Negotiating Dual Identities in Performance with Keyabee

Mikeya Keyabee is a young queer woman born with with HIV who is nearing college graduation with a degree in sociology. Her goal is to combine sociology with activism through work that focuses on stories about people living with HIV and to produce work that addresses media representation of AIDS issues, most especially as they impact youth. Her observation is that within the dominant mainstream culture, when these issues are talked about, they have been filtered through a near exclusive focus on health issues. In her workshops, Keyabee’s goal is to expand the frame to include personal stories of struggle that allow for a closer look at the complexity of negotiating identity for those living with HIV and as a means to identify and counter stigma, most especially for youth living with HIV. Keyabee’s work follows from her own reflections about having learned as a 7-year old that she was a child living with HIV and then navigating her way into young adulthood with the challenge of how to balance that part of her identity with all the other parts of her identity. The question that provided the seeds for her workshop: How to come into a fully empowered sense of self when the representational field of people living with HIV is so limited?

Keyabee began launching into the workshop by honoring those who have survived violence and acknowledging the need to create a safe space for dialogue. Her opening exercise asked participants to reflect on their own subject positions in relationship to struggle: How many of us know someone who is living with HIV/AIDS? How many of us are living with HIV? How many of us have experienced violence? How many of us have experienced feelings of exclusion or shame?

Keyabee then shared a spoken word poem she wrote specifically for this workshop. In this piece about being born with HIV and surviving childhood violence, she imagied the complexities charging her parents’ relationship that resulted in her birth. Keyabee’s poem provided a meditation about trauma and the challenge of “to love or forgive,” referring to herself as “the child pheonix.” She positioned her own personal story as a tool to help further frame our reading of the opening workshop exercise. How does a young child learn to cope with struggle? What would it mean for a young child living with HIV to see no positive images in the mainstream media of anyone who looked like herself and no stories about children living with HIV? What would it mean to grow up in the 1980s and see most images of those infected with HIV associated with the ravages of disease and socially stigmatized behaviors, such as drug use and promiscuity? How can a young person love and embrace something within herself that seems to cause so much death and disease in the world?

Keyabee had participants to make a list of media representations of people living with HIV and AIDS. Our collectively brainstormed list included: images of suffering children from third-world countries; gay men wasting away from a disease blamed on a promiscuous lifestyle; exclusive associations of the disease with white-male homosexuality; images of HIV as a disease contracted by those who are less civilized. (A gay male student of mine shared that growing up in the 1980s, such images caused him to believe at the age of 9 that because he was gay he had HIV even though he’d never had a sexual relationship with anyone.) When it comes to representations of treatment, our group recalled images that make it appear one’s life must completely revolve around medicine. The problem with dwelling on what causes the disease is that it avoids focus on how HIV currently impacts the public culture on multiple levels.

Keyabee discussed the impact of such representations, such as feeling that those living with HIV can never be in a romantic relationship, development of a fear of intimacy, and distrust in engaging in sexual relationships.  In thinking about other forms of social impact, we spoke of how up until recently, there was the need for bloodtests to enter other countries. In 2008, the US used to bar people with HIV from entering the country, and this law was only changed 4 years ago. There are activist foundations that have had a huge impact in public health campaigns and policy making, but the mindset of many of these organizations is not prepared to serve different populations and communities. Our group talked about the gap between the intention and the impact of the storylines in media campaigns.

Our observation was that the public discourse tends to dwell more on those lost than those living with HIV. There are exceptions, such as Magic Johnson and his success with antiviral therapy. But for the most part, as a culture we hear very little about people living with HIV. We also discussed the perception that HIV is a problem of the past and not something that today effects people on a daily basis. There are people who ignorantly believe HIV/AIDS has been cured and is gone. (In 2009, the Act Against AIDS National Campaign reminded Americans of the then current statistics: “Every nine and a half minutes someone’s brother, mother, sister, father or neighbor is infected with HIV.”)

