Riobamba: DJ, Producer & Cultural Promoter

Inspired by curiosity, self-discovery and a passion for remixing music, Riobamba has transformed from an online DJ to a renowned performer and producer. She credits her success over a span of just seven years to the democratizing effects of the internet which has increased access to her music and fostered a connection with other musicians for collaboration and re-creation.

Sara Skolnick, the artist behind Riobamba, is a Lithuanian-Ecuadorian DJ and producer currently based in New York. She first began remixing when she discovered an online community of musicians from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean on file sharing sites like Soundcloud. These musicians were part of a digital diaspora, telling their stories through music and freely sharing their creations with others in the hopes that the music would continue to build on previous pieces. As a young artist seeking a connection to her own cultural roots, she felt compelled to share her story and theirs through different digital remixes.

“Coming from my own perspective, first generation Ecuadorian and as part of that diaspora, I had a lot of curiosity about my own background and the way culture has evolved in different digital contexts,” she said. Skolnick described her remixes as a repertoire that includes a variety of immigrant cultures, focuses on “amplifying new voices,” and pays tribute to past artists.

In 2010, Skolnick began performing in Boston as the DJ Riobamba — named for the Ecuador city, and intended to give her artistic practice a direct reference to a sense of place. Later she co-created Picó Picante, a monthly global music and dance party that pairs traditional, folkloric music with an electronic beat. It’s not just a dance party though — Skolnick also started the party as a social cause to connect with and amplify local immigrant communities. Coming up on its six year anniversary, Pico Picante is an opportunity to “[celebrate] transnational digital sounds” according to Skolnick.

Skolnick later received a Fulbright grant to study in Bogotá, Colombia. There, she investigated the way “digital music culture was manifesting as a way of self empowerment for folks who had been displaced due to civil conflict.” She found that the internet and the democratization of digital tools –such as free file sharing, recording and production sites –allowed the creation of music that transcends Colombian political and civil issues.

For the past few years, Skolnick has been living in New York continuing her full-time career DJing as Riobamba while also exploring careers in music journalism and the recording industry. She’s worked as a music editor for Remezcla and even started her own record label. Becoming a producer has challenged Skolnick to think of “ways to contribute to creating infrastructure that compensates artists, and gives priority to widening of the spectrum of representation in the Latinx music industry.”

“My tracks are edits or remixes of things that already exist, so I see it as contributing to that dialogue of what’s come before and hopefully what comes after my work,” said Skolnick. She’s also made a conscientious effort to put her songs on SoundCloud and Dropbox, to keep her music widely available and accessible to continue the dialogue with other artists.

Learn more about Riobamba’s music by visiting her website, Soundcloud, Facebook and her Twitter.