When the DJs of Chulita Vinyl Club perform, it’s personal. The music they play for their audience comes from a vinyl collection they’ve been building for years, comprised of albums they might have inherited or records they play daily in their rooms.
“The songs literally come from our personal collections,” founder Claudia Saenz said. “We might have listened to a record the night before in the living room or at a party with friends.”
Saenz founded the all-girl vinyl club in Oct. 2014, as a space for women of color to bond and share their passion for vinyl and mixing.
“We promote women empowerment and togetherness — we stand together and bring the community of vinyl-loving girls together,” Saenz said.
Before founding Chulita, Saenz said she never saw many female DJs in her community. While the first chapter originated in Austin, the club expanded to cities across Texas and California. But, no matter where they are, Saenz said the girls are all “Chulitas.”
“In Spanish, it’s a term of endearment that I think we all grew up hearing,” Saenz said. “It’s like when you’re a little girl wearing a nice dress and your grandma comes up and calls you chula. It’s cute and adorable, but now, as women, we use it as a sense of pride and confidence. We can call ourselves chulas and chulitas to show a sense of self love for ourselves as women.”
By now, the girls are something of a sisterhood. Across each state, the “Chulitas” go to each other for advice, to share music and to learn more about mixing and spinning. For San Antonio member Isabel Castro, the club is where she first learned how to be a DJ.
Castro had been collecting vinyl for years, but felt nervous about DJing because she said she felt the scene was dominated by men. Eventually, she met Saenz, who introduced her to Chulita members who could show her the ropes.
“[The vinyl club] really felt like a safe space,” Castro said. “I used to bring my records to Bring Your Own Vinyl nights and have other people spin them for me, but now I do it myself. It’s really empowering and exciting once you get it. “
When she heads to a gig Castro packs her records into an old Shiner beer case, then grabs a handful of albums given to her by her father.
After she joined the DJ collective last February, she approached her father, hoping to get a few more records to bring to her first performance. Recently given a terminal diagnosis, he instead offered Castro all of his records.
Together, crowded around his hospice bed, she listened as he taught her about each album’s songwriters and producers. He sang and brought to life the music he first purchased in catalogues after immigrating to the U.S.
When she goes out and performs Castro shares those albums with her audience, mixing them with her own punk rock records.
“Going through the records with him and having him tell me so much I didn’t know made it that much more special,” Castro said. “So getting to play that music for my friends and strangers is a really amazing experience.”
Castro said one of the best things about being a Chulita is the fact that she now has a group of friends to share a love of music with.
“Before [collecting vinyl] was a very solitary thing,” Castro said. “With Claudia or another Chulita, we’ll buy each other records or listen to each other’s collections. I used to get so excited about records but have no one to share that with. Now there is.”