Drummer and singer Luisa Zamora loves their three white male bandmates in Denver post-punk outfit Purple Denim, and refers to them lovingly as “my stoner dude bro homies.” But Zamora, who identifies as a queer person of color and uses gender neutral pronouns, longed to play with people who share an identity more akin to their own.
“I really wanted to be around people who were queer and of color or black and indigenous,” Zamora says. “They can understand what I deal with on a day-to-day lived experience more than other people that I have built relationships with.”
Zamora met Celesté Martinez — who also identifies under the queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) umbrella — about three years ago, and the two later kicked around the idea of starting a band. Soon after, TúLips was born.
“We had this idea of creating an intentionally QTPOC band,” Martinez said. “There are so many white bands in Denver. We started to bring together people who identify as QTPOC and gender non-conforming folks as well.”
Although the group is a collective with a fluctuating membership, the core currently consists of Zamora, Martinez, Victoria Gómez Betancourt and Stevie Gunter. They have been gigging around Denver and have plans to record an EP and later a full album, as well as make music videos. They are currently making merchandise to sell at shows.
The group describes itself a “colectivo of feminista, genre non-conforming BIQTPOC band in Denver full of queer glory.” Its members all identify QTPOC or queer and trans people of color and alternately as BIQTPOC or black indigenous queer and trans people of color. They say this distinction makes them an anomaly in the white male dominated Denver music scene.
“I don’t think the QTPOC community lacks musicians,” Martinez adds. “I would say it was just finding people who had the capacity and desire to perform in a band but also with the layer of intentionality.”
Members say the band's name conjures images of the tulip, a flower which represents the group's feminist views, and the bilingual nature of the name also represents the cultural identity of individual members. Zamora, who sings and plays drums, adds that the ambiguity of the name also brings to mind the concept of androgyny.
Martinez came up with TúLips, a grammatically incorrect mashup of Spanish and English words, while coming home from a concert with her partner one night.
“I really love accents," Martinez says. “My name has an accent. I feel like that distinguishes culturally who we are. It’s kind of a play on words. It’s grammatically incorrect. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to fit in. You have to be who you are and the way you are in our space and our band is enough.”
Vocalist Gómez Betancourt, who is originally from Venezuela and has also lived in Mexico, says she felt very much the same as her bandmates about living in and being an artist and musician in Denver.
“Colorado can be very monochromatic,” Gómez Betancourt says. “Our community — black, indigenous, trans people of Colorado — is fairly small. The Latinx community is small as it is. So then there is a pocket of us.”
Gómez Betancourt says she has been performing on Denver stages for about five years and found them very male-dominated. She said TúLips has provided her an alternative that simply wasn’t there before. She is heavily involved in reproductive justice activism and uses spoken word and other media in an effort to reduce shame and stigma surrounding abortion in some Latinx communities. She said that she came to do such activism through personal experience.
“Having been able to access care really fueled my commitment to reproductive justice work,” she said. “I recognized a lot of other people who looked like me and didn’t get the chance or don’t get the chance through disparity.”
Multi-instrumentalist Gunter, who uses gender neutral pronouns, moved to Denver after most recently living in Arizona and encountered the same problem in the city as their bandmates when looking for people to jam with.
“It’s super important to have a group like this be more widely visible,” Gunter said. “I moved here in September of 2018. It wasn’t until about maybe summer of 2019 that I was starting to find pockets of QTPOC. It’s really white here. It’s difficult to find an opening into other communities that aren’t so homogeneous.”
TúLips styles itself as a genre non-conforming band — pun intended, notes Martinez — but Gómez Betancourt describes the band’s sound as somewhere in the realm of Mexican pop rock and South American folk music, with a splash of punk rock tossed in for good measure. The musicians perform in English and Spanish.
“We also throw in spoken word poetry that is politically minded,” she says. “So far we’ve talked about immigrant rights and reproductive justice and abortion-positive messaging. We are evolving. We will see what else we come up with.”
Zamora jokes that the band plays a mix of “surfer goth punk.”
“A lot of our lyrics are melodramatic, but the music is light and upbeat,” Martinez said. “We have those things in juxtaposition with each other some times.”
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