In addition to representational violence, Kayabee was also shaped by her childhood experiences of physical and emotional violence. When Keyabee’s mother was pregnant, the doctors did not want her to have the child because during that moment in time AIDS was seen as a death sentence. Her father had not disclosed to her mother that he was HIV positive and the disease was passed forward to the children. Until age five, Kayabee experienced a household defined by her father’s physical abuse. Then, at age 5, her brother passed away. She remembers sitting in the backseat of the car after being piekced up from school when her mother noticed her brother not breathing; he was taken to the fire station where Keyabee watched the EMT try to revive him. By age 7, when Kayabee found out she was living with HIV, she already had several traumatic experiences.

Keyabee credits the development of her core strength and expressive powers with Seattle’s Rise and Shine, an organization whose mission is to provide emotional support programs, stability, advocacy, and AIDS education for children and teens affected by HIV/AIDS. They facilitated her ability to express her emotions and learn to speak about her experiences. Kayabee credits them with saving her life and directing her to be the person she is today. She spoke at length about being in their youth summer camp with other children aged 5-18. She remembers coming to the camp as a needed release when her brother passed away when she did not yet know she was living with HIV. Upon returning home, she asked herself why she’d been sent to a camp where all of the kids were talking about their relationship to HIV? Her mother had not yet told her daughter she’d been born with HIV because she’d wanted to protect Kayabee from the stigma associated with HIV.

Kayabee’s personal sharing illustrates the point of her workshop: the importance of youth being give a way to communicate about HIV/AIDS. She wants to bring a human element to reaching out to young people living with HIV/AIDS and to give back to the sense of community fostered by such groups as Rise and Shine. Through her spoken word poetry and workshops, Kayabee’s already seen a positive impact with people reaching out to her through Facebook. She offered the example of being contacted by a girl who contracted HIV through rape with peers who learned of the event stigmitazing her for having AIDS. Kayabee wants to create a space for understanding how our responses to HIV impact identity formation.

Kayabee recalled that when she found out, she did not fully understand what it meant to have HIV/AIDS. It wasn’t until high school that she understood the impact but also the stigma; ie. in health classes she saw images of those with HIV taking lots of pills and looking close to death. This prompted her to raise questions about what would happen to her. She felt deeply impacted by her fear of violence in telling people about her experience and status; and there was the the challenge of making other intersections. She had no access to anyone to talk to within the education system. Her only support was Rise and Shine.

Because during her childhood and adolescence Keyabee did not see many positive role models of others growing up with HIV, a looming question for her was when to tell friends and partners. She’s learned to analyze structures in which it is safe to trust others with sharing information. In our discussion, a workshop participant commented: “I would want someone to tell me right away if there was the potential of romance involved. Otherwise, I’m not sure if it matters.”

One of the materials Kayabee provides to workshop participants is a handout that includes examples of stigmatizing terms and preferred terms. For example, “AIDS Virus” is listed as a problematic term with the explanation that “AIDS is a syndrome not a virus; HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The preferred term is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).” A participant expressed much appreciation for the handout. It make us think of all the things that well intended people have done that are hurtful. She wondered if as a person who is not positive she has ever said things that have been hurtful and/or ignorant as a result of social conditioning.

Keyabee was asked if she had stories to share about encounters. She responded, “Education is difficult.” She follows the life of Magic Johnson; rap videos, images from the 1980s, and contemporary work to reinvent images. As far as the issue of being an ally, she would like to see people explain how a community sees things but also interject the notion of privilege. She sees watching documentaries and the conversations that result from them as a powerful starting place. An audience particpant expressed thanks to Keyabee for how her workshop helps us come together to talk about fear and stigma.

Keyabee hopes her spoken word poetry and performances provide a way to tell her story without having a direct conversation. They show a different way to speak about the experience of living with HIV.  Kayabee says that there is always an academic or health discourse that puts things in one ear and out the other. She wants to broaden the discourse to educate people through a human story that offers more positive representations about and by those living with HIV, most especially young people. One of her favorite bloggers is Brandon because of the ways he talks about his life, his recovery, and navigating between different struggles. She says, “I relate to him because of the ways he must also deal with society and intersectional identity and how he uses art as a tool. Her goal is to see more diverse stories in theater and hip hop about the experience of living with HIV.

