Denni Arjona is a reproductive justice advocate and musician from Pharr, Texas, she is known for her fierceness in both ambits. She is the RGV Advocacy Coordinator for Whole Women’s Health Alliance, a founding member of South Texans for Reproductive Justice and as a member of local Ska band L@s Skagaler@s. Arjona has combined her passions into a tool for direct social justice engagement and general enjoyment via Skank for Choice fundraiser concert. Her commitment to social justice and to the musical community of the RGV is why we are proud to have Arjona as part of the first cohort of Neta Creative and Cultural Fellows.
Denni’s musical trajectory was shaped by her family. Her father, tios and tias as well as her grandparents all played musical instruments ranging from the tuba, trumpets to the piano and accordion. It was not surprising to Arjona that her siblings and herself also picked up instruments. In fifth grade Arjona first came across the sounds of Ska via the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the movie Clueless. When she first saw someone playing the Saxophone, she thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to play that, it’s sounds super cool.” She had never heard music like that, since as Arjona describes, “music wasn’t at our fingertips.” She basically heard what her siblings were listening to at the time. Finding Ska however, was a defining moment in shaping her individual interests and person. Arjona was intrigued by the sound, energy and the style of the genre. She was encouraged to learn to play the Saxophone and started in middle school and played throughout college.
Denni tried to start a Ska band in high school with friend Marco Lopez but things didn’t work out. They went separate ways for college but after four years they met up and tried to make the band happen again. Arjona was hesitant but when another friend and trombonist approached her with the same proposal to start a Ska band she saw it as a calling. Together they wrangled up guitarists, a trumpet player and a singer. They began practicing and in 2012 L@s Skagaler@s were born. Current members include Denni Arjona, Carmen Castillo, Melli Medina, Abram Vasquez, Marco Lopez, Nestor del Toro, Sadie Hernandez and Ruben Farias.
L@s Skagaler@s, is pronounced Las Skagaleras or Los Skagaleros, either is fine. The band’s name is an ode to the puns within Ska band names and a reference to the Spanish slang saying “cagando palo” or “cagapalos.” The word or phrase refers to the act of messing around or to someone who screws up or messes around a lot. Their Instagram is @skagandopalo, which continues with the pun and fun. Their intense performances are extremely fun as they rile concertgoers into skanking along to the horns blasts in Infinitely and the funky breaks in Two Tales of the Working Class, even in Selena’s Como la Flor cover. The band’s music is powerful in sound and in content as can be seen in their lyrics. The song Cunt Love for example, talks about girl-on-girl hate caused by patriarchal structures and the importance of breaking those perceptions of femininity down and standing in unity to support all women, especially in times when reproductive rights are under attack. Other songs speak of animal rights, immigration and police brutality all while slaying crowds with funky wild sounds, charismatic banter and general bad-assery.
Infinitely by L@s Skagaler@s on their Bandcamp
The band’s fanbase grew tremendously over the last years despite their hiatus. L@s Skagaler@s are local-favorites not only for their music but for putting their money where their mouth is and supporting the causes they sing about. The Sk@gs are all about by sharing their platform. They have participated in countless fundraisers for local social justice organizations on the frontlines of immigration reform and dealing with state sanctioned violence. They have thrown benefit shows for friends dealing with sickness or a family emergency even for the local animal shelters. Supporting the RGV community through their art is second nature to the Skagaler@s, so when the attack on abortion providers hit the state the idea to raise money for abortion access was an obvious one. That was how the first Skank for Choice was created.
Skank for Choice, named after the typical dance style associated with Ska, is a community fundraising event to help individuals pay for abortions they couldn’t otherwise afford. The events have featured RGV musicians, artists, vendors and RJ organizations as well as activities that have included Jalapeño, Pizza and Tamal Eating Contests, and a Skank Walk (musical chairs to ska music). This year’s event marked the 5thiteration and also feature an educational zine around the topics of reproductive justice, immigration reform, environmental justice and other intersectional issues affecting the RGV community. The Zine titled Sin Fronteras, is a tool to educate the public on reproductive justice and to tell the Valley narratives of those impacted by the restrictions on necessary health care and their bodies. It includes work previously featured in a project called Abortion Stories from the 956 by the Texas Freedom Network.
A special addition to the event was the release of Tales from the Border, a compilation CD by the Contracepters and Carmen Fria. The music featured is specifically about reproductive rights in the RGV. The album includes songs like Roses, which is inspired by the McAllen case of Rosie Jimenez, the first victim of the Hyde Amendment ban on abortion access through Medicaid. In her banger F*CK CPCs Carmen Fria lays down the facts about the Crisis Pregnancy Centers that prey on and harass women by imposing their radical religious views on them. The songs are true to local abortion access experiences and even included features from Clinic Escorts who sang background vocals on a track. The work was made possible with the help of Charlie Vela who graciously donated recording and production time.
The 5thSkank for Choice raised close to two thousand dollars for abortion access in the RGV with a second event happening in San Antonio at La Botanica on Jun 21st. It was an amazing night full of community, of solidarity with people in need of reproductive services and many surprises including the announcement of the reunion of L@s Skagaler@s. Through her efforts and ability to use music and creativity to connect to others, Denni Arjona has created a truly wonderful and significant experience for the RGV and support for reproductive justice. Thank you! For Arjona it will be a night she will never forget as her boyfriend and L@s Skagaler@s band mate Nestor del Toro proposed on stage. Denni said yes. Congratulations on a successful event in support of such an important cause and of course on your engagement!