Honolulu Star-Bulletin ~ These DJs Take Girl Power on Spin



These DJs take girl power on spin

Sisters In Sound leads boom for turntablists

By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes

June 28, 2002

Sisters in Sound members, from left, are DJ Chia (Monica Chen), DJ Zita (Maritez Apigo), Marloca (Marlo Dowell) and DJ Toki (Cheri Allison).

GUYS YOU know you better watch out …” Manipulating the chorus of Lauryn Hill’s record “Doo Wop (That Thing)” with lightning-quick flicks of her slender wrist, Tina Viernes, a petite 15-year-old from Aiea cut up the island’s most revered turntablists this past April through nimble beat-juggling techniques and a crafty, well-placed diss.

For DJ Anit (her first name spelled backward), who had endured defeats to her fearsome male competitors before, seizing the top prize in the finals of Checkmate, one of Honolulu’s most heated DJ contests, was sweet vindication. “I had to represent for all the girls out there,” she says with a soft giggle. The victory may be a prelude to greater achievements for the Sacred Hearts Academy junior-to-be, who plans to enter the Hawaii regionals of the prestigious Dance Music Community World DJ Championships next month.

The fellas may as well get used to sharing the spotlight as Honolulu experiences a new boom in female DJs. While some spin competitively and others in nightclubs, the number of mixer-manning women at events around town has increased considerably in the past year.

Much credit is due to Sisters In Sound, an all-female DJ collective whose popular once-a-month function, called Isis, has introduced Honolulu nightlifers to local female DJs. As guest performers of the SIS crew, sound collagists like Tala, Sunshine, Anné and Prynces Leya have found an appreciative audience. “We just want to create an environment for females to express their art,” says Sisters In Sound’s Monica Chen, also known as DJ Chia. “We’d like to open the door for more females and give others the motivation to create quality parties.”

Once trained as a concert pianist, Chia took an interest in deejaying while studying in London several years ago. “You’re just bombarded with music there,” she says, adding that the ubiquitous DJ culture in Europe encouraged her to drop competitive piano and pursue mixing as a hobby.

Sisters In Sound’s other homegrown product, Cheri Allison, also known as DJ Toki, moved back to the islands a year ago following a spell in San Francisco, where she attended college. She blames acquaintances there for creating an addiction to record collecting and her boyfriend’s handy turntable set-up for the incentive to take up deejaying. Her expert navigation through frantic drum ‘n’ bass rhythms recently earned her coveted warm-up spots for Mark Farina and Doc Martin here in Honolulu.

Maritez Apigo, or DJ Zita, “didn’t want to live and die in L.A.” and brought her beat-matching skills to Honolulu, as did fellow Californian Marlo Dowell — DJ Marloca — whose interest in spinning began as a college radio DJ in Santa Barbara. The four came together last year in hopes of encouraging other women to come forward and share their talents with the public.

Initially, Sisters In Sound found it difficult to gain respect from certain factions of the DJ community. Female DJs, they say, are scrutinized more than their male counterparts, and SIS’s relevance as a unit came into question. “There are a bunch of people out there that will look down on a group coming together as women,” states Toki. “A lot of people figure ‘Well, if you’re a lady DJ, you shouldn’t have to use your gender to elevate yourself to get to that plane you’re trying to work toward.’ “

“But we’re not exclusive or anti-male,” adds Zita. “We’re just trying to be pro-female because where are the women DJs? Where are the women artists?”

The short answer to that is Auntie Pasto’s on Kapahulu Avenue, on the last Saturday of every month, where the Sisters serve up a refreshingly yin affair by adorning the venue with handpicked flowers, soft lights and aromatherapy candles. As Chia, Zita, Marloca and Toki work the crowd with funky, atmospheric house, hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass platters, SIS associates circle the dance floor, offering patrons tasty sweets and fragrant pink and white plumerias from a small woven basket. It’s an experience made to tantalize all five senses, they say.

“I love the atmosphere,” reveals former Isis guest Prynces Leya, the lone female member of Hawaii’s Nocturnal Sound Krew, current International Turntablist Federation world champions. “People really vibe to the songs you play; that’s a great feeling.”

It’s a passion, says Anit, who while too young to play in nightclubs, still spends a minimum of 10 hours a week perfecting her manual skills for DJ contests. “I just kept practicing until I had it down,” she says. “Even if you don’t succeed at first, just dust yourself off and keep doing it until you get there. Girls shouldn’t be scared to go for it.”

DJ Chia (Monica Chen) takes her turn at Auntie Pasto’s as one of the Sisters In Sound.

Featuring Sisters in Sound with Kemal and special guests
Where: Auntie Pasto’s Kapahulu, 559 Kapahulu Ave.
When: 10 p.m. Saturday, to 2 a.m.
Admission: $8, for 21 and over
Call: 739-2426