Interestingly, I attended this workshop during a week in which I was preparing to teach Tony Kusher’s Angels in America and the Pomo Afro Homos’ Dark Fruit, a play that begins with a performed critique of Kushner’s character Belize; the impact of HIV/AIDS for Belize, and by extension other people of color, is figured only in response to white gay men. Clearly, white male subjectivity does not represent all people, most especially when it comes to the complexities of living with HIV and the ways doing so is clearly dramatically impacted by class, race, and gender. Kayabee’s workshop made me think about what it would mean for her to grow up with Kushner’s play as a celebrated work of American theater and how this play would read to her? Kaybee’s workshop brought a new lens to my thinking about the play as well as many other issues. For example, in that week’s discussion with my college students, one student offered that he felt Kushner’s play was “archaic” and that “People aren’t as politically conservative today and AIDS is not such a crisis issue.” Kayabee’s workshop made me ask: “How many of you feel that if you were diagnosed with HIV, the campus health center could take care of your treatment?” No one raised a hand. I then asked, “How many of you feel that you could be completely open about living with HIV and not fear or experience any discrimination?” Again, no one raised a hand.

Kayabee’s workshop was an incredibly powerful experience that I highly suggest educators and others consider brining to their school, university, business or other organization.

Mikeya Harper (Kaya Bee) is a youth mentor, spoken word artist, hip hop emcee, teacher and workshop facilitator. She can be contacted at: keyabee.com and keyabee@hotmail.com.

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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!

Alice Bag and Medusa – Women Who Rock Keynote

At the closing conference keynote address, Alice Bag and Medusa engaged in a historic performance together. Alice read from her new memoir VIOLENCE GIRL. She is recognized by Mako Fitts as an “OG, a soldadera of punk music.” Alice and Medusa jam together on “Babylonian Gargoyle.” The world of the music hall is shrunk down to their musical exchange as they look at one another and sing with focus and intent. Medusa and Alice embody a full-on connection of presence, creating energy that bounces off the walls in the room, one feeding off of the other in a full volume energy-fest exemplifying Women Who Rock in action. As Fitts reminds us, their performance is a bridging of scenes and voices.

Alice Bags ends her set and Fitts introduces Medusa as a groundbreaking MC and foundational hip hop artist (see also her work in Cheryl Dunye’s film STRANGER INSIDE), the first hip to be featured with a live band: “When one thinks about The Roots and The Black Eyed-Peas, one has to acknowledge Medusa as someone who instilled the refocusing on live band presence in hip-hop. She is someone who is both a dope MC, an author, an actress, AND an artist who is archived at Harvard University.” Medusa and Alice Bags perform together again, and again their worlds converge.

After their keynote performance, Maylei Blackwell and Mako Fitts lead conversation between the artists and the audience:

Maylei Blackwell (MB): What inspired you both to pick up the mic?

Medusa: I was ispired by my Aunt Billy who was with the group The Undisputed Truth; she also wrote “Wishing on a Star” with Rolls Royce and toured with the Jackson Five. At an early age, I wrote a song, “Angel in the Sky,” and it was my aunt who gave me the opportunity for publishing my first song.

Alice: I was kind of a weird kid. The one bright moment in my school day was with the music teacher. Eventually she motivated me to sing on educational cartoons. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was making educational outreach cartoons, which I sang on as a fifth grader because I could sing bilingually; that was my first case of success.

Mako Fitts (MF): You are both known as innovations. Where does that come from?

Medusa: In the realm of the creative, you get a brew going, and its up to you to transform that energy into something else and to not be afraid of allowing that energy to flow through you. The work is to not fear allowing the many facets and energies to speak.

Alice: It’s not necessarily that you are creating that energy but harnessing it. You have to have no fear.

MB: You have both been characterized as fierce and sometimes angry. How do you characterize the feminie in your performance and bring elements of sexiness and the erotic into your work?

