LADAMA ©KevinBay
LADAMA ©KevinBay

LADAMA: A Latin odyssey with lots of rhythm

We spoke to the members of LADAMA, a group that promotes the empowerment of women and promises to conquer the US.


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(Instructions to read this article: open your favorite music search engine and look for LADAMA - Porro Maracatu. Take 3 minutes of your time to close your eyes and let yourself go)

Whether you’re American, Latino, Hispanic, Japanese or Arabic, this rhythm will take you to another dimension.

Those of us who come from Latin America can identify a vibration that starts in the heart, projects in the back and makes the hips move. But the best of all is that you don’t have to be Latino for the body to lose autonomy and start moving without your permission.

Four voices, indeterminate percussions for the least savvy and divine harmonies, describe this fantastic musical group called LADAMA.

Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, María Fernanda González (Mafer Bandola) and Sara Lucas (La-Da-Ma) met thanks to these coincidences that make life worthwhile. Originally from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States, these four girls had the opportunity to participate in an artistic residency sponsored by the United States Department - together with the Found Sound Nation program - called One Beat.

With broad smiles and the grateful disposition of the Latin American who’s aware of his luck, Daniela and Mafer tell me that the residence had 25 musicians from all over the world who had applied online with their artistic skills, answering a series of questions created to identify their relationship with the community.

"The residence is designed to recognize music as a tool for social transformation and connection between different cultures as if it were a language and a means of diplomacy," they explain.

The residence had a duration of one month: the first two weeks were dedicated to the “creative reconnaissance” - sessions of composition and interaction - and the last two weeks consisted of a tour where the songs that had been composed in collaboration were presented. At the same time, they worked in training workshops in different universities, schools, and communities.

"We created different spaces to generate an impact as musicians," says Mafer. "That gave us several lights and tools that would then serve to form LADAMA."

One thing is clear: there was a "click" between Lara, Daniela, and Mafer and they realized immediately that they shared a background as Latinas, which is often reflected as playfulness.

A double challenge

Sharing the trait of being Latina in a different space helped to recognize themselves not only as talented musicians but also as women. "We realized that we had several things in common, especially talking about our circumstance as women in each of our countries of origin," the girls say.

With the maturity of years of dedication to such disciplined art as music, these girls already had recognition as composers, educators, and performers. The rehearsals in One Beat only polished those qualities and allowed them to understand each other in a double sense: as musicians and as Latin American women.

After the residency in 2014, each returned to their country, but the project didn’t die there. They maintained contact through Skype, collaborating on the prototypes of compositions that had arisen in the residence and, once aware of their potential, they decided to participate in the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) - a funding program also sponsored by the Department of State - to which they could access since they were exchange students in the One Beat program. They only had to choose one more person to join the project. That's when Sara Lucas joined LADAMA.

After passing the preliminary stage, they won a prize of $ 25,000 for an artistic project - something unprecedented in the history of AEIF - which was entitled "Building Better Futures Through Music", in the category of "Empowerment of Women in the world".

"There were many projects that empowered women, but the only one that was linked to the arts was ours," explains Mafe. "The Culture Section of AEUF wrote us an email congratulating us because, in the seven years since the foundation of the fund, we were the first to win in the area of culture."

That was another of the advantages that the group had in the One Beat program: besides being musicians, composers, and educators, they were mediators and managers. "Almost everyone had that experience of creating spaces for our music in our countries because our musical genre is part of a specific sound that our society still doesn’t give the attention it deserves", explains Daniela.

For her part, Daniela came to One Beat as a percussionist and composer. In addition, she had established herself as a researcher in traditional Colombian Caribbean music (Latin percussion) at the District University of Bogotá. Her career adds up to 13 years traveling and participating in festivals of the Colombian coast (Festival del Porro, Cumbia Festival, Festival de Gaitas). That’s precisely her strength: the percussion of the Colombian Caribbean and the work with women.

"Being a woman and playing the drum is not a very common role" - Daniela

Mafer is a student of Social Communication at the University of Yacambú, in Venezuela, and learned to play folkloric instruments through traditional training. "That is to say, my education comes from the oral tradition, far from the academic training linked to concepts such as harmony, theory, and solfège". At the same time, to learn more about her instrument (Bandola Llanera Venezolana), she resorted to field research.

