What happens when femmes of colour assume the creative autonomy to narrate their stories? Hive City Legacy. The kaleidoscopic celebration of intersectional brown life is the brainchild of Australian phenomenon Hot Brown Honey, and hip hop devotee Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg. It features an alliance of young femmes; aerialists, dancers, actresses, spoken word artists, beatboxers and burlesque exploring what it is to be a femme of colour in a post-colonial Britain and New Zealand. Each a virtuoso in her respected discipline, united by a readiness to deconstruct identities forged out of the social paradigms that surround them.
Matriarchy, mental health, marginalisation and melanin constitute the key pillars upholding the Hive City Legacy. Art becomes a springboard through which we can candidly self-reflect, delving into the complexities and conflicts comprising the millennial woman of colour. While the performance is still evolving, with no real way to tell how this myriad of creatives will come together until opening night, Hive City Legacy promises to shatter stereotypes and highlight the abundance of talent among women of colour.
Ahead of the show’s opening on July 11th, we caught up with some of the cast including Hot Brown Honey director Lisa Fa’alafi, assistant director Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenburg, dancer Elsabet Yonas, performers Krystal Dockery and Shakaiah Perez, aerialists Farrell Cox and Rebecca Solomon, actress Dorcas A. Stevens, spoken word artist Koko Brown and Hot Brown Honey’s Elena Wangurra. Each giving us an insight into their perspectives on the racial, political and social consciousness of today, and why productions like Hive City Legacy are so important.
Notion: What motivated you to apply for Hive City Legacy?
Krystal Dockery: I saw Briefs at Underbelly festival, which I used to work for, and thought it was amazing. I knew Hot Brown Honey was a similar vibe pushing especially black femmes to the forefront. I’ve also never done anything on this big collaborative scale.
Elena Wangurra: As a Hot Brown Honey cast member I understand the platform, and I want to be part of what it gives to people. It’s also interesting being black on the other side of the world and seeing how that plays out in this dynamic.
Koko Brown: I love the Roundhouse, and I’ve recently started doing a course in solo performance. I’m nearing the end of my three years working here, and I feel like my journey has been gearing towards this. I’ve not seen a Hot Brown Honey show, but it has legacy in it, so I thought since I have to go out – I’m going to go out big!
Lisa Fa’alafi: As director of HBH it was an amazing opportunity to broaden our legacy. We were excited to bring our work style to people on the other side of the world as there’s a lot of similarities in our stories. This is a huge scale for us too; the team is nine cast members and nine creatives, all femmes of colour, the whole project is holistic.
What would you say Hot Brown Honey mission is?
Lisa Fa’alafi: To stand centre stage in any building and have that platform and keep taking it, and to decolonise and moisturise.
What are some of the key issues affecting femmes of colour that are explored within Hive City Legacy?
Elsabet Yonas: Mental health in regards to the various experiences you go through as a woman of colour, the role other women around you play and whether that’s something destructive or supportive. I feel like a lot of the struggles we discuss in rehearsals or the layers within Hive City Legacy really boil down to mental health.
Koko Brown: The act of community, having us all on stage and people in the audience looking at us thinking we are represented. That’s kind of revolutionary in a way. Also expressing the multifaceted nature of women of colour. We can be sensual and soft or goofy – things that women of colour rarely get to be unless they’re the butt of the joke. Normally institutions will be like ‘show me a trauma’, but here it’s ‘show me a trauma-but make it sexy’.
Dorcas A. Stevens: How the black woman is presented, how she’s received and the diversity within women of colour. Certain stereotypes of black women are projected, and we are all boxed into them, regardless of the unique experiences each of us has. You’ll see that individuality in the movement and scenes we do.
Shakaiah Perez: In the show, we explore the assimilation of women of colour in Caucasian spaces and the exoticism we undergo. We are also exploring concepts looking at the ways society divide women of colour into this light skin vs dark skin battle. I didn’t understand it until I came to the U.K, guys liking me for being light skinned was a learning curve.
What does the word matriarchy mean for you?
Rebecca Solomon: A strong female-led community.
Shakaiah Perez: In New Zealand, we have a terrible case of ‘Tall Poppy’ syndrome where we can’t acknowledge people who are doing well. So, matriarchy is breaking that down and being proud of yourself and taking ownership of what you’ve achieved, there’s a difference in that and being cocky.
Why is art an important tool for social activism?
Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg: Its accessibility for young people. Due to social media, a lot of young people are becoming more reclusive and speaking less about their feelings, this is a huge issue with men and is linked to mental health. Social standards and welfare can limit people, but art is and will be, a way to truly express yourself, especially since many of us are not good with words.