Medusa: In the world of hip hop, you have to compete with a lot of men. You have to challenge yourself to be agressive and pushy. In my work, I do that through my lyrics. Inside of me there is this piece of man, there is also a woman, a child, a stripper, a pimp, and a goddess. When I”m on stage, I allow them all to have their place and to have their way with me. I really believe your femininity is your strength. For a woman to deny part of her feminity is to deny God’s given gift. No matter how masculaine you find my attire, my energy is about my femininity. Recognizing this is the epitome of not judging a book by its cover.

Alice: I agree with Medusa. (You already know where my anger comes from.) The “sexy” comes from feeling grounded and self confident. I feel androgenous on stage and channel energy towards a point where one is not defined by gender. I dont feel male or female; I just feel my strength. We talk about tapping into an energy that’s bigger than oneself, and that’s what I am tapping into.

MF: One of the things that’s often talked about is the issue of women’s access to space, including spaces for women to hold their musicianship. What has changed since you entered the game in tems of women’s access to space?

Alice: I haven’t been around the entire time in the way that Medusa has been playing consistently for years. Somethimes I’ve been playing, other times I’ve been a teacher, and at other times the role of the parent has taken center stage. I see a lot more women playing and forming bands than when I was young. I see women empowering themselves to produce their own music, records, and touring. For a while, the scene I was a part of was ending, and I saw it being taken over by a very male patricarchal force that was excluding women. I think that’s a cyclical process where people try to take over your movmeent and you have to stand your ground.

Medusa: I come from a different world. Hip hop is not like R&B where women rule the mic and where men are trying to emulate that. Hip hop is different in that women have to take what they want and take a space within a space. Some females will get into that space, and you have to have the growl and hunger of a lion when you are there. Some will grab it with a daisy or a daffodil in a glitter kind of way. In an arena of lions, you have to agressively access the mic. If the daffodils and daisys are put center, they will get played to the backdrop. I’ve also epxerienced women at the mic who don’t belong at the mic. They are cute and want to try it, but in the space of lions, you have to really hone your craft and sharpen your tool in order to be the lionnes you need to be. It’s really hard to find a pack of aggressive lionesses from which to attack the space as an MC and make it your own. It seems a little easier with B-Girls because they bond and grow in a certain way and get to evolve and become strong but also more masculine. As an MC you have to be able to do those moves, too. Sometimes we get kicked out of a space becasue we don’t have sharp enough tools; that’s who gets to claim a space. Others need to recognize that they might be poets and writers. In hip hop, you don’t just have a space, you have to take a space.

MB: Both of you are from Los Angeles and talk alot in the media about the so called Black and Brown conflict. How do you draw on your culture to get to that fierceness that you bring to the mic?

Alice: In my experince in the early punk scene, I felt it was well integrated and reflected the broader LA scene composed of those who did not feel like they fit in, those who came to Hollywood and found a supportive community. I didn’t sense conflict in my creative environment, and that’s what made it successfull because it any judgement was about what you were bringing to the mix and not what you looked like. I didn’t realize at the time that in my work there was an influence of rancheras, Mexican movies, etc.; in such a supportive context, your ethnicity is able to come through in an organic way.

Audience Member: Medusa acknowledged the importance of harnessing different energies. I want to know where you find sources of support to sustain the various energies that inform your work. How do you get to that point? Did you have support from someone in your inner circle or family who supported your artistic sense of self?

Alice: That’s a really good question. “I am Who I am, and I am happy with who I am” is a powerful message to listen to as a kid. That’s a message I got from my father who told me I could be the President of the United States. So when I started doing things that were atypical for a kid my age in my neighborhood, I thought that everyone else was wrong and I was right. And that came from my supreme sense of confidence from my father’s teaching me those early lessons. Punk rock teaches that you don’t have to meet anyone else’s idea of competency; you are going to do what you need to do, and you need to trust and follow your instincts.

