While living in a machista country, these women are taking a stance and climbing ice cold mountains…in their skirts.
An indigenous group of women in Bolivia, known as “Cholitas,” are mostly recognized for their traditional attire, including round hats, large earrings, and colorful skirts. These women are sticking to their indigenous attire while they battle against gender roles of women in Bolivia.
What started off as a group of women who once worked as cooks in the mountains, then turned into a group of women who had a passion for mountain climbing. Leader of the mountain climbing Cholitas, Jimena Lidia Huayales, points out the criticism they’ve received such as, “How could a woman climb a mountain? That’s wrong!” Although mountain climbing is not under the expected criteria of what it means to be a “proper” Bolivian woman, being on top of a mountain is what makes them feel so free – above the world and above every oppressive inequality.
Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.
If you’ve been waiting for the return of Latin pop bands, let me introduce you to Rombai.
Originally formed in 2013, the vivacious cumbia group, known for bringing Gen-Z fun and flair to the classic genre, went through a series of changes in members before breaking out again last year. After an international social media contest to find two new members, Uruguayan band leader Fer Vazquez is now accompanied by Bolivian Megumy “Megu” Bowles and Colombian Valeriana “Vale” Emiliani, and the three have been cooking up poppy bops that blend the ritmos and sabor of their homelands.
“We believe we are totally different from what is in the market,” Megu told FIERCE. “I think we are all very open-minded to new sounds and are not afraid to experiment,” Vale added.
The band’s first single “Me Voy,” a candied, mid-tempo song about leaving a toxic relationship, proves that Megu’s sensual vox and Vale’s honey-sweet hooks are the perfect mix for Fer’s own charming vocals. The hit already has more than 63 million views on YouTube, and international fans, many attending Rombai’s introductory Latin American tour last year, are hungry for more.
We chatted with the ladies of Rombai about what life has been like since joining the rising band last year, what they each bring to the group, the fun and learning that comes with being an international trio and what’s in store for the group this year.
FIERCE: Rombai formed in 2013. But, since then, there have been a lot of changes. You two joined the group most recently. When and how were you both brought into Rombai?
Rombai: We entered Rombai through a casting that was done on Instagram this past 2018. Sony Music and Walter Kolm, the manager of Rombai, did this in order to find the new members of Rombai. Girls from all over the world uploaded covers with the hashtag #Rombai2018. Thank God, we were selected and now we are here fulfilling our dream.
FIERCE: What do you think you bring to Rombai that’s fresh and exciting?
Megu: Much of my culture and flavor, and I hear that I also bring a lot of sensuality.
Vale: Flavor and diversity. Everything about us, even our accents, are totally different.
FIERCE: Absolutely! As you said, what’s great now is that there is a blend of cultures. Vale is Colombian, Megu is Bolivian and Fer is Uruguayan. What do you think this brings to Rombai’s style?
Megu: We believe we are totally different from what is in the market. I am from Bolivia, but I have been in the US for many years. So I love R&B, I love a lot of Anglo music.
Vale: I love our music, Latino genres, tropical sounds, African rhythms, reggae, and if we combine this with all the years of experience Fer has with cumbia, look at the beautiful mix we get.
FIERCE: How do you think these different styles influence Rombai’s cumbia-pop sound?
Megu: I believe that each one of us brings our own flavor, and it’s from our cultures. We are very different, but at the same time, we are very similar. Sometimes, it is amazing to see how different and similar we can be. I am definitely the most “gringa,” but we like that because I bring new music ideas like R&B that they love.
Vale: I grew up listening to a lot of African rhythms, Colombian porro, cumbia. I think we are all very open-minded to new sounds and are not afraid to experiment.
FIERCE: What’s cool about being in a group, especially one with men and women, is that you can share different perspectives in one song. We see this in one of your first singles together “Me Voy.” How do you ensure everyone’s voices and perspectives are included in a way that still flows musically when you’re songwriting?
Rombai: It is a double-edged sword. Whenever we write, we think of the three. It is good to have three people, but sometimes it is also difficult. The good thing is that we know our voices, so we know what parts are left to each one before we enter the studio to record. Above all, communication is important. In Rombai, you can not miss that.
FIERCE: In the chorus for “Me Voy,” which you both sing, you say, “Me voy acostumbrando a estar sola / Así estoy mejor, así estoy mejor.” What are some things you are able to do alone that you might not be able to do when you are in a relationship?
