A boundary-breaking musician, producer, visual artist, and more, Alejandra Ghersi’s work as Arca defines the cutting edge of those fields. Her fluency in different media echoes how effortlessly her music borrowed from various genres while defying easy classification: the rumbling, rattling percussion that became a hallmark of her style had roots in hip-hop, noise, IDM, and Venezuelan party music. Ghersi’s approach was distinctive enough to be immediately recognizable even when she produced music by artists as prominent as Kanye West, Björk, and Frank Ocean. Arca’s own music was even more adventurous, whether she subverted the sounds of hip-hop in unapologetically queer ways on her early EPs or skillfully balanced her experimental and emotional sides on her first full-length, 2014′s Xen. Ghersi reinvented herself with each album, emphasizing the density and volatility of her music on 2015′s Mutant and breaking it wide open with the outpourings of 2017′s Arca, her first work to feature her voice. With the five-album Kick project that spanned 2020 and 2021, she reassembled pop into new, complex yet intuitive forms.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Ghersi and her family moved to Connecticut when she was three, then returned to Venezuela when she was nine. She began taking piano lessons around that time, and fell in love with the music of Aaliyah, Arthur Russell, and, especially, Björk. By the time she was 14, she was inspired by the glitchy sounds of Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails. She started making music as Nuuro that year, and her emotional electro-pop earned praise from other Venezuelan artists such as Los Amigos Invisibles.
After attending NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Ghersi began making music as Arca. Taking the name from an old Spanish word referring to a ceremonial container, the project debuted in October 2011 with a 25-minute online mix that incorporated Ghersi’s original tracks with edits of songs by Craig David and Bilal as well as elements of orchestral, hip-hop, drum’n’bass, and Venezuelan music. The following year, she issued a trio of short-form releases for the UNO label, starting with February’s four-track Baron Libre EP. On April’s six-track Stretch 1 and August’s Stretch 2 EPs, she contrasted aggressive hip-hop sounds with queer imagery. From there, Arca’s career built momentum rapidly. Her work caught the ear of Kanye West, who sought her to co-produce four tracks for Yeezus: “Hold My Liquor,” “I’m in It,” “Blood on the Leaves,” and “Send It Up.” The album appeared in June 2013, and a month later, Ghersi released the kinetic mixtape &&&&& on Hippos in Tanks. In September, FKA Twigs’ EP2 arrived, and featured writing and production by Arca on every track. That October, Ghersi performed &&&&& at MoMA PS1 with visual artist Jesse Kanda.
Over the next few years, Arca’s profile continued to grow. In September 2014, the single “Thievery” became Ghersi’s debut release for Mute; in November, her first full-length for the label, Xen, arrived. Named for the way Ghersi signed off in her diary entries, it earned acclaim for its rumbling, restless productions. She also earned praise for her production work on FKA Twigs’ 2014 debut album, LP1, as well as a pair of 2015 releases, Björk’s Vulnicura and Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP. Early that year, she self-released Sheep, her score for a Hood by Air fashion show that featured samples of Björk, Lana Del Ray, and Robert Wyatt in its tracks. Several songs from Sheep appeared on Mutant, a dense, challenging set that Mute released in November 2015. Arriving in mid-2016, the Entrañas mixtape featured a collaboration with Mica Levi as well as the track “Urchin,” which also appeared on Arca’s next album. Her first full-length for XL Records, April 2017′s widely acclaimed Arca was the first to feature Ghersi’s vocals and drew inspiration from Björk and Venezuelan folk. That year, she also reunited with Kelela on her October 2017 debut album, Take Me Apart, and with Björk on that November’s Utopia.
In 2018, Ghersi moved to Barcelona and came out as non-binary. She returned in September 2019 with Mutant;Faith, an ambitious experimental performance cycle of three live shows performed at The Shed’s Griffin Theater in New York City. The following February, she issued @@@@@, an hour-long track that was among her most challenging music. During the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, Ghersi streamed live performances and DJ sets. That June, she released Arca’s fourth album, KiCk i. Featuring contributions from SOPHIE, Rosalía, and Björk, it balanced Ghersi’s abrasive side with touches of trap, reggaeton, and pop. The album’s acclaim included a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album and a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album. Later in 2020, the track “Knot” appeared as the first single from a reissued version of her debut mixtape &&&&&.
In January 2021, Arca released Madre, an EP featuring producer/arranger/cellist Oliver Coates. That September, she contributed a reworking of Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me” that incorporated samples of “Time” and “Mequetrefe” to Gaga’s remix album Dawn of Chromatica, and issued “Incendio,” the first of several singles heralding the rest of the albums in the Kick anthology. Arriving in December 2021, the four albums that completed the series further explored the sounds Ghersi introduced on KiCk i. Featuring collaborations with Cardopusher, Mica Levi, and Sia, KICK ii expanded on Arca’s version of reggaeton; KicK iii concentrated on heavy club music; kick iiii took a softer approach and included cameos by Coates, Planningtorock, and Shirley Manson; and the delicate, largely instrumental kiCK iiiii boasted contributions from Ryuichi Sakamoto. ~ Heather Phares & Andy Kellman