When Monica Campana, Margarita Rios and Randall Ruiz dove into dialogue about the state of Atlanta’s Latinx creative community, they had no idea they were about to create something new. Between Campana, executive director of Living Walls and current curator at WishATL’s The Gallery; Rios, a Terminal West manager and creative director of the Ni Aquí Ni Allá art collective; and Ruiz, a.k.a. DJ Florista, each were already individually and overwhelmingly active.
But Campana has always linked artists in hopes of a more comprehensive and inclusive creative sphere. A native of Peru, her mission extends to arranging more opportunities for people of common heritage to connect. Atlanta nightlife needed space for the Latinx community to move and mingle, and that’s precisely where she began. “Randall and I met in 2015, which led to founding La Choloteca,” she says of the roving nightclub event that initiated the collaboration. “The project only further propelled us to want to continue creating spaces of celebration and healing for the Latinx community. There needed to be more.”
After jump-starting La Choloteca’s first dance nights at Star Bar, the scope of possibility expanded when Ruiz, Choloteca’s resident DJ, introduced his childhood friend Rios to Campana during 2017’s Living Walls mural project on Buford Highway. And the acquaintance sparked a vision that is now flourishing: a booking and promotions company called OYE that has been expanding the Latinx presence in Atlanta’s nightlife since the organization’s founding in November 2017.
The group’s passion for creating events goes beyond a strong love of music and a bit of booking finesse. The events provide a safe space for communities that are not often seen or heard in the mainstream media, or even in local Atlanta nightlife. “OYE wants to play a role in the equation for change, focusing specifically on the Latinx community, but remaining welcoming to everyone,” Rios explains. “Our goal is to create events that feel inclusive and safe for everyone while celebrating the beauty of diversity.” As the company mission statement has it: “Connecting arts to social awareness, we honor the history and culture that is shaping the creative, visionary, and resilient identity of the Latinx community today.”
All three organizers say they’ve recognized the need for supportive spaces since a young age. Rios and Ruiz grew up in Gwinnett, previously one of the whitest counties in Georgia, which has seen enormous growth in its Latino and Asian communities in recent decades. However, spaces for the community to gather, especially for teenagers in the early 2000s, have long been sorely lacking.
“Thousands of young Latinx kids were stuck in an area that felt like the boondocks, searching for a place to hangout, a place that felt familiar,” Ruiz says. “Many parties started popping up that allowed people our age at the time — 15, 16, 17 – to enjoy and create these cool spaces. We created this community of kids who were becoming DJs, graphic designers, artists, photographers, literally making something out of nothing.”
OYE’s discerning eye for talent was made evident in 2017 showcases with DJ Riobamba at Space 2 and Combo Chimbita at Basement. In December, OYE promoted its first large-scale music event at Terminal West: Hosted by Zero Mile, queercore emo-punk band Bitter alongside La Choloteca’s DJ Esme were local openers to the bright-eyed Cuco, a West Coast bedroom pop artist just shy of 20 years old.
And on March 2, OYE supported CobraCorps and Atlanta underground DJ collective Morph to host Barcelona-based rapper Bad Gyal at Aisle 5. Bad Gyal’s energetic, dreamy dancehall performance was supported by Asmara and Morph’s own JSport, a lineup that stood out brightly against the weekend’s standard offerings of white indie rock performers at so many other Atlanta venues.
Coming up, OYE will promote Zero Mile’s presentation of legendary Los Angeles six-piece Ozomatli at Variety Playhouse on March 17. Since the mid-90s, Ozomatli has mixed feel-good ska and rap with salsa and Bachata, speaking openly about social justice issues and inspiring the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine.
OYE continues to push for more Latinx presence in the Atlanta music scene, creating space for healing and resistance. OYE’s showcases have so far found no shortage of support from audiences, or from local and touring music acts. If there is an unspoken glue holding together OYE’s events, it is a fusion of community and celebration that has met with unfaltering and jubilant communion.