Sistren Speaks: the podcast championing queer black females

"There's a stir amongst the black creative scene right now where black women are emerging in full force" - we meet the women from rising radio show Sistren.

7 months agoText by


Michelle, Babirye and DJ are three black women in London who run their podcast Sistren which explores everything from black female empowerment, sexuality, body image, and what it is like to be a black woman in the 21st century. Made up of three multidisciplinary creatives, Sistren have radio shows on both Radar Radio and Transmission Roundhouse, where they share their favourite music as well as their pearls of wisdom and life advice, providing some much-needed queer, black, female representation. Fellow creative Shingi Rice stole some moments with the trio to point a camera at and shed some light on the women whose aim is to show there’s plenty to celebrate about being a young, black millennial.

Shingi: How do you guys know each other?
DJ: If you don’t already know, Michelle is my sister. We’ve pretty much been sister friends since the beginning.

Michelle: DJ’s been my day one, my ride or die since the day Mama brought her home from the hospital. We always did everything together, until that awkward adolescent stage arrived when she was 12 and I was 14 – it wasn’t “cool” to be seen only ever hanging out with your kid sister after school, and there were things I thought she’d be too young to understand. Then she hit 15, and we resumed our inseparability. Babirye and I have been friends since we met in drama school back in 2009/2010. Working on the short film, Ackee and Saltfish, years later only brought us closer together. By the end of filming, we’d reach a new level and depth of understanding each other’s awesomeness.

Babirye: I was living my life quietly and peacefully. Then one stormy night Michelle entered drama school and imprinted me like how Jacob did to Esme and I was hooked. Still trying to recover from it, she decided to further intoxicate me by casually bringing her younger sister around to our meet ups. She knew what she was doing. Witch.

Where did your name, Sistren, come from?
DJ: The name came from Michelle and Babirye when they wanted to start a little music group but when we were thinking of names for our podcast Sistren just fit so well!

Babirye: Me and Michelle wanted a name for a singing group we put together (revival of that soon come), and my twin sister said that ‘Sistren’ for a singing group was a dead ting. So once we started the podcast, it just fit. Big up Yvonne for the harsh real real.

Michelle: HA! Babs and I wanted to start a music duo a few years back and call it Sistren, but so many people kept saying it didn’t bang. When we started the podcast, we needed a name, and it happened to fit perfectly. My actual sister-friend and my sister from another mister? Yeah, Sistren it is.

What made you do a podcast and speak about the subjects you do?
DJ: We were having these deep conversations about everything and anything and just started thinking how much we would have benefited from hearing some of the things we were talking about. We felt like someone out there must be able to relate. It was also a platform for us to vent about the things happening around us that we weren’t necessarily in complete control of, it was like our safe space.

Babirye: It just happened. We would meet up, broke and depressed and would just start airing out all the things and thoughts… no matter how scary or big or small that occupied those spaces in our heads. Once we realised that other people f**ked with it, it made sense to continue. For us and for those that felt seen.

Your last podcast is centred around bisexuality – what do you think about labels and the effects they have on society, especially the older generation?
DJ: I’m not a fan of labels. They’re constricting and confining; they suggest that you can only be one thing. I think the older generation can’t keep up with the fact that we’re tired of being labelled and don’t really care to be put in any box. I think for them they didn’t really have the option to explore sexuality and identity as far as we’re trying to take it.

Babirye: I personally don’t really label myself anything. But I think not to have to label yourself to survive is a privilege. There’s so much nuance to why people label themselves, and historically it’s been about survival, identity, community and change. Labels are necessary, but they shouldn’t be.

Michelle: I believe labels are quite restrictive. The older generation, I think, is of the ‘call a spade, a spade’ mindset and most millennials aren’t. Especially queer millennial’s.

What podcast are you currently working on?
DJ: We’ve got a few ideas floating around. There was a time we had voice notes from the talented women around us; we’re definitely trying to bring that back. We want to highlight and celebrate the talented black women around us.

Michelle: We’re planning a very special session real soon, it’s way less serious than any of the other episodes we’ve put out. I think it’s important when the work you do is for others and can be seen as activism of sorts, to remind people you’re a multi-faceted human that laughs loudly, sometimes swears like a sailor and watches trash TV, all while burning sage and sipping herbal tea.

What do you guys do apart from podcasting together?
DJ: Ooh pretty much everything, we’re planning to take over the world!

Babirye: I’m an actor, writer, poet and massage therapist. I’m currently also working on producing a film and recording my own music. I basically don’t have a proper adult job, so I’m basically my future mother in laws worst nightmare.

