipino, Mexican, African-American, among others. Which may contribute to the fact that they’re constantly thinking about ways to create culture on their own terms.

“We have a lot of conversations and we talk a lot about what we want the party to feel like, what we want people to experience, what we want people to see. What kind of autonomy do we want to have in the party?” Hinton says.

And while they don’t say as much, CumbiaSazo are actually pretty punk in that way, making good on ideals of independence, DIY community, and inclusivity. In a time when presenters like Red Bull Music Academy or even Boiler Room frequently approach artists for partnerships, and as the Diplos of the world continue to co-opt the music of historically marginalized people, CumbiaSazo have leaned away from those structures. Not unlike some other tropical bass parties in sister cities, the self-sustainability of the space they’ve created means more to them than a potentially elevated platform or the exchange of "cool points" with certain sponsors.

“For me, it’s very important to have really good energy and vibes and making the space a safe one for all people, especially myself,” Hinton emphasizes. “I want to be able to walk into a club-like environment and be able to dance freely and do what I do without feeling like people are just watching me or feeling uncomfortable or like someone’s just going to come up from behind me and start grinding. It’s like, these are things as a woman or a person who loves to dance — these are things that I’ve had to deal with. So creating a space where it’s not spoken, but it’s very understood that it’s just not that kind of place.” (See: music critic Jessica Hopper’s recent/ongoing timeline concerning misogyny in the music industry.)

As CumbiaSazo embark upon their month-long tour, they plan on sharing that same sense of community and freedom in cities throughout the Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast.

“Some places might be really small, but we’re going to bring the energy and the love and the intention that we bring to our other party," Hinton says. "it’s the intangible that’s consistent.”


When: 10 p.m. Friday.

Where: The Bedlam Lowertown

Tickets: $5-$10; more info here.