Kali Serna

Promoter, Talent Buyer

May 30, 2016


How old are you?

I’m 22.

Where are you from originally?

Queens, New York.

How long have you been in New Orleans?

About a year and a half.

What brought you here?

A combination of school and work. I knew that I wanted to focus on being an entrepreneur but within the realm of music. And I couldn’t do that where I was living before.

Where was that?

In Orange County, California. The focus was tech startups and that didn’t sit right with me. I knew I needed to go be a professional and follow my passion which was music so what better place to do that than New Orleans? It’s the best training wheels for this industry.

I’ve heard that the tech industry is incredibly male dominated. Have you noticed any similarities or differences between that and the male dominated music industry?

It’s definitely very male dominated in the tech industry, far more than the music industry. The focus is in math and sciences and there isn’t a lot of female involvement in the STEM programs around the world. It’s actually incredible sad. But with the music industry and the sexism that exists there and the separation between men and women, there’s still a bright spot because with music comes emotion. There’s all this passion and love that goes into and a respect for the art form where the tech industry is cut throat. They do not care who you are or who you know. All they care about is your worth in productivity. There’s no one saying “Well I could see where you’re coming from and we’ll be patient and watch you grow and really become a master of your trade”.

In what capacity would you describe yourself as a part of the music community of New Orleans?

The way that I would differentiate myself as a promoter in this city is that I care for the artists that are on the shows that I promote. I carry things that make sense together not based on just the music but their crowds and the musicians themselves. It’s sort of the more progressive way that promoters with jam band festivals work and they carry with them a bunch of heavy hitters from different bands. But I’m doing it on a much smaller scale and with the people who live in this community. These aren’t people who are touring, they can go hang out at each other’s apartments after the show and go shed together because they enjoyed sharing a stage. I like being able to craft all of that.

So you’re a promoter and you’ve done management before?

I did a little bit of management. I obviously have my opinions on music business being the same as any business. So the same way that a tech startup needs a marketing plan and needs budgeting and a certain director for marketing or finances, the same goes for your music business. I’ve helped a lot of people find the right path to monetize their art that’s not taught in New Orleans. It’s something I would like to get into more. I am also a talent buyer for three venues that book based on people coming out to party which is a very different side to be on than how I function as a promoter.

What venues are they?

The Maison, Hi-Ho, and Dragon’s Den.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

Sexism to me deals with the subtle differences in the way that I interact with men and how I see women interact with me. I think the sexism that a lot of people see is how are men treating women but they create this insane dynamic for the way that women interact with each other as well. Instead of empowerment, there’s a competitive nature. There’s definitely the feeling that women are very emotional or catty, talk too much, they say too much, and the way that they present themselves physically is much more judged. Part of why I started wearing all black is it’s not very memorable. All you have is this black canvas from my head down and then my neck up is my brain and my voice. That’s why you’re going to remember.

Do you remember being told or taught anything growing up regarding behavioral expectations that were not told to your male peers?

It was interesting having a mother growing up who owned a business far before I was ever born. I got completely sheltered from sexism when I was younger. I would watch the way my mother would talk to her employees who were pretty much all male immigrant men. There was a way that she would have to dominate the conversation more so than any other man and there was this intensity that really turned me off. I didn’t understand for so long why there was such a bite in her words until I realized how quickly she got walked all over when she showed compassion and showed kindness. Certain men take it upon themselves to take advantage of what they perceive to be vulnerability.

How does being treated in a blatantly sexist or subtly sexist way make you feel?

Blatant sexism makes my stomach turn. Every time that someone walks up to me and puts their hand on my lower back, right above my butt, there is this chill that goes up my spine. It’s the kind of chill that many females know. It’s that touch where it just doesn’t sit right with you. And perhaps that is for a multitude of different reasons. I’d say the majority of females have either been sexually abused or assaulted so as a male you never know what you’re triggering when you’re touching a female. You never know what your hands have the power to do. And subtle sexism is the kind that makes me very quiet. I get into my head and I start pulling things apart and trying to understand it and look for ways to somehow justify compassion in their ignorance. I find a lot of the times when I get into that quiet place it only pushes it further and it makes them think that I’m just a shy, timid girl. No, I’m actually super powerful but y’all are saying some dumb ass shit and I’m just going to retreat into my head right now.

