Tampa artist Whirlynn releases ‘Yákakeitiwa,’ a synth-pop album about decolonization

Vanessa Garcia-Cuevas’ reconnection with her Indigenous Arawak-Taíno heritage, and subsequent journey to decolonize herself, is on full display.

click to enlarge Visual art created by Cuevas. - Vanessa Garcia-Cuevas
Vanessa Garcia-Cuevas
Visual art created by Cuevas.

As the first track on Whirlynn’s Yákakeitiwa begins, a decolonial dream unfolds.

A haunting synth progression plays, luring the listener into the world of Whirlynn. Her singing rises above the music, professing words of doubt and painful reflection. A bass heavy drumbeat takes over, and the emotion in her voice is heightened.

“We have to learn who we are, to treat each other right,” she sings. “We have to learn who we are, I was wrong.”

Yákakeitiwa expresses the artist behind Whirlynn, Vanessa Garcia-Cuevas’ reconnection with her Indigenous Arawak-Taíno heritage, and subsequent journey to decolonize herself. The Taíno were victims of a “paper genocide,” according to NatGeo, which means that European colonizers not only killed the Taíno in mass, but also tried to erase their existence from history. The album title means “We are still here” in an Arawak dialect of the Eyeri language.

Anti-colonial themes weave through the lo-fi synth-pop music. During the track, “Me gustaria saber la verdad,” the eerie lounge room vibe of the music is cut through with the words, “Stop it with the mind manipulation. I want to know the truth. Tell me who you are, colonizer.” She is sternly demanding these lines, more than singing them.

Beyond the exploration of her Indigenous ancestry, Garcia-Cuevas uses music as therapy. The generational trauma and abusive situations she’s experienced—along with living with a chronic health condition—all weigh on her spirit and need to be released.

“When I play music I feel free, and I’m releasing a lot of that trauma. It’s a way for me to let it go,” she told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

On the track “You don’t have to,” an intense aural catharsis is displayed. Taking a  diversion from the rest of the album, the track is powered by a barreling punk D-beat and frantic arpeggiated bass line. A noisy soaring synth takes the mind into outer space, while lyrics expressing reproach dance above the musical melee. 

She had help in creating such a powerful release. Ramiro Saucedo provided samples to the tracks, and Jasmine Deja handled the mixing and mastering. They are both of Indigenous ancestry as well. 

It’s Whirlynn’s first official release with this project, but she has been playing music since she was young, because her father, a Latin jazz percussionist, exposed her to music early on. She has been involved in various other acts throughout the years, and has put out multiple unofficial releases under the Whirlynn moniker. Through the lauded underground label Popnihil, she has found a home for her distinctive sound and message. The cassette tape version of Yákakeitiwa is available through the Orlando based label’s Bandcamp. It marks Popnihil’s 137th release.

Whirlynn doesn’t stop at just making music, she promotes others through her hour-long radio show called “Florida Showers,” streamed on Nett Nett Radio based out of Mexico, which airs every Tuesday at 10 p.m. As well, she curates visual art, especially in the form of educational material for Florida Indigenous Rights And Environmental Equality, an activist group that fights for Native and environmental justice.

Through her art, Garcia-Cuevas expresses struggle, fear, hope and brightness. Despite everything that her people had to endure, they are still here, in her music and her voice: Yákakeitiwa.

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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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