Arca: The Revolutionary Trans Artist Documenting Her Transition Through Music
Once a behind-the-scenes producer, Arca is ready to put a face to her wild work
Arca is behind some of the most revolutionary music releases in the modern era, working with artists such as Kanye West, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Rosalia, Sia, FKA Twigs and more. Now based in Barcelona, Arca is a multitalented artist, who is also a composer, rapper, DJ, and producer. Her sound is often described as a “chaotic” blend of electronic, hip-hop, avant-pop and reggaeton, which meant that Arca’s audience was limited, but nevertheless, loyal. Nowadays, Arca produces mostly for herself, stepping away from the overwhelming mishmash of genres, for a more accessible sound.
Arca was born in Caracas, Venezuela, as Alejandro Ghersi. In 2018, Arca emerged as non-binary but later realised that she identifies as a trans woman. In an interview with Vice Magazine in 2020, Arca reflected on her journey of self-discovery, “I see my gender identity as non-binary, and I identify as a trans-Latina woman, and yet, I don’t want to encourage anyone to think that my gayness has been banished. And when I talk about gayness, it’s funny because I’m not thinking about who I’m attracted to. It’s a form of cultural production that is individual and collective, which I don’t ever want to renounce.” In the past couple of years, Arca has infused her transition into her art.
The Kick series is a collection of 5 studio albums, all released between 2020 and 2021. The title of the quintet relates to a baby’s kick whilst in the womb of its mother. In an interview with ID Magazine, Arca goes into detail, “The first image that comes to mind when I think of the word ‘kick’ is a prenatal kick; that instance of individuation, that unmistakable moment where parents realise their baby is not under their control but has its own will to live, its own impulses that are erratic and unpredictable, separate to their own. I think later we have a hard time distancing ourselves from authority and disagreeing with the top-down system that we perpetuate. So this is celebrating the moment of disagreement that is an expression of feeling alive. The baby doesn’t think about kicking, it kicks because it’s a vital impulse: there’s no malice in it.” The concept of the album clearly reflects Arca’s transition and the birth of a new life and identity.
The Kick series was a great success in that it presented Arca with a new audience. Before Kick, Arca’s music had very few vocals, and tracks had a very unusual structure. These qualities often meant that the music was unable to find a home. But with Kick, the songs resemble more traditional song structures and consist of pop, hip-hop and reggaeton melodies: translating into some healthy streaming statistics.
Now that the Kick series is over, Arca has returned to producing for other artists who fall in a similar sub-genre. This week, English rapper ShyGirl released her new single, Come For Me, produced by none other than Arca herself. Arca’s in demand and her unique production qualities have meant that over the years, she has undoubtedly helped shape the musical scene, especially in relation to the popularisation of experimental, industrial and hyper pop.
Recently, Arca has made her transition, the focus of her music and artform. In doing so, Arca has successfully bridged the gap between a behind-the-scenes producer, and a front and centre artist. Despite this intentional journey, it is clear that Arca is more concerned about producing quality, boundary-pushing art, rather than becoming mainstream. In an interview with VOS, she states, “I want to be seen as an ecosystem of minor self-states without being stripped of the dignity of being a whole. It gives me the feeling of possibility, to not allow for easy categorization. I wouldn’t want to just go pop, and I wouldn’t want to go full experimentalist.”
The goal for Arca is to create a separate but detached utopia that she can fit into, but others can also relate to. And in order to achieve this, gender norms and boundaries must be deconstructed. “That’s where a nonbinary mode of thinking feels really fertile. It opens possibilities rather than collapsing things. Allowing for change without resisting it.” Arca isn’t interested in creating pop. She wants to create a whole new universe.