In conversation with Yha Yha and Cali Rose
A bond forged by a common value of sisterhood and continuously-converging artistic, social and geographic paths, Alyah Love and Cali Rose are DJs (under Yha Yha and Cali Rose respectively), it-girls and founding members of collective New World Dysorder. Both from Long Beach, California, Alyah and Cali met as teens before relocating to the Bay Area and then Berlin, where Alyah has lived for three years and Cali since the beginning of this year – a move that’s led to a formative new chapter of their friendship, built on a foundation of creativity and ongoing support. A platform that elevates trans and gender non-conforming DJs, artists, and performers, New World Dysorder has become a global network that on a personal level, has allowed Alyah and Cali to actualise the energy and visibility they seek in the various cities they’ve inhabited, cultivating a chosen-family hub of sorts.
We spoke to the two to learn more about their special bond (which on a bigger picture level is emblematic of how crucial trans sisterhood is), New World Dysorder’s significance within Berlin’s cultural saturation and how they’ve sustained their platforms during such an unpredictable time.
When did you two first meet?
A – We met through friends. It’s quite funny actually because in high school I never really hung out with people from other high schools but Cali was one of them. We were girls but not yet women.
C – We were pre-HRT and taking hormones – I didn’t know if I was trans yet. I was just toying with the idea and just felt comfortable presenting as femme.
How involved were you in each other’s respective transitions?
A- We never really talked about it. I started taking hormones when I moved to San Francisco and so did Cali. We probably started our hormone therapy around the same time, maybe I did just before.
C – We both went to support groups with our trans mother, but they were the only times we spoke about our transition. We started really talking about it when we moved to the Bay. We realised ok, we are trans, we are taking hormones and this is a new chapter in our lives.
What role have you played in one another’s artistic growth?
C – That did not really happen until we moved to the Bay. We met our DJ mother Jasmine and she influenced us to become DJ’s. We then started our collective New World Dysorder. I had a car in Long Beach and I always had my music playing. I’ve always been a DJ even before I knew it. I would drive us around and I would always have cute music playing and people would ask what it was.
A – Cali was a goth girl when I met her. Like a little Siouxsie And the Banshees kind of girl.
C – Alyah was just like a hipster (laughs).
A – I was not a hipster!
C – We would go to live house shows. Like garage bands and that sort of thing.
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What made you both decide to move to the Bay? What can you say about the scene there?
C- I was living with my parents who were really religious and old school and weren’t accepting of me being femme, gay, trans, goth or whatever. At the time I was talking with this guy who was living in San Francisco. He [eventually] became my boyfriend and I moved in with him and started my transition process.
A- I moved there because I had a boyfriend in England at the time and went to go see him but got denied at the border. And because I didn’t want to go back to Long Beach and I had a connecting flight to San Francisco, I decided to stay there.
How much of the experience of living in the Bay do you attribute to your identities now?
A- That was the city where I became myself. It gave me a direction in life even though I didn’t think I’d be going down this music path. My trans mom pushed me in that direction and now here I am: a DJ in Berlin just like everyone else. (laughs)
What does the idea of sisterhood mean to you both?
C- When there are ups and downs we’re there for each other and empathise with one another’s lifestyles. We are still together and I have known Alyah for almost ten years now. It feels good to have a sister, especially when you are trans and I don’t have any siblings that really accept me, that don’t really know me for being Cali. It’s really important to me, it’s really grounding to have a sister.
A- For me it’s actually quite funny because although we’ve known each other for this long, we weren’t the closest of friends. We weren’t always together, you know what I mean? She was living in Oakland and I was living in San Francisco and we would always be around each other but not really having a deeper connection. But now that we’re older, living in the same city again after some time away from each other, I feel as if we’ve become closer. I also think it’s being there for each other even though we know sometimes we may not always be there physically. Through thick and thin, I guess, just being there.
Alyah you moved to Berlin three years ago. How did you go about finding sisterhood there and do you feel as though the idea of sisterhood has different cultural connotations in Europe?
A – It definitely has different connotations. Living in the Bay Area, the queer scene was so small that we all knew each other and that’s what made us close. Coming here to Berlin, I was so lost the first few years. I was always looking for a group of friends that I could call my family and go to the club every single weekend because I wanted to find the right people that I wanted to be around all the time. Honestly, I’m actually really happy that Cali’s here now because she’s someone from my past and she’s my sister. Even now I’m still trying to create a community for the trans people here in Berlin because there isn’t something that holds us together. And if there is, I am not a part of it and I need to be. So I guess, to sum it up, American trans sisterhood is quite different to a European trans sisterhood because people are just more independent here. Maybe it’s just the city – people are just a little more selfish and want to focus on themselves and don’t have time to put in the effort for friendship and things like that.