Medusa: Definitely in hip hop, I’ve seen those borders. I grew up in Ontario, Chino, and Alta Dena. In Buena Park, I was one of 5 blacks in a school that was predominantly Chicano. I had to make a pivotal decision in looking for a social life. I didn’t want to hang out with the white girls who were cheerleaders — that wasn’t my speed. I hung out with the Chicanos who wanted to jump me in but were wondering if I was too tough for that; they just embraced and accepted me, no questions. The only difference was language; that kept me out of certain conversations, but my energy made it okay and kept me in the mix. I became a chameleon who knew a lot of cultures and respected them for who them were. It’s really necesary to explore the different cultures because you realize they are all in you, innately. As far as translating them into music, it is apparent when I am around Hispanics in the scene when they call themselves nigga that they relate to the power of the word; they call themselves that in front of other cultures and feel empowered to use it. That is the power of being creators of lots of things. You often come across something that stands out and say, “Damn, they have a swag like no other!” You want a piece of that, and you connect by listening to the music. We influence one another across the board. It’s only the powers that be that segregate us in their building of neighborhoods. But we do want to know one another and do want to culturally create things together. I think the growth of music and realizing we are so one is what allows us to mix in powerful ways.

MF: I love stories and this opportunity to hear stories about your experiences. What is your most outrageous memory of performing?

Medusa: There’s a lot of them. but the most memorable was a time I performed in Frisco in the Bay. It was this incredible space, set up like an old-school theater where the stage was in the center and the chairs all around. It was beautiful. It was for a gay power movement event. There was a couple things that happened. My pants were a bit baggy. I’m rockin a bit to a beat that I’ve never heard before. I’m rocking back and forth and did a move in which my pants fell but I didn’t know ’cause I had on shorts under my pants. Everyone was into my rhymes and not letting me know. I went on for a while and then discovered my pants were down to the floor and was like, FOR REAL!?! No one was letting me know! Then, during that same performance, I said to the crowd, “If you are a lesbian couple, the world still deserves to see the children that would come out of you.” And I suggested in the free style that you find a king or a genetlemen that you both dig and one of you bear children. I’m just being myself, and a couple of claps happened. But afterwards, there were women who were just pissed at me. I couldn’t figure out the problem. They were pissed that they thought I said they needed a man. I had to clarify: what’s wrong with women wanting to reflect and carry forward themselves through their children and picking their own children’s father? My stance was: I love everybody and can say whatever the fuck I want.

Alice: I’ve never lost any clothing on stage. The only embarrrasing incident I can think of is the first time I stepped on stage. We played the first song, and the crowd wanted more music. I went on stage and said, “Play my body, it’s a musical instrument.” The band never let me forget that.

Audience Member: How often do you make efforts to see young new artists in the punk and hip hop scenes?

Medusa: I go to events to see new work all the time. I stand in the back of the room so that my presence is not a stigma for new artists. I want to see what’s happening and then provide feedback about what is needed for a new artist to be a better entertainer.

Alice: Medusa is so powerful, generous, and giving on stage. She was here for the soundcheck and telling my bandmates how to better things. Very generous. I don’t get to see a lot of bands often because I am in Sedona, Arizona, a very slow paced area without a music sene like in the big cities. I see women’s bands, and that inspires me and feeds my soul.

Audience Member: What is your shower jam? When considering your stage name, was there anything crazy you considered?

Medusa: [Sings a song: “….you remind me of a friend… oooh….ooooh…ooooh… I’m lost in time….da, da, da….”] That’s my shit! I have a mental Rolodex of songs, a juke box of things that I sing in my shower that goes from Aretha Franklin to Chaka Khan to Pheobe Snow. It runs the gamit depending on mood. Medusa is the only name I considered because I turn male MCs to stone. Once I dove a little deeper into the naming. A friend of mine had a dictionary and told me to look up Medusa: it’s the way a jelly fish swims in the ocoen, free flowing. I felt my rhymes were like that. I also found out Medusa was one of 5 sisters that had the power to shape shift, not just her body but events, and she could only use it for the positive. When she was being hunted by the kingdom of the land of Nod, they felt her power was in her hair, in her dreadlocks. If you didn ‘t know what her hair was, you would call it snakes. When they found her doing something horrific to men, her head was taken back to the kingdom and it actually destroyed the land. I took those things, made them my truth, and use them to this day.

