On September 4, 2021 musician Moréna Espiritual and their creative team of local Caribbean queer artists premiered the music video for the debut single “Bebecit” at Pública Espacio in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Originally released in September of 2020, “Bebecit” is Moréna Espiritual’s first song and marks a transition into music after an 8-year performance career. It tells the story of Espiritual looking back at a love experience they had as a preadolescent in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and recognizing themself as trans.
Photos by Coral Silva
The music video was in the works for a year under the directive vision of Espiritual and co-director, Brazilian-Puerto Rican photographer and filmmaker Ana Paula Teixeira, who is known on the island for their work highlighting both local and diasporic queer/POC artists. Recorded on the streets of Santurce by the Afro-Puerto Rican videographer Juanki Malave, and pieced together through the editing of the Colombian-Puerto Rican filmmaker Cristobal Guerra, it highlights the trans-Caribbean resistance of Espiritual and their friends after they walk down the street and someone tries to insult them with transphobic slurs. Espiritual tells the person off and escapes with their friends, using song, dance, and body decoration as a refuge.
While staying with Moréna in Santurce, I spoke with them about their creative process for “Bebecit.” Check out the video and interview below.
On Moréna Espiritual’s origins
Moréna Espiritual is a trans, non-binary Afro-Taíno performance artist and educator. Their family is from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (D.R.) and they grew up between the D.R. and Harlem, New York. As a Caribbean subject, he felt more aligned with making art in the Caribbean than in the U.S.
While Dominican culture was very much ingrained in their upbringing, they did not feel the safest where they were from, and so decided to move to Puerto Rico. He was particularly drawn to the vibrant queer scene in Puerto Rico as well as the greater acceptance and dialogue around sex work, as someone whose work has a large emphasis on the power of eroticism.
Photo by Ana Paula Teixeira
On the songwriting process
As I was talking to Espiritual about their writing process, they shared that it was inspired by scenes from their preadolescence, when they were staying at their uncle’s house in the D.R.
At that time, Espiritual, like others who had womanhood projected onto them, was not allowed to go out and hang out with people by himself, due to being susceptible to sexualization, whereas boys (or those who were perceived as ones) were. So Espiritual would lie to their uncle about going to get candy from the store and would instead go and make out with their love interest, praying that they wouldn’t get caught but willing to take the risk anyway, referenced by the line “con fe,” or “with faith.”
Photo by Stephanie Ayala
It was in these acts of rebellion, stereotypically associated with a boyish hedonism, that Moréna remembers transgressing norms of gender. They shared that by “being the one to pursue, lying, escaping, not caring if I get my ass beat,” they were subverting expectations of them to be femme.
This is also evident from the title and the repetition of the term “Bebecit,” a gender-neutral version of the word “bebecita,” a femininely gendered word in Spanish that translates to “babe” and is popular within genres like Reggaeton, Trap, and Dembow.
Linguistically, “Bebecit” is written mostly in Spanish with Dominican vernacular, an homage to Espiritual’s racial and ethnic heritage. This is indicated through the usage of words and phrases such as “colmado”, which Espiritual says is “a convenience store similar to a bodega, but can also be run from directly inside someone’s home, have seating and/or playing music,” “bonbones,” or “lollipops,” “tiguere,” or “someone who is cunning or astute, typically used to speak of guys from the hood,” and “bate de mari,” or “marijuana.” However, there are also moments in English, “kissing in the darkness, of alleyways,” which is true to the way that Espiritual thinks; in multiple languages and vernaculars, such as “AAVE and Black and Brown poor people slang from uptown New York.”
But Espiritual fundamentally queers these expressions in the song. In the beginning, he states “I was, I will be, and I am,” or “yo era, seré, y soy,” invoking a trans temporality, suggesting not only that he was aware of his transness from an early age, but that this transness spans across time, where all these moments are in dialogue with each other through Espiritual’s memories and everyday experiences.
In the opening scene of “Bebecit,” Espiritual walks into the frame while talking to their friend on the phone saying, I can’t wait to see you and dance Bachata with you, my Caribbean boy comes out and I get really romantic.” They then walk past a white cis-hetero guy, who yells, “What do you mean boy, what the fuck?”
To which Espiritual responds: “What the fuck are you saying, why do you care if I’m a girl or boy, I’m a faggot.” Here Espiritual uses the Spanish insult “maricon” and then repeats it in the feminine form “mariconassa,” also translating to “big-ass faggot”.
In this exchange, both Espiritual’s romantic sweetness and their tough fighting instinct come out and I am reminded, as though I had been present, of the Caribbean boy who would make out with his love interest in defiance of his uncle and cis-hetero patriarchal standards.
