WARA's Afro-Latin Fusion Is Dance Music With A Conscience
Interview & Words by: Stephanie Dando
WARA didn’t so much as elbow themselves into the London Afro-latin music scene so much as they kind of pioneered it. Despite this, word of WARA the band is criminally undocumented across the web. In one of the only other features on them you can find, written over half a decade ago, they say that their aim is to reinterpret Latin music for a young UK audience. They do this, and so much more. Starting from their roots as a nine-piece, Cuban-infused musical collective, WARA have always lent their voice to the world’s injustices. Now, their unique take on Afro-latin dance music with a message has its place more than ever.
Three women comprise WARA: Eliane Correa, Juanita Euka, and MC Fedzilla (Federica). But there weren’t always just three. “There used to be nine of us, mostly dudes.” Eliane says to me before the show, foot crossed over knee, eyes flickering around the room. She possesses barely contained energy and drive, as though she’s counting down the seconds until she can be up there on stage (Later, when I ask who writes the songs, Juanita and Federica will point to Eliane and exclaim, “Her! She does everything! She’s our songwriter, demo maker, events manager, producer…” Eliane tells them to shut up).
Their first album, Leave to Remain, was eight tracks of feel-good, Afro-influenced, Cuban-spiced mambo , with multi-lingual lyrics and oscillating themes of home, identity, borders, and London. The record would set a template for the band’s curious infusion of dance music with real world issues. It starts with London. When I ask these three ladies how London has shaped their sound, Congolese-Argentinian Juanita says,
Chilean-German Federica, aka witty wordsmith and MC Fedzilla, continues, “You could make a dubstep tune with your neighbour or you could do a salsa collaboration. I’ve met some amazing drummers and there’s so many amazing musicians from everywhere. There’s so much music in London. The only reason that we haven’t left here since things have gotten nasty [Brexit] is if I wake up on a Monday and decide I wanna go to a reggae jam, I can, or if I wanna go play with a Cuban band or an insane dubstep night I can.” Not even the US is comparable to the vibrant London music scene. “The African music scene [in the US] is dead,” Eliane complains. “I went to an African show in Chicago and even that was so limited.”
But though London presents with inexhaustible variety when it comes to music, with the good also comes the bad. In their first release, all that time ago in 2013, the initial track opens with “Welcome to London. City where the sky is grey and no one has nothing to say. You won’t even get to know your neighbours… where nothing is what it seems.” It is easy to imagine a baby, nine-piece WARA first coming to grips with a city where famously no one smile at you on the street and knife crime is higher than anywhere else in the world. “At the same time,” Federica says, eyes intent on mine as she gestures. “You do have fucking crazy sex trafficking here in London. You have people getting their asses beat by the police to shreds in some back alley. I mean, Canary Wharf is the financial hub of the world and men and women go to work in their fancy fitted suits, but in the same district you’ve got people having two-day orgies.” She laughs. “That is London.”
Their Facebook page categorises WARA as ‘performance art’, and when you watch them up there on stage, it becomes clear why. Together, they have a particular energy that makes it difficult to look away; with Juanita’s smooth, deep singing and MC Fedzilla’s rapping as compelling as a hyponotist’s medallion, the dembow-heavy bass perfectly frames the rhythm of every song while Eli’s keyboard guides the rhythm and emphasises in all the right places. In the distracting glow their music creates, it’s easy to not listen to what’s actually being said. “Run for cover! It’s raining lies on the radio…” as taken from ‘Run For Cover’. “Words flow right when there’s passion in between,” MC Fedzilla raps, “And rules are just tools if you know how to use ‘em. Refuse to produce and consume an illusion.” The group’s dynamism is most clear when considering that they can still make you want to jive even when they’re soliloquising the world’s ills.
When I ask Eliane, the one known as the powerhouse, how she wants people to feel when they listen to WARA, she doesn’t hesitate before answering, “I want them to dance”. Juanita echoes this message.
But WARA hasn’t stopped changing or evolving, and there’s no sign that it will. “Anger allows us to feed into something a lot more specific. For example, when I first joined the band it was Somewhereland that was the sound I could collect with - the fact that you left your friends and your whole life. So I could collect to that song and feel how Eli felt when she wrote that song,” Juanita shares. “But there are songs now that I did connect with that I don’t anymore. It’s important to refine our anger and update our views as we go along.” I ask them what it is that inspires their social activist themes - don’t they just want everybody to dance? Surprisingly, they all laugh. Eliane, before sharing a glance with her band-members, shrugs. “Times are hard.”
You can follow Wara on Instagram @waramusic