Alice: [Sings “Our Love is Here is Stay.”] That’s my shower jam. I don’t have great stories of how I got my name because when the Ramones came out, everyone just called out their names: Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone.  With the Bags, I was Alice Bag. Growing up, I hjad a teacher who didn’t pronounce my given name “Alicia” and instead called me Alice. Not as empowering of a story as Medusa’s, but that’s my truth.

MB: If you had a dream collaboration across space and time, who would you dream to collaborate with and why?

Medusa: Marvine Gaye. He is one of the most incredible producers. His vocal arranging is like no other, R&B, folk, funk, all of those things. I’ve spent hours, years, sitting and analyzing his music. Now I can hear. He’s the reason I can hear every instrument in every song. He made me appreciate music more. I can listen to Marvin Gaye and then Carole King and recognize her orchestration. And I would give him some too! I love that man. He was fine.

MF: That would be some beautiful children.

Alice: I would say Bessie Smith. And I would give her some, too. I don’t have a big explaination.

MB: She was an innovator.

Audience Member: I was wondering about the group Suicidal Tendencies’ influence and if you see a crossover betweeen punk and hip hop.

Alice: I’m not aware of that.

Medusa: The only thing I can think of that fit is in the 1980s, I would cruise down Sunset and as I passed by the clubs, look at the Mohawks, the color at the tips, all the scooters lined up. There would always be the select few black folks. There would be the gang bangers who liked diving into the mosh pit cause they could sock whoever they wanted to. They would dress punk on the weekend to get into the vibe.

MF: We are opening with Stephanie Hazelrigg.

Alice: Blondie and Sugar Hill represented early mixtures of styles.

Stephanie: What would you do instead if you didn’t have the mic.

Medusa: I would do a mean ass a capela. I would beat box the crowd, tap dance on the box like Queztal, find a percussionist, a chest beater. I don’t need a mic. I’d find a way to do what I need to do.

Alice: I interpret the question a different way. I think if I hadn’t had the creative outlet, I would have been an angry and dangerous person. For me, it is very important to support the creative arts in schools because young people need to have a creative outliet to express themselves and their frustrations.

Alice Bag and Medusa Keynote Event

Alice Bag just read an excerpt from her new book, Violence Girl. It is truly a revelation, this book. A MUST-READ. And what a treat to hear Alice read from it–such vibrations of love. And now she’s singing a punkchera, a ranchera with a punk band, it’s the gold coin ranchera, which she’s already told us has a punk sensibility. For her second excerpt, she decides to tell the story instead of reading it. She’s telling us about the glitter scene. She dreamed of Elton John, wanted to marry him–or just touch his garment. Now she’s going to sing “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” which is the song she sang in a school talen show when she discovered “what it was like to BE Elton.” Oh this is the best. The quality of the way she jumps into this song–and now she’s having everyone pass around the mic and sing the chorus. Medusa joins in. Now Alice is telling us about forming the punk band, The Bags, and they wore paper bags on their heads. She grew up in an abusive household. The band became a way to express her rage with her whole being. She reads from her book, a story about performing “Violence Girl,” a great story about rage and performance–I won’t do a spoiler here. Read the book. Medusa comes up to finish the set with Alice and the Januaries (SP?): “Babylonian Gorgon.” Oh, the love vibrations in this room! Mako and Maylei are going to interview Medusa, the “Gangsta Goddess of West Coast Hip Hop,” and Alice Bag. You know, if you want to follow a Blogger who is getting all this, check out “Blackboxprof” I see her taking the best notes.

But I will say, Maylei Blackwell just asked a great question of Alice Bag and Medusa: I paraphrase: You’ve been described as angry on stage, what do you do with your feminine energy onstage and how do you use the power of the erotic… Medusa talks about all the people in her work, not just one person, all parts of her work. Alice talks about feeling her strength, and it isn’t masculine or feminine, it’s androgynous, and connective.

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!

WWR Celebrates the “Authenticity of Vulnability”

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Entering the space of the historic Washington Hall, my heart was full of joy. It felt as if I returned home to a community embodied through the intersecting scenes of art, activism, scholarship, and social justice. Familiar intergenerational faces, smiles, abrazos, laughter y besos por todos. The Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities conference developed the “(un)conference” model of participant driven, dialogue heavy sessions designed to disrupt conventional forms of conference gathering. As one of the organizers of last year’s inaugural conference, I’m thrilled to be back celebrating the accomplishments of women in the arts, and critically assessing how to build communities of support across scenes – musical, activist, academic and the like.

