By Milo Fitzgerald Contributing Writer
Every Monday from 6pm to 8pm, Ale Zarco takes to the small, dark DJ booth across from the Dining Hall armed with an array of nearly unknown music genres and history lessons for cultural context, she challenges listeners to step out of their comfort zone through her radio show What!?
“What!? is supposed to be a place where you hear things that challenge your ears a little bit,” Zarco said. They make an effort to share music that won’t be played on any other radio station. However, like most people, Zarco has their standards. “I do a lot,” Zarco said, “But I don’t do classic, and I don’t do white country music.”
Zarco instead shares black country artists, who are “more representative of the beginning of country music in America.”
“Pioneers of music and music styles, people who stood out for how they changed the genre,” Zarco said are the type of artists they enjoy featuring on What!? British-Iraqi hip hop, psychedelic cumbia, African blues, Egyptian pop, and Latin American jazz are just a few of the various genres featured on the show.
Along with discovering new artists, Zarco takes inspiration from music she has collected over time. “I have four years of playlists on Spotify that I draw upon,” they said. The playlist titles are as diverse as the music itself, from “Moondayz” and “ThissHeavy” to “friends with stress”, “wqit actually what is this?” and “soothing nuclear ear candy”.
“I like it when people start dancing to some music that they would have never heard on any other radio station,” Zarco said.
For most people, music is catalyst for expression and has the power to elicit strong emotional responses. Through consideration, representation, and unification, “music is a way for people to express themselves,” Zarco said. “I think music can be a tool for building compassion and building understanding between people.”
Zarco shares her public Spotify playlists on Facebook on the evening she will be playing them. Recently, they posted a playlist called “Dubby Queen” with the caption “Gonna be playing music that brings a healing sound to ill societies. Peaceful beats against a marching army. Beautiful melodies to soothe the pain of hardship.”
Music is also a universal language with the capacity to transcend place. “Borders don’t stop music, and music is a traveling thing and can be moved across different cultures, for good reasons and for bad reasons, I guess,” Zarco said. “I definitely like finding people that I think respect the genres that they use, and try to add something new and authentic to it.”
Her current favorite genre of music is Colombian psychedelic cumbia, which came of age in the 1960’s. Cumbia is an Afro-Colombian genre that became popular in coastal cities in Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. The fusion of psychedelic rock and cumbia began as a result of globalization and opposition to the Vietnam War, which made the cumbia genre more accessible to younger generations.
In this sense, it is clear that music never really goes out of style, but is constantly evolving and reviving over time and space. Music is never static, and What!? is here to remind us of that.