There is in Lima, the capital of Peru, a rock star whose story shows that it is possible to get rid of social impositions to become authentic. She is one of the first Peruvian trans women to change her name and sex on her DNI, who also led one of the most important rock bands of the 80’s and 90’s in her country when she still had a name. male She is Fiorella Cava and to tell her story we have to go back to the Peruvian swinging sixties.
“We were the world leaders – Fiorella explains to Infobae via Zoom, with her stunning red hair monopolizing the foreground – and only now are they discovering it. In fact, there are record companies that are reissuing records by Peruvian bands”, he says and mentions Los Belking’s (1964) and their instrumental rock or the fusion bands between psychedelia and Latin rhythms such as Traffic Sound (1967) and Telegraph Avenue (1969). ).
Is right. In fact, not long ago, the prestigious American music site Noisey premiered a documentary recovering Los Saicos, a mythical and irreverent band that emerged in 1964 in Lima and that is, for many music critics and scholars, an antecedent of punk that a decade later would invade the New York scene with The Ramones and the London scene with the Sex Guns.
In the midst of this effervescence for rock in her country, there was the girl Fiorella Cava, still dressed as a boy, the daughter of an architect who traveled the world and enjoyed playing the piano, the harmonica and the guitar. Ella fiorella tells that since she was 4 years old she was taken to piano lessons. “At that age they don’t ask you if you want; They tell you you have to do it and that’s it. And for me it was something quite horrible -funny account-: while my cousins listened to The Beatles and The Mamas & the Papas, I was with the piano ”.
Later, a 16-year-old Fiorella would discover rock and the desire to learn to play the guitar would be born in her. “On Sundays there were concerts in the cinemas, where the kids from school went to see the great rock groups of the moment, each band played live for fifteen minutes”. Fiorella was impressed and inspired.
Her father did not want her to dedicate herself to rock, he wanted her to study a “serious” career and he kept her guitar under lock and key so that she could not use it. But the mischievous teenager would get a duplicate key and would escape to the Lima beaches of Punta Hermosa to meet hippie tourists from the United States and Australia, who made music on the boardwalks and parks in Lima, and from whom Fiorella learned to secretly play guitar
“Was it your first transition, going from piano to guitar?” “You can say,” Fiorella replies with a laugh. “At least on a musical level, I couldn’t talk about the other. But from the age of four she was already clear about it”.
the music hit
Fiorella did not disappoint her father. She studied Law at the Catholic University of Peru and, years later, Communication Sciences at the University of Lima. However, her love for music was still the focus of her attention. Her law thesis, on “intellectual rights in the phonographic industry”, was such a successful text that at the age of 23 it led her to get a job as manager of the “Consorcio de Editoras Musicales del Perú”, obtaining the holding of all the Peruvian record companies. and the opportunity to learn about many music studios.
That is how the opportunity arose to record a song with Hielo, his first band: it was called “El rock del vago”, a retro song recorded live in the best style of the Peruvian bands of the 60s. The song was a success and became the most listened to song of 1983 on Pan-American radio in Lima. “From having played small concerts in college, I went on to play in front of 11,000 people at the Amauta theater and we went on tour all over the country,” he recalls.
In 1986 Fiorella formed a new band called JAS, along with drummer Jesús Hurtado and bassist Alex Nathanson. In 1987 they released the album “Mueres en tu ley”, from which the hit “I don’t want more ska” is extracted. How is it that a hit is composed? Fiorella remembers a Saturday afternoon when she and her band were watching television while taking a break from recording the album; In one of the programs, a man did a bad cover of “Because I want”, by Adamo. Between jokes, Fiorrella took the guitar and began to compose a song changing Adamo’s “Because I want to…” and singing “I don’t want to see your face, just show me your body…” as if, once again, her twentysomething version wanted reimagine the 60′s music he grew up with.
“Ska is a happy genre in major keys –explains Fiorella–, my innovation was to play it in minor keys while the bass marked a cumbia”. They recorded the song only once because they needed to finish the album as soon as possible, and their drive ended up making JAS a smash hit.
A new personal path
The end of the 80’s and the 90’s marked one of the greatest economic, social and political crises in Peru, with devastating damage to music production. “During those years the record companies fell, they cut off the wings of those who wanted to do rock,” he says. And he explains: “The raw material for vinyl is acetate. Due to inflation imports fell and it was no longer possible to buy the paste to make them, they tried to make it with sugar cane cellulose but the quality was terrible, the discs broke. Then the cassettes came out, but they were of very poor quality.”