The Seattle Fandango Project opened the conference, or should I say awakened the senses of conference participants. A collective dedicated to inspiring relationship building through participatory music and dance in the tradition of the ‘fandango’ from Veracruz, the music and dance of the women on stage was a sonic invocation of the spirit. Local musician and healer Christine Cruz Guiao called upon the Divine Mother and guided participants through a meditation that paid respect to the Duwamish as the original dwellers of the land and called upon the elders of the space – Jimi, Martin, Mahalia – as a blessing for inspiring dialogue and maintaining the intentions of the conference. Stephany Koch Hazelrigg of Seattle Heartestry Educators (“SHE”) introduced the concept of the “authenticity of vulnerability,” which I interpret as the release of fear, anxiety, vergüenza, and guilt, which opens spaces and practices of healing that facilitate a transformative, liberatory imaginary.

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In the ultimate form of release, folks moshed to new Seattle metal band Chi Chi, and stomped to the drum beat of Monica Rojas of the DE CAJoN Project. The opening session embodied a truly transgressive politic, and the praxis of the ‘theory of the flesh’ whereby our individual experiences were politicized through collective corporeal movement.

Participants in morning sessions were called to action through art projects, dance, sharing stories of trauma, and experiencing the spirit through sound. Dialogue sessions engaged a host of topics from hip hop in the academy to hybridity, intersectionality, desire, and motherhood.

In her workshop, “Storytelling as (R)evolutionary,” poet and youth advocate Robin Parks presented a framework for doing justice and calling out injustice when we see it. I was brought to tears by her testimonio of sexual violence and the lack of support from her organizing community. This experience is all too common for women in movements, and we have to be supported in our efforts to call oppressive behaviors out and demand accountability by members of our communities. Storytelling is revolutionary in its ability to name undocumented violence, while allowing survivors and their communities to evolve new modes of accountability and respect. As Park noted, “If you want to paint the world the way you want it, you have to paint it on yourself first.”

I am inspired by the day thus far. Props to conference organizers Luzviminda “Lulu” Carpenter, Michelle Habell-Pallan, Sonnet Retman, and Monica de la Torre and the many volunteers for continuing the participatory format. I look forward to the afternoon dialogue between two OG soldaderas in indie music – punk pioneer Alice Bag and the goddess of west coast hip hop, Medusa. If my late night cipher with Medusa, Lulu, filmmaker Barni Qaasim, and local artists Christa Bell and Gabriel Teodros are any indication of what we have in store, folks better get ready for some serious truth speaking. The Divine Mother is in the building y’all…¡Vive la artivista!

Zapateado and Decima Workshop – Women of Seattle Fandango Project

I am live blogging and learning to Fandango at the same time.

This is a community practice. So I’m going to break away from the laptop and practice community through Fandango and then blog.

PAN cafe con PAN cafe con PAN cafe con Pan cafe con Pan

PAN     FE      PAN      FE     PAN    FE       PAN      FE      PAN

Wow, this is great. This is a way of connecting with everyone in the circle. The Fandango is the party, and some people dance, some people sing, some people play instruments. The songs are the poems, the Decimas are a form with 10 lines, each line has 8 syllables.

We have three decimas up to get the counting: one in English, one in Spanish, and one bilingual. The 7th syllable is the strong one, it’s where you feel the flow.

“In my voice I find the POW-er”

But if your seventh syllable is strong, that’s where you land.

“Through these syllables the TRUTH”

Now that we have learned the basic form, we are ready to write Decimas.

You know, it isn’t really possible to live blog and FANDANGO at the same time, but I’m glad I tried. I tried to connect this community-formation practice of FANDANGO with the community-formation practice of LIVE BLOG. What I love about what I learned from this FANDANGO workshop is the ethic of practice. Some people do it really well, and have lots of experience, but all of us were called into the circle to form community and taught basic steps and practice together. Now everyone is on the floor, writing decimas. Let’s do this every week.

