by Wayne Michaelson
Like zebra’s stripe pattern, our unique voices reveal our individuality. Just as no two human voices are alike, no two zebras have the same stripe pattern.
Our voices are not limited to the transactional process of disseminating information. Rupa Patel, a speech scientist from Northeastern University, who devoted herself to giving voice to the voiceless, says our voices “reveal our true feelings, our temperament, and our identity.”
First, I thought of diving deeper into the factors that we assess when we analyze people’s identity. I learned that we assess an individual through their social and cultural identities (gender, age, class, nationality, spirituality, personality, etc.) By knowing that, it seemed logical to me to think that, by assessing someone’s identity through their voice we can also reflect on the invisible and inaudible political, spatial, and cultural themes that shaped them.
I wanted to dive deeper into the concept of voice as revelatory to our identities. However, I thought of an article I read that was centered on the historical significance of queer, Latinx, and minority communities that gained power by accessing the voice of the collective. I reread the article, and I decided to further my research on how oppressed voices sometimes have to find power in the collective. When I first read the article “How Many Latinos are in this Motherfucking House?”: DJ Irene, Sonic Interpellations of Dissent and Queer Latinidad in ’90s Los Angeles,” I was focused on understanding the sonic elements that create the soundscape of the Arena Nightclub. This time I aimed to study the archival evidence of the thousands of voices that identified with the collective voice of the Arena, led by DJ Irene.
I utilized the written and filmed records of the voices that once erupted in the Arena- voices of celebration, dancing, expression of retribution, and most importantly, voices that were heard. The article incorporates interviews about people’s sentiments regarding the voice of the collective. I assumed that the collective voice is the voice of a group that could either be a community, a particular racial group, gender, sexuality.
Ironically, I started with focusing on the distinctive characteristics that can be revealed through our voice but ended up focusing on the fact that the experiences that shape our identities are not individualized. I learned that our joint experiences allow for the development of a community that speaks in unity and unison. And, because the desires, hopes, dreams, challenges, frustrations, joys and sadness are the same or at least, similar, the voice of the collective becomes a powerful tool for change.
In the Arena, DJ Irene’s voice became the most recognizable sound. Her voice rallied the crowd, with a rhetorical question that doesn’t just reveal her identity, but also allow other’s to find an identity in it as a collective. In Chaves-Daza’s words “Her nervous, silly laugh–echoed in the laughs of her audience–reaches out to bring me into that space, that time. Her smooth, slow and raspy voice–her vocalic body–touches me as I listen.” She also adds that Irene’s shout outs “allowed queer Latinx dancers to be seen and heard” in an otherwise hostile historical moment of exclusion and demonization outside the walls of the club. The Arena might be at that time the place was underrepresented communities heard themselves be named during the racial, gender, and political tension in Los Angeles during the 90s. In the Arena, the collective speaks and acts on behalf of the individual but the voice of the group is also the voice of the individual and vice-versa.
In my performance piece, I wanted to relieve the notions and sentiments expressed inside the walls of the Arena during a decade of political strife and systematic demonization of the underrepresented communities in my song. I wrote the song Some’s Orange to retell a story of oppressed voices that found power in the united voices of the collective, despite being placed in a rigid system ran by outdated conservative values.