There have been many times when I didn’t know how to react.

I remember one time calling out a very well-known musician. I snapped on him twice because after I did it the first time there was no going back. He looked at me up and down and yelled, “Damn!” And I just told him, you can’t look at me that way if you don’t even know my fucking favorite color so fuck you. And he started clapping and said “I gotta put that in my next song.” But it’s seriously so fucking creepy. I responded by asking “Don’t you have a wife at home?” And he said yes so I said “See, I’m just not the home wrecking type.” And countered with “You can’t wreck anything, we’re tight as hell.” So then why are you trying to invite me to sleep with you?! He blatantly just asks people to do that and he is still doing it. It can also be something so small. They can think they’re giving a compliment like “You look so nice with your hair down.” I try to explain it and they don’t get it, they still just think they’re just being nice. Sorry, I don’t know how to explain hundreds of years of sexism to you in a two and a half minute conversation.

I love when people defend themselves by saying something was just a joke.

It’s not a joke, you’re just a fucking idiot.

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way?

I do not always notice it which is why I talked about retreating into my head. I need to kind of dissect it first for a second and realize if it was sexist. I’m not a perfect person so I’m fine having this out there but if I make a mistake professionally, I want to be dished out for it. I want someone to be like “Hey Kali, you really messed up and it’s not cool.” I’ve done some things professionally where I slipped and let a couple things slide and I should’ve been reprimanded for it. But because I was working with men, they just kind of brushed it off when I deserved to be chewed out. On the surface it sounds like a good thing so it took me a good two, three years to realize that it was a form of sexism. That’s not because of who I am, that’s sexism.

There are so many people who express they want to work with me and I get excited because of their talent and their prominence. But their intentions from the beginning were not to have me work. Maybe it was to sleep with me or maybe it was to date me.

It’s like they’re saying, I’ll give the job to you because you’re pretty and I’d rather look at you when I have to do work.

If you are interested in me, ask me on a date. I will most likely say yes. But when you come at it under false pretenses it’s slimy and not ok. What’s the point in lying to me? You think I’m not going to figure it out? Like you’re smooth? You’re smoother than I am? That’s so ridiculous.

And then you have degraded my professionalism.

Exactly. It all goes back to where the intention is and the more I get to know someone I can kind of break down the intentions. It doesn’t make it ok but it makes it easier to digest I think.

It becomes a question of morality and that’s a hard burden to carry as a female. I’m supposed to stand up for myself and other women and teach a lesson but also I want to succeed, I want to be powerful and know the right people. So do I play along and make sure that my eyes are open the entire time or do I take the high road?

Do you think forms of sexism are so engrained in our lives that we just can’t register it?

I would not say that I am incredibly educated on the depth of sexism but I do know enough through existing and being a professional woman that there’s so much more that’s going to be uncovered as I continue to be a professional woman. Most people aren’t even that aware of their existence and how they interact with other human beings. They’re the true victims of sexism because they don’t even know how to defend themselves.

Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior?

There’s this concept of the southern gentlemen that I’d never been exposed to. I think I’m ok if someone calls me “love” but I’m not ok if they call me “babe” and then there’s “sweetie”. Sweetie? Man, I’m not your daughter. Moving to New Orleans and having to accept all of the pet names that men call females is so hard to deal with because it’s like my New York instinct wants me to snap be like “Who the fuck are you talking to?” And you can’t respond that way because they are genuinely trying to be kind and not creepy. And you can see that in their eyes. There’s the people that are looking you up and down and then there’s the people that are looking directly into your eyes and really respecting your existence.  The way it’s said can make me feel like I’m loved by a stranger or ilke I’m being objectified.