Cali, with your recent move, what have your observations been and how have your experiences of that been?
C – Well, I mean luckily Alyah already has this creative group of friends that just accepted me. I already had some friends here that I made on previous trips. I don’t know, it feels a little different from the States in the sense that people aren’t really aware of transness. The previous time I was here four years ago it was really different, it has definitely evolved in a more accepting and respectful way since then. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Why do you think people aren’t as open to transness there?
C – I guess I was living in New York just before moving to Berlin and people there are more accepting of high femme energy and I was wearing wigs every day, eyelashes and makeup and people were really accepting of it and into it. Here I was doing that and people were like, what is this, drag? Kind of femme-phobic in a way. This city seems as if it’s really masc, and the girls here are very natural and don’t wear makeup. I came here and thought, is Berlin a little femme phobic? So I kind of want to bring this high femme energy that I was having in New York to Berlin because Berlin needs it. I’ve experienced a little bit of transphobia and femme-phobia from the gays. I really want that to change.
With New World Dysorder, how has it evolved as a now Berlin-based enterprise? Why is it important to have a collective like this in the city?
A – We established it because we were all trans women of colour and became known as a unit. So we were like okay, let’s just take what people have put on us already and make something out of it. So we decided to throw a party, come together and create this collective. I think the world needs more femme energy. I think the world would be a lot different if there were women ruling it. The same here in Berlin, this city is so that we need something.
What have been some moments that have really embodied what you set out to achieve with New World Dysorder?
A – The fact that we’re able to spread our message and ourselves actually. Us expanding from New York to Montreal, to Chicago, to Berlin, making this a very international network of femme, trans, POC people has been a highlight for me. A really cool point.
C – When we created this in the Bay, I didn’t really think it would really go anywhere but it really branched out.
A – It brought us to where we are today, you know? For me, as a collective, for my line of work, my hobby, I guess, in the beginning, to bring me to a completely different city, it came to a point where I was surviving actually just off DJing and it became a profession.I never thought in my entire life that I would be a DJ, because I didn’t grow up around music and my parents weren’t music heads. I’m not a music head. But it’s because my trans mother pushed me into this career that I’m actually here and I’m actually doing it. It’s quite nice.
You both attribute much of your identity to nightlife, how have you both adjusted to this clubless period and what have been your alternative outlets?
A – Well I’m not making any money at all. We’re both not making any money at all as DJ’s which is very unfortunate.
C – Luckily I have fans that I have made over the past few years that have been sending me money throughout this corona time.
A – I mean, it’s horrible that we can’t be playing to a crowd. And these god awful live streams (laughs).
C- Luckily we have a rich network of friends that we’ve been hanging out with. We still DJ at these house parties and stuff. We have been surviving without the club.
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Have you found a new way to repurpose New World Dysorder during this time?
A – Cali and I are currently working on putting on a live stream DJ thing just like everybody else. And we may be working on a new project as like ‘the Nice Sisters’ or something.
C – It’s difficult right now to figure out something to do. You can’t throw a party.
A – And if you can, it would be illegal.
C – Yeah. We’re just continuing to do the work by just being ourselves. I feel as if people aren’t used to brown trannies in Berlin and I feel as if us just being alive and present is spreading the word of New World Dysorder in a way.
What do you think the scene and its pre-existing platforms will look and feel like once clubs reopen?
A – I definitely think the first few parties are going to be lit! Everyone is just gonna go crazy and be like ‘woo, we get to party again!”, which also can be a bit dangerous. For me personally, I’m just looking forward to being in the club again and DJing to the masses and sharing my music with everyone. I personally just want to be able to work on my self-confidence as an artist.
C – I’m just excited because when this is all over and the clubs do reopen, we’re gonna get booked a lot, I feel. We’ve been doing these HOR sets in Berlin which are these live streams that get a lot of views on YouTube. I’m excited to get back on the decks at the club, I’m getting a little bored actually. I kind of needed a break. Corona has been bad but also good in a lot of ways. I’ve been able to refresh myself in a way. Whenever the clubs open up again, I will definitely be ready. We will both be ready.