DOWNTOWN LA — There’s no cover charge at La Papaya Club, but there’s community, a cause — and sometimes pizza. Patrons of the theater next door who hear the tropical rhythm find their way into the Love Song Bar, which hosts La Papaya Club, and are drawn from the bar to the dance floor.
La Papaya Club pulls in an eclectic mix of artists, community organizers, and musicians. It’s a place where many feel at home, at least that’s how Diana Herrera feels.
“Everybody seems to know each other and be more involved in their communities than most,” said Herrera, who attends the club often. She feels safe here — uniquely for nightlife in downtown LA, safe enough to come out by herself.
At La Papaya Club you almost feel like you’re at a friend’s house, you might not know anyone there but, it’s guaranteed that someone will invite you out to the dance floor.
The club, which has been active since the early days of the pandemic is a music and dance event series, focused on celebrating the Afro-Latin and Indigenous sounds that make up the Tropical Diaspora music played and remixed at La Papaya Club.
Founders, Eleanor “Eleanora” Gomez, Eduardo “Quilo” Valencia, and the late Nectali “Sumo Hair” Diaz launched La Papaya Club in the early months of the pandemic, originally streaming a 12 episode series on Instagram Live to promote local activism and mutual aid, while highlighting Tropical Diaspora music. As lockdowns came to an end, the club migrated from Instagram to a number of venues throughout LA, most often they are found at the Love Song Bar, downtown, on Thursday nights.
Quilo and Eleanora say they hope to build upon the dreams of Sumo Hair, who was the nucleus of La Papaya Club’s ever expanding community, before his sudden death in August of 2022, at just 42.
Much of the music that is shared at the club is rooted in resistance. Sumo Hair and Quilo understood the culture of resistance in the music they sample and it’s part of how La Papaya Club started.
Valencia recalls Sumo Hair saying, “We need to give back to the communities where we pull this music from.”
Upon meeting Eleanora, Sumo Hair knew the trio could do something great together. After a few months of planning they launched online, bringing together DJ’s and organizations from around the world in the midst of a lockdown, as a free party to promote culture and a new cause every episode.
Eleanora and Quilo explained that much of the music was created and fostered by communities that are facing colonization and they preserved their culture and stories through the music that now inspires contemporary artists.
“It’s community, it’s celebration, and kind of historical treasure,” said Eleanora of the music they play.
“That’s what makes them so special, it’s not only what they do and what they represent, it’s the music that they play. With Papaya Club, you go to learn, to be educated about what’s going on in the world.” said Liliana and Emily Hernandez, regulars at La Papaya Club.
Champeta, Punta, Cumbia, Merengue, Dancehall, Dembow, Vallenato classics along with Latin house remixes of the genre’s sounds, for a contemporary crowd, is what you’ll hear blasting out of whatever venue La Papaya Club enters.
Quilo and Eleanora say it is a pleasure to bring awareness to the communities and organizations they work with.
“If people know, they know — and those that don’t know, they will want to learn more,” said Quilo of the genre and its roots.
“Being that I’m not Afro-Latino myself it is in solidarity with and respect to that resistance that I admire,” said Quilo, highlighting that though he and Eleanora do not directly hail from the cultures their music comes from, they wish to support and uplift the communities as allies.
Liliana, and her sister Emily Hernandez, were intrigued by the aspect of giving back to communities through music and dancing.
“I saw not only was it like a whole DJ thing, but they had an organization accepting donations…it really resonated with me,” said Liliana Hernandez.
“They have regular jobs, they go to school, they have other projects on the side, but when they are at La Papaya Club it’s like laser focus they have, everything is organized so perfectly.” Liliana and Emily expressed their gratitude for the work that the founders have put into building up La Papaya Club.
“What I appreciate most about it is the fact that they give back… I felt that that was so niche,” said Emily.
“We want to focus on grassroots mutual aid, people and organizations that have an actual connection to the communities they are helping,” Eleanora said,
Some of the organizations the club has collaborated with include Water Drop LA, Border Kindness, Q Youth Foundation, Sonido Del Colibri, and Justice For My Sister.
Many of the organizations, mutual aids and nonprofits that the club collaborates with benefit youth, queer, arts and underserved populations of LA and throughout Latin America.
Sumo Hair died while the event was on hiatus, and there was some question of how they would return, but during their first in person event, which also served as posthumous birthday party for lead founder, the support was apparent.
The event, which was held at La Cita Bar in downtown LA raised $6,700, according to Quilo, in support of Raiz De la Ceiba, an organization that encourages arts and culture for the youth of Sumo Hair’s hometown in Guerrero, Mexico.
Liliana said, “I just really appreciate that they kept this going even after Sumo passed and it’s just becoming bigger and bigger.”
As La Papaya club transitioned from virtual to in person events they hoped to create an inclusive and safe space. It’s not an easy task in the heart of downtown LA but Eleanora and Quilo have aimed to foster a space where people from all backgrounds and communities can feel welcome to enjoy a night out in peace.
“The idea is that you’re in a space where you are not subject to a creeper,” said Quilo.
Eleanora believes that working with many women-led and queer organizations has contributed to the environment that they have created. It also doesn’t hurt to have a woman in the DJ booth looking out for everyone on the dancefloor.
“It’s a space where we accept everybody. But we want everyone to know we have zero tolerance for disrespect on any gender by any gender.”
She feels honored to know that people feel safe celebrating and contributing to the community that the club is creating.
Eleanor and Eduardo felt it was meant to be when they received a call from the Love Song Bar about adding La Papaya Club to their lineup, as it was one of the last places Sumo Hair had been to the night he died.
They will continue to appear in the Love Song Bar’s lineup but as they grow their community and network they hope to bring La Papaya Club to other like minded venues and further spread awareness and celebrate the cultures that have persisted against all odds to become driving forces in music throughout Latin America and the globe.