She grew up in the area with a knack for audio collage, swapping recordings with her cousins in Peru and Argentina, plastic cassettes that they would fill with stories and songs. During her college years in Lima, she started DJing with friends. (Chavez-Fernandez declined to give her age.)
Escobar, 26, gravitated toward Latin alternative music during her years at Florida State University, after a punk rock adolescence in Florida, which followed a Bogota childhood immersed in traditional Colombian song. She moved to Washington after college, seeking nonprofit work, and frequently found herself taking bus trips up to New York to see her favorite acts.
Those dashes up and down the Jersey Turnpike were exhilarating, exhausting and motivating.
“Why is it that I have to go to New York to see Mala Rodriguez or Los Rakas?” Escobar remembers asking herself. “They could be here.”
Maracu-YEAHHH! It’s a play on the word maracuya — Spanish for passion fruit — and whenever Escobar or Chavez-Fernandez has a microphone in hand, it becomes a siren call to the dance floor.
“It really attracts a bunch of awesome, inspiring people,” says Lucy Pacheco, 26, an aspiring Washington singer and a Maracuyeah regular. “People celebrating awesome musical hybridities and styles, almost like a textured, international sound.”
Chavez-Fernandez says that’s the point. Where other DJ nights zero in on one micro-subgenre, Maracuyeah “is never from one people. It’s all mutations of different migrations.”
It’s a mind-set informed by their years as community organizers, years that taught them how to be quick on their feet.
One night in July, when the duo discovered that neo-cumbia group Bomba Estereo and their Colombian heroes, Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, were performing in Washington, Escobar and Chavez-Fernandez scrambled to coordinate an impromptu, after-hours jam at the Velvet Lounge.
Bomba Estereo “were meeting their idols for the first time on U Street!” Chavez-Fernandez marvels.
“Somebody else would have been like, whatever,” Escobar says. “But that’s not us. We hustle it.”
Moments before kicking off their recent Tropicalia gig, they’re hustling it, scrambling to connect a laptop to the club’s mixer, securing loose wires with leopard-print duct tape.
They’ve just changed from cool outfits into cooler outfits. Escobar wears a shiny skirt; Chavez-Fernandez sports a red pageant sash. Computer up and running, they start dishing out ’80s cumbia ballads and remixed reggaeton anthems, playfully squishing them together like different colored globs of Play-Doh.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Explosion Negra takes the stage, and the floor is instantly jammed. The best spots are up front near the stage, in the arms of someone beautiful or toward back where the air-conditioning vents shoot Freon gusts of relief.
At the edge of the stage, the performer-audience demarcation line remains porous — 25-year-old Ingianni Acosta is pulled up for a dance with the band. She has both hands up, one in the air, the other holding her fedora in place.
“These guys blew the roof off the place,” she says afterward. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, Acosta says she’s never seen anything like this during her years in Washington. “This is the first night I’ve ever been to that’s been this full of energy with this much dancing and diversity.”
After the band’s encore, the headlining DJ steps up to the turntables and Chavez-Fernandez snatches the microphone, hyping the crowd through the transition. “Give it up for Explosion Negra!” she shouts. “Give it up for Uproot Andy!”
Then, in a louder voice, “And give it up for yourselves!”
The next Maracuyeah party is at 10 p.m. Friday at Restaurant Judy, 2212 14th St. NW. Admission is free.