Panel, “Revenge or Recovery?,” on Black oral histories and archives

I’m already impressed by Mashadi Matabane and Laina Dawes, the two presenters. They’ve attested to the exscription of Black performers from the history of rock and metal, and how often people think Jimi Hendrix was an anomaly.

They’re sharing some of their interviews with Black woman performers (video and audio). One interviewee describes how she walks into a room with an electric guitar, and people don’t believe she can play it… or think it should be an acoustic guitar! Mashadie has great historical photos of Black women with electric guitars, going back to the 1940s. She says, “There is a legacy of Black women and the electric guitar!”

Laina is describing her focus on Black fans of rock, in Toronto and the U.S. She’s interviewed 40-50 fans, icluding an online survey that she did by first using social media to find people. She confesses to chasing a Black woman with a mohawk she saw on the bus, guessing that she might be a potential interviewee! But she also found that socio-political issues came up quite constantly—some interviewees were embarassed or even ashamed by their love for rock, punk, or metal. Mashadi describes using Facebook and Twitter to find people.

Mashadi also talks about how essential archives are. She describes how some Black woman musicians—including young ones—disappear from the scene, the picture, and history, and she wants to push back against absence and amnesia. Yet some Black women don’t want to be interviewed, don’t want to go on the record with their challenges, their sacrifices, and their choices.

This is making me value the oral history component of Women Who Rock even more!

Laina describes some of the dangers that go with the scene—hate speech, physical violence—and the special vulnerabilities that Black women have as participants. She’s talking about how Beyonce, “at the height of her power and influence,” created an all-woman band—an incredibly progressive move—but that very few of the musicians have been willing to be interviewed about their experiences or motivations. Some don’t want to be categorized as Black. Laina said she made a research decision to only interview musicians “who knew they were Black. They were proud of being Black and wanted to talk about it.” Mashadi notes how the powerful sense of connection, rapport, and recognition that she oftem has with interviewees is significant. For many interviewees, being heard and understood was very meaningful.

Laina notes that she’s had to remind herself to think about class in addition to focusing on race and gender. Black mationalist rejections of “all things White” is another kind of blindness.

An Asian American man in the circle (who says he teaches hip hop in his classes) asks about producers, race, and gatekeeping. Laina said lots of Black woman musicians have stories about outrageously racist things agents and producers said to them. She describes how Ike helped construct Tina Turner as a wildly hypersexualized Black woman.

This panel was terrific. I’ve read much of Maureen Mahon’s work on Black rock, but Mashadi’s and Laina’s research, along with Shirley’s documentary Nice and Rough, is opening up a whole new way to understand popular music history!

Politics of Love Mix-Tape

UW Bothell Graduate Students performing a skit about how women are represented in popular music. Then they ask what people get from the skit about how women and love are represented in popular music. People came up with that strength in women is represented as hateful in popular music, women are represented as faceless and sexy, they are supposed to want to “land a man,” and be competitive, hyper-sexualized. After that list, we made another one about different ways to love, included cats, myself/identity, trust, non-judgment, solidarity, different people together, safety, respect, collaboration, something that wants to make you a better person.

Now we are in small groups, talking about quotes about love from activists, revolutionaries, feminist theorists. Che Guevara, bell hooks, Audre Lorde. The goal is to find songs we love that are about love that could be read as that kind of love we want. How to make those other other kinds of love songs. When we find a song that does it, we are going to make a CD cover. Wow, this is great. A little while ago we couldn’t think of any songs that we could find those kinds of love we wanted reflected in, now we are all working in glitter, marking pens, stickers, making our CDs. I’m making a CD cover for “Let’s Face the Music and Dance…” Sometimes that’s a sad song, but it’s also a song about seizing the moment, “Before the fiddlers have fled, before they ask us to make the bed, and while we still have a chance… Let’s face the music and DANCE.” The one is great for not throwing our capacity for love away on people who don’t care about us, it’s about not wasting time, it’s about using the time to make change…

Now we’re going to vote on the songs!!! This is fun.