Photo by Victoria Velasco, a photographer and full-time malcriada de Los Angeles. She spends her time brown-girl raging, craving McNuggets, and dreaming of the revolution.
Meet SZA’s Bassist: Skater, Scholar, Wild Card, and Bruja Arianna Gil
When she’s not touring as the bassist for SZA, Arianna Maya Gil is in class at Oberlin College in Ohio where she experiences a disconnect between the allegedly progressive principles of the school and her peers’ day-to-day experiences with racism and sexism on campus.
Even as a New Yorker –born and bred – she never seems like a fish out of water in Ohio. Arianna speaks out in her classes, throws ‘Latinx Power’ parties for her peers on campus, finds space on stage making music, tweets about her tour adventures and her frustration with school administrators, and posts sassy pictures on Instagram– all while writing her senior thesis.
At 20, Arianna is proving that it does not bode well to draw arbitrary lines around what work we consider political and what we deem culture and art-making. She sees them as inseparable and will call you a “dishonest person” if you think otherwise. Most uniquely, she humbly approaches her craft and her community of mentors and friends from a framework of understanding networks not as capital but as the only way to deconstruct capital in the first place.
Arianna sat down with us to discuss her experiential learning on tour with SZA, the limits of liberal arts education, anti-racist student organizing, her all-girl skate crew Brujas, and how not to ruin New York City for low-income communities.
You just pulled off a big party over at Oberlin. How did it go?
I just went in last night at this party I’ve been trying to organize since the start of school. We got Los Rakas to come and play. It was amazing. Really wild. All night I was like “where are my brown and black students?” and the whole crowd was responsive, everybody talking about stuff like prison abolition. And Los Rakas, I was expecting them to be good but they fucking slammed.
“When you were on tour for the weekend and still threw down 16 pages of critical theory for your Monday class. I'm #goku and ya bitches petty af. #nosleep #foucault #smartgirlclub”
How’s stuff with school?
I’m feeling a little torn because I’m missing two of my History of Black Incarceration classes this week because of a show on the west coast with SZA. It’s cool, everything that’s happening at Oberlin right now is good but I’m not really around as much because of the tour. I hadn’t missed a class yet because I’ve been super careful but it’s getting harder and harder. In retrospect, I’m glad I'm taking these gigs because over the long term it's way more important than being in a classroom for 50 minutes. But I haven’t been very upfront about it and I’m going to need to work it out with my teachers.
With media constantly telling us what we are and trying to analyze why we do what we do, self-definition is such an important thing for young women artists. How would you define yourself?
I am a legacy of the South American radical intellectual tradition. My family in Uruguay are doctors in the populist leftist tradition who disappeared for a bit under the military dictatorship in the 80s. Then I have my more working-class white Italian-American side, which is what my mom rebelled against as a punk, but also carried with her in some deep ways. I am proud of my ancestors, and see them in all of what I do, whether it’s in my political commitments to liberation, or my musicianship.
I’m really unapologetic and uncompromising personality-wise, but I always think people put that on me more than is actually true. I think what they mean is that I am unapologetic for being a woman, and I’ve always been deeply committed to feminism, which freaks people out, especially since I’m always in really masculine environments like jazz, hip-hop, and skating, being uncompromising. I’m just a skate rat more than anything, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than lurking at a spot or just skating the whole day downtown. That’s truly my church.