Critical mass

Wow, the intersectional/multiple identity unconference session is JAMMED. There must be 40 people here, crowded into a corner of the ballroom, and they’re an amazing mixture of (mostly) youth of color—folks in their teens & twenties; at least half are men; ah, I think they’re high school students brought here by their teacher…

OK, it’s 45 minutes later and they’re all still hard at it! Now there are over 50 participants and they’re really FOCUSED—they’re into it! They’re hearing about Audre Lord, Tupac, the dissonant divas Deb Vargas has so lovingly written about, etc.—this is good stuff.

Alice Bag’s reading and discussion/interview with Medusa and Alice Bag

Mako Fitts and Maylei Blackwell just introduced each other in totally fun ways—two scholarly activistas!

Alice Bag is reading from Violence Girl, remembering her Chicana childhood in East LA—going to Mexican movies downtown on Broadway with her family. She’s remembering the vending machines in the movie theater bathroom and discovering Kotex, which she wore on her head—”the mystery of the little white bonnet”…!

She’s now singing with The Januariez, a local band—a punkchera, a ranchera song transformed! OMG, how wonderful… I could listen to this all night.

She’s now telling a story, remembering her high school fascination with Elton John. She sings “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and the audience screams when she finally did the punk jump—Medusa’s in the front row, singing along. Actually, everyone’s singing along—SATURDAY! SATURDAY! SATURDAY! Medusa unexpectedly sang the last verse as a solo and everyone REALLY went nuts.

Alice somehow managed to go back into storytelling after that, saying that she created The Bags after that, and performed anger. Her writing about the experience of performing is extraordinary—absolutely immediate. She and Medusa sing “Babylonian Gorgon” and every iPhone in the place is pointed at them. There’s a beautiful generosity between them: they’re both so confident that they’re beyond any need to dominate and they share the stage easily.

The set is over and we shift to the interviews. Mako Fitts introduces Medusa as the queen of the lesbo-MCs, and I listen to Mako with increasing respect and admiration: she sure knows how to do a hip-hop intro. She’s utterly inside the language and the metaphors. Alice comes back on stage and sits. MayLei asks what inspired them both, and Medusa cites her aunt, a singer-songwriter, and her childhood contact with extraordinary musicians as a result. Alice Bag remembers a music teacher at school, who gave her the opportunity to sing for educational cartoon soundtracks in Spanish.

Mako asks where their willingness to innovate comes from and Alice says “it’s like plucking it from the air, lettig it come in.” Maylei asks, “You’ve both been characterized as angry—how do you channel your femininity?” Medusa describes pushing her voice “to where it can’t be pushed anymore.” She says, “Inside of me there is this man, this woman, this child, this stripper, this goddess… Your femininity is your strength.” Alice Bag says she often feels androgynous on stage, defined not by gender but by strength.

Mako cites continuing problems around women’s access to space and asks whether they think anything’s changed during their lifetimes. Alice says that there are now far more woman musicians and that it gives her great pleasure to see women claiming their space. Medusa says that “women in hip hop have to take what they want, and have to have the hunger of a lion to make it.” She notes that b-girls “hone their craft in a different way,” becoming more masculine as they get more skilled.

MayLei notes they’re both from LA and asks how that shaped them. Alice Bag remembers lots of new arrivals in Hollywood during the 1970s, a terriifc mix of ethnicities and sounds, and says she thinks “the city comes through in a very organic way.” She describes her writing as a way to evoke that experience and the experience of singing on stage. Medusa grew up in Buena Park, one of 5 Black kids in a primarily Chican@ school, and she remembers it with warmth and affection, saying all of that is in her, and that music enables people to immerse themselves in other sensibilities in deep and meaningful ways.

Mako asks for their most outrageous, crazy memory of performing! At this point, these two women have the audience in their hands. Medusa says she has too many such memories, and then relates how her baggy pants fell around her ankles during a performance and how she didn’t notice until she tried to dance sideways. But then she remembers a time when she freestyled about how lesbians can & should “find a king” so they could have children, and how some of her lesbian fans were incensed.

An audience member asks what young bands they’re into and Medusa says she’s always on the lookout, always curious about new performers. Alice says she follows young women’s bands. An audience member just asked what they sing in the shower! Medusa says she has a mental jukebox, a mental rolodex, that opens up in the shower. MayLei asks what their dream collaboration would be. Medusa says Marvin Gaye… “and I would give him some too!” Alice said Bessie Smith, “and I would give her some too.”

What a panel. This was a high point in a marvelous day!

Barni Qaasim’s workshop on online video for social justice

I’m already pyched to be here since I loved the clips of Barni’s films last night—especially her extraordinary footage of Somali women singing for a new baby.

So far there are only 7 people here but everyone is here for real, focused reasons–everyone works on social justice, or film, or both. Barni started out by saying that she thinks artists tell stories that can make a real difference.

Hah–fellow blogger Tiffany Ana Lopez just came in, laptop at the ready. Let’s see how our accounts create a dialogue!

We’re gathering around her laptop to see a YouTube video about immigration in AZ. It’s amazing—full of veyr immediate stories and testimonio. She asks what a video about social justice can or should look like. An older White man in the circle (a self-described anarchist) says he likes the way it isn’t snide in the ways that mainstream news is. Several others said they like its realness—letting the material tell the story. This strikes me as idealistic—as an ethnographer, I know that ‘the material’ can tell a range of possible stories, depending on who’s shaping it! The filmmaker Scott said, as he did last night at the film festival, that he like “authenticity,” making me wonder who gets to determine what’s authentic and what isn’t.

Barni notes tht its essential to make such grassroots films with the involvement of community members. She says that maintaining a sense of the conversational can make a big difference. This particular film was emailed far and wide in an email blast by the Tucson community members affected by HB 1070, resulting in a very effective fundraising drive. She says she goes, hangs out, helps out, and shoots in between all the other activities.

She ecourages simple filmmaking—a Flip cam, a cell phone. She says you can create very moving media with simple means, including simple editing directly on YouTube. I’m more and more inspired by all this—I want to run right out and interview women at this unconference!