DJ Esther Anaya Brings Classical-Music Training to the L.A. Chargers

Photo: Viktoriia Kosova / @viki_photo_la

Esther Ayana believes in manifestation; it’s how she got her current job, as resident DJ for the Los Angeles Chargers. “Honestly, I had SoFi Stadium on my vision board for years,” she says. In 2022, she collaborated with Snoop Dogg on a single — “BAYC” — and it was then that the NFL took notice. The Chargers asked her to play a draft party, and now she’s been their DJ for two seasons. “Everything I want, I always like to work for it, and I pray for it, too,” she says. “I believe that if you do both things, it just aligns.”

Although the Chargers position is relatively new, music has been a fundamental part of Anaya’s life forever. “My father is a composer,” she explains. “Everybody in my family plays an instrument.” Hers is the violin: She started playing at age 7, before her family emigrated from Colombia in 2002: “When we came to this country, music was the thing that kept us united and together — we used to play at churches as a musical group.” Anaya joined orchestras, but explains, “I wanted to always do something edgy with my instrument.” Growing up, she listened to pop: Selena Quintanilla, Shakira, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera. Their performances, she recalls, “were so, so clean and so unique,” traits she wanted to bring into her own music.

“I decided to use the knowledge and the training that I’ve gained through the years and incorporate it into something more modern,” she says. She started playing her violin as accompaniment to DJs, before taking classes herself. Now, she layers singing and violin into her sets. “There are so many cultures that influenced my upbringing,” she says. She wants her shows to reflect that. “I’m very energetic. I have a very big, very melodic sound … I bring on the heat when I perform, just make people get up on their feet, sing along, jump, fist pump.”

Here, Anaya talks about creating her own sound, asking for help, and starting a  nonprofit to support the next generation of musical talent.

On what a usual game day looks like:

For a morning game, I get there around 8 a.m. They usually have a very nice breakfast set up for me. Then I do sound check. If I’m doing a halftime show or adding anything to my set throughout the game, we rehearse that. Then, my makeup artist gets me prepped, and I’m up about an hour and a half before the game starts. I do my 45-minute pre-set to warm up the crowd. Then the game starts and I play through the whole thing, really working in hits, high-energy house music, and the violin. I incorporate the live-instrument aspect into my sets.

On what she plays for the crowd:

For the Chargers, I’ve done my own mash-ups and bootlegs for “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Crazy Train,” “Tsunami.” Those are staples. I do “Satisfaction” and “Tokyo Drift” mash-ups. People really love those. They’re songs people recognize and can sing along to.

The pre-set is always a different variety of music. I keep it modern. Sometimes I do a little bit of tech house and bring in a little alternative. And then other times, I keep it more mellow, or incorporate younger-generation types of music. I try not to always play the same songs. During the game, I have the top-50 songs that I alternate throughout the whole season, songs we know people feel attached to. And that’s where I come in as a producer. I don’t play the original song — I take it into the studio, I add drums, I change the drop, I create a drop with a different song. I do my own remixes, my own mash-ups, make it my sound.

On how she matches the vibe:

Let’s say we’re winning: That definitely means we’re playing “We Will Rock You.” If we’re losing, I bring up hopeful songs. I have some a cappella songs that have very recognizable lyrics, and with those, people want to get up and sing. It doesn’t matter if we’re losing; they’re saying, I like that song, let me get up and fist pump, take a break, get some energy. There’s sometimes a theme as well — Latin heritage or veterans, stuff like that. I align with what’s happening.

On her advice for aspiring DJs:

Get started. I feel like people get intimidated by the first move, but the most important move is do it now. You could say, I want to be a DJ for a whole year, but if you don’t enroll yourself in some classes, train, or even watch YouTube videos …

Do not be embarrassed. It’s about finding a community, finding friends you admire and DJs you look up to, and asking for help. Everybody needs help: Some people are going to say “yes,” and the worst they could say is “no.” But there are so many people out there who want to help. It’s not going to be an easy process, but you put in the work, you stay consistent, and opportunities open.

On supporting youth in music:

I have a nonprofit called ASAF Angels, which I founded in 2019. We give musical instruments and musical education to kids in underprivileged communities in Colombia and here in Los Angeles. It’s based on two of the most special moments in my life: When my parents didn’t have any resources to pay for classes back in Colombia and I was given free lessons from a teacher, and when my father bought me my first violin — that was one of the happiest moments in my life. I wanted to do the same thing for others and make sure to give others the same opportunities I had.

DJ Esther Anaya’s Hype Playlist

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. 

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