Elena Wangurra: It can make difficult subject palatable, and it’s not as confrontational as directly saying something. It’s also easier to receive as it allows people to formulate their own thoughts and feelings irrespective of another person’s influence.
Elsabet Yonas: It’s a great way to enable people to heal. You can’t be told how to feel you feel how you feel. I recently did a piece on absent fathers with five other women of colour, if I’d asked them to meet and discuss this, they would’ve declined as it’s boring, but you can trap people with art and get them to connect to the emotion behind it which then opens the door to conversation.
Thinking about the current cultural climate and DIY women of colour movements like BBZ, gal-dem, Born N’ Bread etc., do you feel enough women of colour are taking charge of their narrative?
Koko Brown: Slowly we are taking back control of our narrative especially with Hive City Legacy as we are engaging with the audiences we want to speak to. However, being brown is also really trending right now, and corporations are wanting to take that ‘coolness’ and monetise it without authenticity or giving the money back to us. We want to tell our story and culture truthfully. So, we are in this weird kind of tug-of-war place.
Lisa Fa’alafi: We’re in a wave of radical times with Trump and Brexit which has encouraged women to speak up more with campaigns like #MeToo which feeds into our own narrative.
Do you think enough dark-skinned women are able to voice their experiences?
Dorcas A. Stevens: The acceptable face of blackness is perpetuated everywhere from Sainsbury’s ads to Ikea. Why can’t we have an all Asian or all black family?
Shakaiah Perez: The media are getting better at the representation of women of colour, but I still feel like it’s the mixed-race girl getting the roles, with dark-skinned women not being given the same appreciation and this is reflected in social media.
Elsabet Yonas: You can’t deny colourism exists within the black community, a by-product of the racialised conditioning of colonialism has trickled down. Dark skinned women are a minority within a minority, and often the black tokenism of corporations will opt for the mixed-race girl, creating a vicious cycle.
Do you feel hip hop contributes to these discussions surrounding women of colour oppression/empowerment?
Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg: Hip hop was and should be an inclusive culture and women play a huge role in it. However, the media make money out of the sexual demeaning of women, e.g. video vixens. Then you get women reclaiming the power through sexual means. Personally, I don’t agree with it as there’s strong women in hip hop fully clothed like Missy Elliot who’ve been reigning for years. If we keep listening to the wrong types of hip hop, we are going to get the wrong types of message.
Lisa Fa’alafi: Yes, the male gaze and patriarchy is trying to control female sexuality. Finding the true essence of hip hop is clouded by the need to sell records. A woman should be able to wear a bikini and it not be a sales thing, it’s just her wanting to feel good. Our sexual beings have been so exploited and twisted we don’t know how to be.
Shakaiah – Has your Afro-Polynesian heritage informed your creativity?
Shakaiah Perez: Undergoing indigenous schooling I was told 24/7 that speaking our native language and doing our cultural movement was pointless, so for ages, I wouldn’t include it into my dance mainly sticking to hip hop and other forms. In 2015 I got to collaborate with indigenous people from around the world, and it opened my eyes, I wanted to create art for my people by my people and authenticity is important.
In New Zealand, I felt ostracised from my black Cape Verdean side as I didn’t look ‘black’. In London, it’s the opposite. Now there’s steady change in New Zealand and organisations like ‘Africa on my Sleeve’ which is helping people connect with the diaspora.
Farrell – What challenges have you faced as an aerialist?
Farrell Cox: My body just looking so different to other aerialists, I instantly look strong, and people ask me if I’m a bodybuilder. Also, how I present myself as I’m quite short and can’t exactly slick back my hair. Even in commercial circuses, it’s that thing of being sexy which I’m naturally not.
Krystal – As twerking queen do you feel there’s been a cultural appropriation of it in the media?
Krystal Dockery: I’ve been twerking since I was a child, it’s just part of my culture. I stopped doing it as people said its ratchet and overtly-sexual but have since started doing it more holding ‘twerkshops’ to teach about the history and encourage body confidence.
It’s nice that white women twerk, but I do think they’re put on this hierarchy which irritates me, loads of femmes of colour are amazing twerkers but a white woman does it, and it goes viral. I recently saw this Instagram post about a girl saying she learnt how to twerk from white women but now wants to go back to the source – black women. It’s funny as twerking was never a white thing until Miley Cyrus. Either way, I’m hoping for twerking to feature in Hive City Legacy.
Hive City Legacy runs at the Roundhouse 11th-21st July. For more information and tickets head to the Roundhouse website.
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*This post is written in collaboration with Roundhouse.*