Megu: It’s a big difference to be in a relationship versus being single. It also depends on the person you are with. For example, now that we are traveling a lot, it is very difficult to have a relationship. I wouldn’t be able to hang out and party with friends, and I do not like having to give explanations. Right now, I’m happy single.
Vale: When you are single, you can do many more things without giving explanations. But I really think that the song speaks of a toxic relationship, one that’s not well, one where both partners are tired of hurting each other and prefer to be alone.
FIERCE: Totally! And it’s important to make that distinction. You all just had your first promotion tour in Latin America, going to Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. What was that like?
Megu: Honestly, it was incredible. I returned to my country after seven years of not having stepped foot on my land, and I returned fulfilling my dream. I am very proud of myself. It was so great to learn different cultures. There were times that I couldn’t even believe it.
Vale: For me, it was very exciting. I did not know any of these countries, yet I could feel the love of all the fans that were already part of Rombai years ago. Just the fact that I’m working in the music industry and traveling and meeting so many people, I am really fulfilling my dream.
FIERCE: I know you all were working on a lot of music last year. What can you tell us is in store for Rombai in 2019?
Megu: UFF! Truthfully, there’s a lot of celebration and joy to come. We want to incorporate new sounds, but, above all, have fun, that’ll always be a part of Rombai.
Vale: It’s important for us to never lose our essence, what makes us different, and continue to cover new countries. We continue to search every day for new sounds for all our fans.
FIERCE: You are both so young, at the start of your careers, what do you hope people can say about Rombai in about 10 to 15 years?
Megu: What I would like you to say about Rombai is, “Wow, Rombai broke it! What young fighters, who worked so hard to bring their music to different countries.” Also, “what beautiful women and what a sexy man!” Haha!
Vale: That they’re a band that made a difference, left a nice message and brought cumbia to international recognition! There’s still a lot left to do.
An Ohio legislative aide is alleging that three state representatives made racist and sexist remarks to her and her colleagues.
On Sunday, Marisa Reyes, a former aide to Republican lawmaker Scott Wiggam, wrote an open letter to Democratic Rep. Kristen Boggs about her one-time boss’s purported behavior.
According to Reyes, who appears to be Columbus-rooted and Mexican American based on her Twitter profile, Wiggam referred to women as irrational.
“During my time as a staffer in this office, I had to endure months of unacceptable treatment and was forced to listen to the Representative’s opinions that painted myself, my family and other Hispanics in a demeaning light,” Reyes wrote in the letter. “When I respectfully disagreed with the Representative about an issue, I was told that ‘women do not think logically, they think with their hearts, not with their brains.’”
The representative allegedly also made comments about her ethnic background, purportedly calling Reyes “the good type of Mexican” after sharing with him her parents’ immigration story.
According to Reyes’ letter, he’s not the only male lawmaker who has slighted female employees. At a office holiday party, Reyes says Rep. Wes Retherford threatened women staffers and made sexually suggestive remarks.
“He caused a scene by screaming and threatening myself and other female house aides not to discuss events from that night and remarked to me at a different point that he would ‘prefer to see me with my dress off,’” said Reyes.
Reyes posted the open letter on Twitter a day before the House voted on its next speaker. She hoped it would urge Democrats like Boggs to not support Rep. Larry Householder, who the men she claims made the racist and sexist remarks had backed.
“I have suffered degrading comments and harassment by the very people that the Democratic caucus may choose to empower on January 7th, 2019,” she wrote. “I urge you not [to] support a leadership team that promises to solve problems that they themselves are perpetuating.”
Householder, who wasn’t accused of any misconduct by Reyes, was re-elected Ohio House speaker on Monday.
Wiggam has denied the allegations made against him, telling Newsweek in a statement that Reyes’ accusations were politically motivated.
“Although the former leadership team may have known about these allegations, yesterday’s letter was the first time this was brought to my attention. The allegations made against me are absolutely false,” the statement read. “I believe that the allegations were politically motivated and coordinated by the outgoing leadership team. I am seeking House legal counsel and I call for a full investigation to clear my name.”
Reports from Latinas challenging powerful leaders in the workplace have become more prominent. Recently, an undocumented housekeeper at President Trump’s New Jersey golf club spoke out against mistreatment by management and hurt over the big boss’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies in the White House.