On the visual narrative
Espiritual’s move to Puerto Rico led to the making of the video for “Bebecit.” In this video, the audience is given a glimpse into Espiritual’s day-in-the-life, and their resistance against the binary guidelines society implicates on them. We follow them throughout the streets of Barrio Obrero, a Dominican migrant neighborhood in Puerto Rico, intentionally chosen to illustrate the duality of Espiritual’s Dominican upbringing and culture and the light they find in their chosen family.
By staging elements of the video such as the introduction, the truck scenes, and the moments of dancing in the alley within Barrio Obrero, Espiritual and their team disrupt the historic prejudices and xenophobia in PR towards Dominican migrants who are predominantly Black, with many members who are apart of the undocumented community, and reflect the possibility of cultural solidarity between PR and D.R.
Photo by Ana Paula Teixeira
Photo by Stephanie Ayala
The end of the video then sees Espiritual and their crew at a baseball field, which came about on an accidental linguistic mishap, in which the Dominican slang word for “blunt,” “el bate”, was mistaken for its English translation “the bat.” Out of this amusing error, came the idea of the baseball field as the final setting for “Bebecit.”
On genre bending
It is clear from both watching the video, and listening to the song itself, that Espiritual draws from multiple influences in their performance and musical style.
In our conversation, Espiritual mentioned that although they didn’t grow up a part of a house in the Ball scene, as he was a Black Trans person who was raised in Harlem, New York, he did have certain proximity to vogue dance, and later on attended OTA (Open To All), a ballroom event series at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn. He also trained in vogue under the pioneer of the Peruvian Ballroom Scene, La Prince Malcon, through online classes during quarantine in 2020.
As can be seen in the dance sequences that take place in the video, as well as other dance pieces they’ve performed live and garnered attention for on the internet, they’ve always been interested in re-imagining vogue through the perspective of their Caribbean heritage, by voguing to Caribbean genres.
Photos by Coral Silva
Particularly in the scenes in the alleyway, Espiritual and their dance partner Joan de Liz — influencer, model, and vogue-dancer who is a part of La Laboratoria Boricua de Vogue (a group known for starting the vogue scene in Puerto Rico) — move through and pastiche various different genres and movements, such as whining, twerking, and signature dembow dance moves, in addition to voguing. This speaks to the experimentation that lies at the heart of queer performance. For Espiritual, it is an act of resistance to put these traditions and histories of movement in conversation with one another, through the archive of their body. By doing so, they interrupt genres that have somehow become transphobic, through the queer art form of voguing.
This eclecticism is also integral to the sonic composition of “Bebecit.” In one moment, we hear a Reggaeton rhythm boom-ch-boom-chick (ironically also known as dembow), followed by a sample of a baile funk voice (a genre which originates from Black people of Brazilian favelas), and even a rock-influenced tone on one of Espirituals rap verses, when he shouts “el bate de mari,” reminiscent of Rico Nasty’s punk-rock moments. Amongst all this, we hear the tinkling of bells that give the song an 8 bit video game feel, layered onto ad-libs like “yuh,” inspired by a Dominican trap influence. Espiritual is an incredibly intuitive musician, which is evident from this catchy and complex layering of diverse sounds.
On the power of collaboration
Photos by Stephanie Ayala
For Espiritual and Teixeira, it is important to highlight that all the people who participated in the creation of this video both in front of and behind the cameras are dissidents from the hegemonic culture of the Caribbean. This collective effort was one that recognized the need to archive and amplify these voices since many traditional spaces do not do so or are not accessible to them. For example, the full lineup of performers for the production include Teresa Karolina, a Black Trans woman, model, and performer; Kelly Daniel Diaz, a trans DJ, songwriter, and author; and Softlikefire, a popular OnlyFans creator. Other featured artists include Goyin, Lembra, Komikka Patton, Pia Love, Sato, and Joan de Liz.
The video premiere that occurred on September 4th was a space to exhibit Black, Trans, Caribbean art made from the perspective of a person of that identity; amplify a work done by a totally queer production/team; promote artistic solidarity between Dominican and Puerto Rican communities; and local art made in Santurce by artists from the area since Moréna, Ana Paula, Cristóbal and Juanki (the producers of the video) who currently live in Santurce, Puerto Rico.
Additionally, the team held an interactive panel after the video screening, in order to create a dialogue around the social issues that are touched on within the song and video, and ultimately propose an intervention on gender binaries/inequality and sexuality.
Ana Paula Teixeira @tayshayra
Coral Silva @small.pebble
Stephanie Ayala @cerezita.aa
Mouli Ghosh (She/They) hails from Eora Nation, Sydney, in so-called Australia, having relocated to LenapeHoking, New York in 2017. They have been involved in various artistic productions and organizing commitments in the city, notably In Honor of Our Roots, where they worked with Moréna Espiritual to create a QTBIPOC event series, uplifting the work of local and global Queer and Trans artists. Mouli still feels very much like a baby artist herself, but finds comfort in the notion that “artist” is a process, not a product.