When you think of women in hip hop, does your mind immediately go to thick women with skin to show? How about those donning spectacles and more conservatively dressed? What does this say about our stereotypes of people and how we tend to perceive women today? Performance-poet Pooja Nansi and playwright Jessica Bellamy are leading this discussion through their show Thick Beats For Good Girls.
Music is a powerful language and coupling with performance, I am prepared for this show to be thoroughly invincible.
Directed and dramaturged by Huzir Sulaiman, Checkpoint Theatre presents this collaborative piece of performance. Featuring original poetry, musings of life and possibly rap, the women will share with the audience what exactly is a good girl and the experiences of being a religious or racial minority. Or perhaps, labels have never worked well and everyone has to discover their own balancing act of their own identities. All done with hip hop thrown in for good measure.
Popspoken interviews both women on their collaboration and the birth of their hip hop love.
Popspoken: What does being a woman mean to each of you?
POOJA: In the world we live in now, being a woman means to be political by necessity.
JESS: I don’t think about myself as a woman as a term on its own. Womanhood is tied up with many other identities and there is no one solid definition of what it means. Every woman experiences identity differently. So I suppose, for me, womanhood means multiplicity, code-switching, and always reading the room.
PS: Do you think it is great to be a woman in this day and age?
POOJA: When we talk about a “woman” we need to understand that we are not all the same. Being a “woman” is not a monolith. As women, there are some concerns we share, and some we do not. I will never know what it is like to live in a country that denies me education based on my gender, but I know there are women who still face this. I think we live in a time where women are forming communities and pushing for change, but we need to be absolutely clear that some of us benefit from those movements faster and easier than others.
JESS: No. And that’s probably why I write theatre that reminds women of all that they should be proud of, the battles still ahead, and the previously marginalised people to take care of along the path.
PS: How did you discover your love for hip-hop?
POOJA: My first encounter was in a club called Killimanjaros in Boat Quay in 1999. Hip-hop was not “mainstream” and never played on the radio airwaves or appeared much on MTV, but somehow my friends were dancing to it in a series of tiny clubs. In hip-hop, I found more belonging than I had ever known before.
JESS: Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreaks straddled too many genres for me not to notice it. It was an album of lovesick, heartbroken ballads. I knew that sort of music very well. When I realised this music could be teamed with dexterous lyrics, cheek and swagger, I was sold.
PS: What do you look forward to the most for Thick Beats for Good Girls?
POOJA: I look forward to telling these very women centric stories to a diverse audience and I hope everyone finds a different connecting point.
JESS: I hope that the young people who have been thinking “I can’t say THAT on stage, can I?” realise that, oh yeah, they can.
PS: How has the process been like?
POOJA: It’s the first time I’ve worked on a long-distance collaboration and it’s been really cool to see how technology like Skype and Google Docs has allowed us to work on the same project at our paces while our everyday lives continued in Singapore and Australia.
JESS: Huzir has done an amazing job in planning the development of this play over time and distance. A three hour Skype is not as horrible as it sounds when it’s with top quality artists!
PS: Being a multicultural society, Singapore still fails at representation and the minority is still being snubbed regularly. Why do you think this cycle keeps happening and how do you think we can break it? And Jessica, how about Australia?
POOJA: I think in order to strive toward real diversity, we need to first reconsider how we talk about multiculturalism. The CMIO model while neat, isn’t always helpful in explaining true diversity especially as we welcome more and more new citizens and become an increasingly larger melting pot. We also need to genuinely be willing to be more open minded and empathetic as people and offer space in conversations to those voices who often get heard the least.
JESS: Australia is not very different from Singapore in terms of diversity. We have a resurgence of hard-right conservative politicians trying to fight for their version of an idyllic historical Australia, by which they mean, majority white, heternormative, with traditional gender roles, and strict social stratification. We need to widen representation and ensure that the minority voices who are already doing community-building activism are given a wider platform and amplification.
PS: Lastly, share with us your top three hip-hop songs to survive 2018.
POOJA: Alright by Kendrick Lamar. It’s a real song of hope.
Bodak Yellow by Cardi B. Her self-love is inspiring.
99 Problems by Jay Z. Because the word “bitch” can refer to your boss, your job, a shitty pair of shoes, your no good ex boyfriend, or anything else you want it to.
JESS: Work Work by Clipping. Its deceptively chill beat belies a pivotal conversation we need to have.
Or Nah by Ty Dolla Sign. It’s sexy and catchy as hell.
Feeling Myself by Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. Because when times are tough, we need the help of a song to feel as amazing about ourselves as Donald Trump seems to perpetually feel about himself.
THICK BEATS FOR GOOD GIRLS
Date: 5th – 22nd April 2018
Venue: Drama Centre Black Box
Time: Tuesday – Saturday, 8pm / Saturday & Sunday, 3pm
Admission: $45 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)
Photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Joel Lim @ Calibre Pictures.