Michelle: We run safe sex and relationships workshops at colleges, talk on panels at universities sometimes, host a party/event or two here and there. I’m an actor, poet and artist but I prefer to summarise it to, storyteller. I teach poetry sometimes in a lot of primary and secondary schools too. As a creative I don’t believe we’re bound to create through just one medium – the stories I tell, ask to be told in a different form every time.

You’ve said this on your show before…. ‘men are trash’.
DJ: Ha! When I say, men are trash (not all men!) I’m referring to the privileged men who don’t do anything to deconstruct their way of thinking, acting or dealing with others. Even “nice guys” can be trash, when they’re not accountable for their actions and how they affect the people around… just garbage.

Babirye: Men are trash because they profit off many systems that allow them not to be held accountable for their actions. These actions; thought processes and mindsets are dangerous because they (men) hold power in a sexist society and they… To be honest, are any men still listening…

Michelle: Ahhh, where to start? Men are trash because they’re more offended by this statement than say the hundreds of thousands of accounts of women suffering at the hands of men. Women, specifically Black/Trans women are being attacked, kidnapped, raped, and killed by men at alarming rates and instead of men taking the time to actually listen to the issues, [say] “but not me or my boys” or “why can’t you say ‘Not all men?'”

Men are trash because we’re explicitly telling them, “I don’t feel safe” and they’re continuously responding with “how is that my problem?” followed by victim-blaming, body-shaming, slut-shaming etc. Men are trash because they’d prefer to uphold the patriarchy instead of taking a plethora of seats to examine how they have any privilege, and why they are so afraid to let go of this patriarchal power that serves them so well. Moving like white people and race. I heard a really good quote, but I’m gonna paraphrase: “Men are happy to be the protectors until it’s time to actually protect. Because then they’re required to listen and when they do, they hear ‘accountability’ and its uncomfortable for them.”

What has been the biggest problem you have encountered in the industry, if you have?
DJ: I’m just getting into modelling, and I definitely feel like there are a lot of amazing black models and only room for one or two on set. Or they wanna exploit you to reach the multicultural communities.

Babirye: People don’t wanna pay black women. Period.

Michelle: Still not seeing an adequate amount of Black or Brown women on line-ups. People still laughing at colourism, still dismissing it or gaslighting dark skin women who are honest about their experiences, despite us seeing and knowing how it works. So it’s ridiculously hard to have an honest conversation about success when people have no nuance and want to hold on tightly to their ignorance. Also, people need to pay black women for their time, work and overall excellence. In big 2018, I hope exploitation in the name of exposure is the hill the last late invoice dies on.

What advice would you give those that would want to start their own podcast?
DJ: I would say just go for it. Think of a few topics, do some research into the things you’re interested in talking about, pick a style and sit down and press record! We spend so much time wondering what would happen if we tried to do something we’ve never done before instead of just getting up and doing it. The worse that could happen is failure but that’s better than regret.

Babirye: Find your niche and pursue pursue pursue, purposely. Reflect on if it makes you happy. Take time away. Don’t try to be relevant and make ‘relevant’ shit because you see your peers doing the most. If you want a break- fucking take one. Do YOU.

Michelle: There is more than enough room for all of us, don’t be fooled. But in saying that, please A) check out as many podcasts as you can, everyone has a different way to do theirs. B) Really think about your niche. What makes your opinions or perspective, particularly unique? C) Ask yourself, ‘why am I doing it?’ Because if it’s for clout, followers, likes etc., just… put the mic down boo.

Lastly, what’s it like to be a young black woman in the UK, and would you consider yourself Black British?
DJ: I think it’s getting better. There’s this stir amongst the black creative scene right now where black women are emerging in full force, and it’s amazing! In every field, we are coming through, and we’re not sorry about it.

Babirye: It’s wild cos we never get enough credit. The Black British experience is erased in regards to so much art and history. Drake says the word “wasteman” in one or two songs, and now everybody wants to be a road man. Bye.

Michelle: As much as I hate these Babylonian shores, I could never deny South London. Also, I have a British Passport and a Nigerian one so I would say I’m an Afro-Brit through and througH. Being a young Black queer woman from working-class migrant parents living in the UK is to navigate a world where there are very few books or films with your experiences to take notes from. It’s feeling displaced and having no other choice but to create a community where one didn’t exist. It’s seeing event line-ups saturated by men but knowing you and your sisters are dismantling the idea of competition and rivalry that patriarchy created every day to make room for ourselves to heal, create and ultimately tell the powers that be to “suck ya mudda with a straw” (word to Kelechi Okafor), whilst we move them aside to do our best at living our best lives.


Find out more about Sistren by visiting their Twitter

Text, direction and photography Shingi Rice
Makeup Naomi Serene using Mac, Kryolan, Bare Minerals & Nars