In the realm of music, it is a common practice to focus on one instrument and a limited number of styles in order to become highly skilled at them and attain full mastery. This is not the case with musician and artist Eddika Organista. She likes to explore different styles of music and their unique instruments. Her curiosity for the unknown is applied to her songwriting process. While most run away from the disparity to something more pristine, she embraces it and makes it part of her creations. In her song “Yagate” (Japanese for “In Time/Soon”), Eddika explores the notion of leaving behind a way of life and embracing a new one. The song was inspired by a sci-fi graphic novel that Eddika is working on. It deals with the dark state of an alternate futuristic universe meant to mirror our own. The song forewarns “Your world is no more” and advises to “Embrace the new one.” The advice is given by Eddika in a smooth rhythmic melody serves as a reflection of the types of changes occurring in Northeast Los Angeles.
I met Eddika at Tierra de la Culebra, a pocket park nestled deep in the historic neighborhood of Highland Park. At first sight, the park looks like an abandoned plot of land, but upon further inspection, it reveals its whimsical beauty. Mounds of concrete protrude from the dirt and are intricately decorated with multi-colored tiles, resembling a snake’s thick coils. The community has recently welcomed a high number of new residents who in turn have attracted newer and sleeker businesses. However, this park remains as a vestige of the former inelegance of the community. It is a community park because it is tended and taken care of by regular people, not the city. The park’s vast arboreal greenery along with the sea-foam painted benches brought out the caramelized turquoise in Eddika’s eyes. The curls that draped on the side of her face reminded me of those found in old photographs of French cabaret singer Édith Piaf.
“I didn’t want to sing along to the radio,” Organista said “I wanted to sing along with the guitar.” Growing up with a musician for a father, Eddika was always surrounded by a variety of instruments, such as the guitar, electric and acoustic basses and pianos. She picked up the guitar and began to learn how to play on it the songs that she most liked. Her father’s taste in music had introduced her to the exotic sounds and rhythms of Brazilian music. However, the music of Brazil wasn’t the only aspect of this country that had appealed to Eddika. The words that accompanied the songs always lingered on her mind. “I wanted to imitate the sounds of Brazilian music because I liked the way they sounded,” Organista said. It sparked her 10-year-old curiosity and felt like she understood a little bit of Portuguese. She decided to complete a minor in it along with her Ethnomusicology degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It was almost like predestination. Fate. Things had come full circle. The music of Brazil that exposed her to the exquisite sounds of Portuguese eventually led her to study the music and language formally.
As a child, Eddika did a lot of moving from her place of birth in Boyle Heights to various parts of Mexico to Las Vegas to her eventual home in Highland Park. Now that her home is static, it is the city beneath her that is moving. Changing. It is like musical chairs, where those who can pay the increasing rents can sit and those who can’t have to move. Many of the businesses in Highland Park have undergone refurbishment along with their names, which were once in Spanish. Now they have trendy cheeky names in English and sell products that the remaining original residents can’t afford or don’t want to buy. They don’t appeal to them.
While studying at Pasadena City College (PCC), Eddika was teaching percussion to children through LAUSD’s LA’s Best program. “I feel like percussion is more accessible to me,” she said, “you can just grab a stick and create a beat.” Through the LA’s Best program, Eddika was able to bring the joy of drumming to the impoverished schools of Northeast LA. She was also fascinated by the physicality required to play the instrument. “It makes you dance as you play it,” Organista said, “that’s why I like it, because I like to dance.” Percussion has always played a big role in Eddika’s life. From a young age, she always wanted to learn how to play the drums. “If I had the chance to relearn music, I would have started with the drums,” Organista said. In addition to drum instruments, Eddika also plays other percussion instruments such as the shekere (a beaded gourd) and the maracón (a cylindrical instrument filled with seeds). The maracón, in particular, is a very difficult instrument to get the hang of as you have to time perfectly the trajectory of the seeds. “Your movements have to be very direct and sharp,” Organista added as she mimed the movements required to play the instrument with her shoulders.
As were once the inhabitants of Highland Park, the residents of the neighboring community of Boyle Heights have been very vocal and direct about their feelings on the topic of gentrification. Many of them have resorted to public demonstrations and vandalism. Anarchy of the people and by the people. Unlike Highland Park, who has consigned itself to its impending fate, Boyle Heights has yet to surrender itself to the burgeoning gait of progress. They are still trying to find ways of keeping the trendy coffee shops and designer thrift stores from infiltrating their humble community. They’re up to the challenge.
When it comes to songwriting, Eddika likes to start the process in different ways. “I want to challenge myself to try other things when things get too comfortable,” Organista said. She follows a similar philosophy to that of her friend Dominique Rodriguez (Percussionist) who likes to change the setup of his drum kit. “He created a customized drum set made up of bongos, congas, a tambourine, bass drum and a cowbell around his neck,” she said. Eddika doesn’t have a prescribed way of writing music—sometimes using percussion instruments to write a melody—”The congas fall into a different pocket and keep the groove very intense” she said.
Having been a long time resident of Highland Park, Eddika has experienced the dramatic change that the community has gone through; from working class to have-no-class. “As a child, my family and I used to visit some family that lived here and it was a very different place,” she recalls, “Highland Park was considered dangerous.” The danger levels have subsided a bit ever since the neighborhood began to undergo gentrification. The ruckus of gun shots and illegal fireworks has been replaced by that of the Gold Line train blaring its horn and drunken hipsters heading home to their overpriced apartments in the middle of the night.
Eddika’s lyrics are almost prophetic in that they perfectly describe what most of the displaced people of Highland Park feel: “The world that was mine disappeared.” She refuses to be a patron of any of the new businesses because they are bringing too much change in too short of time. The song continues: “It no longer is. It exists no more.”
As we departed from Culebra Park, Eddika pointed out to me an old woman peddling a cart. I couldn’t see her face and in the two years that I have lived there, I had never come across her. “She goes around Highland Park picking up trash,” Organista said. “I see her every day.” Even as the world around her keeps changing, this woman is steadfast in her work, in her purpose. With all the changes and influences that have led Eddika to this point, she is trying to find a way of dealing with the change, just like the old lady and all of the survivors of gentrification. Eddika continues to allow a wide spectrum of influences to guide the flow of creativity, in her life and in her music. She doesn’t question where it is taking her. She simply allows this creative effervescence to take over her and meld with her until all of these disparate streams of influence merge into one. Until they surrender to her.
To listen to Eddika’s music and find out about upcoming shows, please visit her groups website: www.elharukuroi.com
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, April 6). La Percussionista [Photograph]. Silhouettes, StripSearchLA, Los Angeles.