Fiorella sadly remembers that JAS’s second album, “What are you complaining about” (1992), was released in terrible sound quality, since re-recorded tapes were used. “The radios did not want to play our music anymore, we had to pay for our music to play and we did not have that money,” he says. In addition, towards the 2000s, cumbia began to prevail in Peruvian parties, recitals and radio stations. It was the musical genre that moved more people and, therefore, that generated more money. Rock was gone, from the airwaves and from Fiorella’s professional life, but she was troubled by something else.
“I have always been Fiorella; Obviously, you know that, I always knew that. But she had to take the step of transitioning and also decide if she was going to continue in music or not. I considered having surgery on my vocal cords, but I would have lost the essence of my music and the character that my songs have. I decided not to; overall, a lot of women have deep voices,” she reveals.
From 1995 to 2004 JAS took a break: Fiorella needed to get away from the stage, take time for herself and take charge of her gender transition process. She also believed that for a mental health issue it was better to disappear. “Being a public figure, they would have attacked me a lot and they would not have understood it, because at that time being a trans woman was the same as being gay. Peru is a country where sex education is not taught,” she says.
She traveled through Chile, Argentina and Spain looking for a new home for her music and her feminine identity, but finally decided to return to Lima since her audience was there and thus she chose to confront Peruvian society. In 2004 she wrote the essay “Identity, culture and society: a cry from silence”, for the master’s degree in History and Anthropology of Culture at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, one of the first texts on transgenderism written in Peru.
Fiorella, always rebellious, rejected several proposals from publishers and decided to self-manage the publication of her book, which was reprinted three times and helped her survive for a while. Cava has written 8 books in total, which in the absence of interesting proposals have not been published, but most likely, he says, is that he will end up launching them as free e-books, as a form of “editorial suicide.”
The ritual of a new identity
Despite the fact that Peru is one of the most backward countries in the region in terms of LGBT+ rights, in 2012 he was able to legally change his name and sex on his identity document, after a 14-year legal fight.
The case put her name back on the front pages and Peruvian society discovered that that 80s rock star was now a transgender woman.. The revelation brought with it the expected media and even physical hostility, when she was attacked in a park by a far-right group while she was marching with a Pride flag in an episode that reached Justice.
The attacks did not discourage her and Fiorella decided to resume her musical career, independently launching “Empty Rituals”, his first solo album, produced by Dante Gonzáles. In it he migrates towards electronic rock and synth pop, with a lot of nostalgia for the 80’s. “The album was recorded by Dante and I, we did not have the support of anyone else, it was made under the premise of doing it yourself”.
For Fiorella her songs are like poems dressed in music; In this project, he questions the social impositions that fall on trans people and seeks to embody a rebellious image that challenges the place of victims in which this population is usually placed. As in the track “Magic Web”, where she reflects the feeling of being trapped. In “Fashion Week” she questions the beauty standards imposed on women, and in the song that gives the album its name, she considers leaving behind the family, religious and social heritage that led her to feel guilt and shame about herself.
“I love Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass or Kate Bush; But I don’t want to be like them. For many trans girls I am a reference, because the majority of trans women in the show are stars and my proposal is very different. I would never feel comfortable dressing sexy or wearing makeup for photo shoots,” she explains.
After his solo impasse, JAS returns to the scene with new members: Neptalí Pereda (bass), Loko Pérez (guitar), Jaime Noriega (drums), Eduardo Muñoz (sax), Jorge Muñoz (keyboard), Joni Chiappe (keyboard) and Fiorella on voice and guitar. Currently they are still in force and giving concerts in Lima and other cities of Peru. Likewise, since 2021 Fiorella has led a new experimental musical project called CAVA (which includes the new members of JAS except Noriega and Chiappe and Miguel Morales joins on drums), which allows her greater artistic freedom by not being forced to play the songs. old from JAS.
All these twists and turns have in no way diluted the power of Fiorella Cava as creator and emblem of what is possible. She is a dissenting voice encouraging the fight for trans rights, an artist who, in the midst of her gender transition, took on a fading rock scene and conservative society without fear of reinventing herself.
Before signing off from the interview, Fiorella says she wants to send a message. I transcribe her words: “To all the trans girls and boys, I tell them to have confidence in themselves, we must not believe that others have power over our identities or decisions. And if you have to fight and pave the way so that things are better in the future and there is more equality, then you have to do it. Without fear”.