From St. John’s, Newfoundland, CUERPOS [bodies] is a DIY experimental project that combines Reggaeton rhythmics and Shoegaze elements. Formed by pals, Francis Dawson [synth/percussion] and Nadia Duman [guitar/bass], they’ve recently put out their first EP called íntimo [intimate] and will be playing their final show at Out of Earshot on August 23rd with Aquakulture and Dregqueen.
Photo by Matt Williams
Inspired by and drawn to this project, I reached out to Nadia [she/her] to have a conversation about her musical history, the formation of CUERPOS, and safer spaces for queer women of colour in music communities.
At age 9, Nadia started to teach herself guitar without any formal lessons. As a kid with many interests and passions, her parents weren’t convinced that she would stick with guitar long-term.
“So, i’ve been playing music since i was like really young, but then once i started grade 8, during the freshman week, i saw this band playing. My school was kind of like glee, honestly, it was really weird. Everyone was in a band and there was like two shows every couple months. Junior high and high school was a really musical experience for me. I remember seeing this all-girl group playing during my first week of grade 8. They were playing Zombie by the Cranberries. I was like “What the hell. This is crazy”. I had never seen that, irl, and i was really inspired by them to become better, not only in my bedroom or in music class, but to like play in a band.“
In 2014, Nadia moved to St. John’s to go to Memorial University and spent the first few years concentrating on her studies and student experience. In 2016, she was introduced to the St. John’s music community through Band-Off, an event put on by Renee Sharpe.
“That summer, my friend’s boyfriend told me about Renee Sharpe and a party she throws where you go and meet a bunch of random people, throw your name in a hat, and form a band. It was called Band-Off. It hasn’t happened in a few years though. Basically you would go to a space, at that time it was at Eastern Edge, and there would be different stations for guitar, one for bass, and one for drums. You would move through each station and they would give you a flash tutorial on how to play each of the instruments. Then, at the end of the event, they would take a hat and draw different names and you would form a band with who your named was called with. That was the first time that I did something band-y here in St. John’s.”
Photo by Adam Hefferman
After Band-Off, Nadia found herself retreating from the music scene again to focus once more on her studies. In 2018, when she graduated from MUN, she committed to getting back into passions, like music, that empowered her.
“Its been a long road. Ive been on and off from the scene, but I’ve always found a lot of help and a lot of welcoming. I was keeping in contact with local musicians here and receiving a lot of help. Like, this is how you should have your pedal board, this is a good pedal to use. It made me really proud and happy to be part of this community.”
Despite having a musical history of punk and hardcore, she was in a place in her life where she was getting fulfillment from the sounds and values of the Reggaeton music that her pal, Francis, was showing her.
“By the time Francis and I were together and were like, “lets sit down and jam and see what’s up”, I was recently back from a trip to Ecuador. I had a great time, I was constantly consuming music, and listening to what they were playing in the clubs. I was in a really comfortable, creative, fluid, space where I was really invited to experiment and see what different sounds I could put out.”
With making music of cultural value at the root of their project, they would draw inspiration from the sounds they grew up listening to. Starting with an idea, or vision, they would collaboratively build songs by making drum parts, then chord progressions on the synth, and then a bass line.
“The tropical sound, the urban sound, are really what makes our band and unites us musically. We wanted our project to celebrate these sounds because there’s a lot of, sort of like, colonial imposition in the mentalities of people in South America where they think their culture is not of value. So, I guess we are saying no to that. We want to celebrate these sounds and make them prominent.”
Photo by Adam Hefferman
Early in their process of making music together, they knew it was going to be a project that made them feel great and wanted a name that would reflect the feeling it gave them. They wanted the name to be fluid, filling any space, without limits, and without alienating any kind of person.
“CUERPOS is a perfect name, just a body, any body, it could be whatever. it goes with dancing and stuff like that and at the end of the day, if you’re dancing, it’s just bodies.”
The process of making their EP, íntimo, was very DIY. It was recorded by themselves in Nadia’s living room and produced and mastered by Francis. They released the EP as an RPM challenge and received a lot of positive feedback from their community in St. John’s.
“What I found was that, if you put out something you care about, other people care about it too. I don’t know, maybe that was a dumb statement, but I feel like people can tell when something is close to your heart. Like, we weren’t just making music for whatever reason, it was something personal and intimate.”
Their first show, during Lawyna Vawyna, was just a few days after Francis returned to St. John’s after a long trip in Europe. Since then, they have filled up their summers by saying yes to every show opportunity. As a queer woman of colour, making music rooted in cultural values, in a city that is predominately white, CUERPOS have been filling in gaps of representation and diversity within the St. John’s music community.
“Honestly like, its kind of hard to navigate certain spaces as a person of colour. You are super aware of ways you behave because I feel like, at times, not that i’m a voice of authority, but I’m a person that people come and ask me my opinion, you can fall into tokenism, or feel like you’re tokenized. I haven’t felt that way in this scene and I appreciate that. That was part of what helped me to put out music so comfortably and being able to share a personal piece of me with people. It was a really beautiful experience.”
On August 23rd, you can hear Nadia speak more to DIY organizing within arts and music communities on a panel facilitated by not your boys club and see CUERPOS live that evening at The Ship.
“We try to engage with the audience, not by talking or bantering, but by making them dance, feel the ambient. It’s nice to have that middle ground of environment and vibes from two people who come from two different schools of thought.
Francis grew as a musician in the DJ scene (electronic stuff) and learned the importance of ambience as a performer by creating an ideal environment for people to dance. In our performances he carries this school of thought, as he suggested to build our set as a DJ set. For example, we start slow and end with the faster stuff (bpm wise), we never stop playing during our performances so we transition into songs using beat deconstruction and by sort of coming back to the basic elements of our songs (ie drums and bass). This is similar to what DJ’s do when they transition from song to song during a set.
From my end, being introduced to musical performance through the punk scene (analogue stuff), I learned the importance of ambience in a different way… more like the energy you play with and how that energy can stick to the crowd. This is reflected by my constant dancing and head banging while performing. I do minimal talk and singing, and while I’m trying to not go full screamo on the mic, my singing style for this project is heavily influenced by my punk background but more leaning towards the cumbia/salsa style of singing.
Our Out of Earshot show is going to be our last show and we are definitely going to put lots of emotions in it.”
Photo by Matt Williams
Contribution by Nik A Basset