"To learn the repertoire of the Bandola I had to move towards those who knew how to play each song" - Mafer

That is why, according to Mafer, it is "very difficult to promote the execution of this instrument in my country". She has a trajectory of 19 years playing the Bandola - she started at age 8 - and her main focus has been the exploration of sounds to exploit the versatility of the instrument in other musical genres.

She has been invited to participate in musical collaborations where the Bandola has been playing a more central role. Her cultural proposal is based on transferring the instrument outside of its inherent circumstances and achieving communication with other genres. At the same time, she has used music as a resource to close some gaps anchored in social reality.

"When I realized that women were not the ones who played the instruments but were the ones who had to sing or dance, I identified why I was disqualified as a musician" - Mafer.

"You will never sound like a man sounds," they said. She took it as a challenge. "That's what made me a feminist when I was 12 years old," explains Mafer.

In fact, the fusion between music and social impact was what led these girls to look for new horizons, above the Caribbean.

Sara, meanwhile, is American, born in Saint Louis, graduated from the conservatory as a classical guitarist. Despite not being trained as a singer, she lived the musical tradition that surrounds the Mississippi River closely, being strongly influenced by the blues, jazz, and soul. As a white woman of Italian descent, her contact with Afro music has determined a large part of her musical career.

Finally, Lara studied music and guitar in Brazil, focusing on the research of traditional music in her country. Over time she specialized in percussion and finally, she dedicated herself to music therapy. She is currently working on a project to teach children with Down Syndrome through a program based on the interpretation and dance of Maracatú ( a traditional musical genre of Brazil).

A Feminist vocation

Four women breaking schemes in the music industry is not something new. But when they come from Latin America and work in traditional music… It's an odyssey.

Focused on their creative process and the importance of folklore in their countries, most of the girls are not sure that this is a feminist feat per se.

According to Daniela, it is a gradual process. Recognizing other characteristics in the social mirror was part of the challenge. For her, the fact of being white and not having "coastal" features but dedicating herself to a genre and an instrument so rooted in an idiosyncratic format, was like a self-discovery process.

"In One Beat I realized that they chose me because I'm a woman playing the drum, and that's relevant," she says.

That was the turning point in which the girls recognized that their mission was no longer exclusively the dissemination of a musical genre, but also redefining the role of women and being managers in their empowerment.

Despite not being aware of having being feminists from the beginning, the four recognize that their work as a professional, as a woman, as a musician and especially as Latinas, has always been marked by the struggle for gender equality; a battle to create spaces under equal conditions.

For the members of LADAMA, the feminist debate is complex, since its conceptualization depends on the region and the idiosyncrasy of each country.

"Finally, what happens is that one is afraid of being a feminist. Because you come from a country where people are going to question your position," says Daniela.

Their golden breakthrough during the experience in the United States went far beyond questioning and intransigence: they all understood that "there is a step after complaining, and it is taking action".

And the best way to act is through example.

The girls remember how important it is to show a new image of Latin American women, far from the stereotypes inculcated in childhood, and with a wider horizon. Through their workshops, they show the girls that not only the physical and the Creole features are of incomparable beauty, but also you can have a professional career in the arts, be a musician and travel the world.

Through workshops in Barquisimeto (Venezuela), in the favelas in Brazil, in a small town on the Colombian coast and in immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn, LADAMA discovered that the claim begins by getting the ball rolling.

Their activities consisted of bringing young people and children closer to music through the first instrument: their bodies. "The idea is that they learn to make sounds and to compose with what they have at hand".

The girls say that more than one person has approached them to tell them that there is "a before and an after" of having known LADAMA.

The future is female (and Latino)

After reuniting in the United States and starting their record project, the doors just opened one after another for the members of this group.

Currently, LADAMA has a record label; a promoter; a record fresh from the oven, and a fan base that grows every day.

"When you start a band, you always dream of the album, on the label, but we never thought it would happen so fast," says Daniela.

Paradoxically, the girls attribute their success to having started with the US market. "We are representing a Latin sound in a country where the political situation is excluding Latinos; championing the fact that this country is built by Latinos, by immigrants. Our music is a message that this is real."


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