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My parents are a mixed race couple, married at a time when inter-racial marriage was gaining acceptance. But many of their brothers and sisters all married within race. My mother is Catholic, but always disagreed with the churches stance about excluding homosexuals. I thought I was raised quite liberally, with Mom encouraging arts and culture all the way.
So it surprises me when I discover bigotry and discrimination in my life. Speaking with BASH’d co-creator Nathan Cuckow I learned there is more going on in the political landscape of gender and sexuality right here in Calgary than I am aware of.
Nathan Cuckow and his collaborator Chris Craddock have for the past ten years played Feminem and T-Bag, two gay rappers. Although I accept this premise right away as part of the environment within the arts, I had no idea that a gay-rap scene existed. Cuckow did not know either before he started his work. He mentions a documentary called Pick Up the Mic that I might try to track down. “I didn’t really know that homo hip-hop was something that existed. By exploring, I discovered that this thing already existed. It was the oxymoron, Gay rap just seemed like two things that just don’t go together.”
Gay and rap may not seem like a natural fit, but the communities might have more in common then it appears. Cuckow gives a quick summary of the history of hip hop as he understands it. It was used as a tool for social action in urban African American communities. “It gave a voice to what was going on in these communities where the powers that be didn’t care what the economic or social conditions were.”
So homo hip-hop make sense. It’s a natural place to start describing the reality that the queer community lives in. The hope is that homo hip-hop doesn’t get subverted and turned into the gangster rap that dominates radio waves and internet streams today. Cuckow looks at gangster rap as the total inversion of what hip hop set out to discuss. Instead of it being a way to describe the situation on the ground and hopefully create some change, it turned into a product. “It’s just excess of capitalism, sexism, bitches and hoes.”
But have things changed in the landscape since Cuckow first performed the character Feminem 10 years ago at the “Loud and Queer” cabaret in Edmonton? “ It depends on where you live and who’s in your community as to whether or not you have a positive experience towards gay culture, or being gay. “ he said.
Cuckow points out that Alberta is a bit of an interesting case, Calgary even more so with the election of a very progressive mayor. A Calgarian by birth, Cuckow had his first job delivering papers in this city. While the majority of Canada can be seen moving forward, the Provincial Government of Alberta tried to institutionalize discrimination of gays as Cuckow sees it. Five years after the creation of Feminem the equal marriage debate was set off in Canada. Had it passed Federally, King Ralph said he would invoke the not-withstanding clause to keep Alberta from allowing the marriages of same sex couples.
“It’s institutionalizing exclusion when you have a government that endorses that attitude, and uses really militaristic language in how they would combat it. They would ‘use every weapon in their arsenal’ to attack it.” and according to Cuckow “when the government endorsed intolerance publicly there was a spike in hate crimes.”
But he still choses to live and work in Alberta. It’s home. And maybe even the situation here influenced his choice to stay. “Ultimately that endorses people to fight back. BASH’d was ultimately a way to explore the cause and effect of that kind of intolerance and how it affects gay families, and gay couples, and the gay community, and just people in general, how it affects society. “
With a show that has toured near and far, Cuckow still loves performing the work here. “We’re Albertans. It’s where we make our work. It’s wonderful to have a festival like the Rodeo that can showcase international acts as well as local acts and contribute to the cultural scene in Calgary.”
As a Nas and Gang-Starr fan, I’m interested to see BASH’d. I’m walking in fresh, not watching any of the clips or reading any of the reviews. If it’s anything like chatting with him, then I know the blindfold is about to be pulled off, and as liberal as I thought I was, I’m about to discover there’s way more to homo hip-hop then I knew.
Which was absolutely nothing.
This interview was first posted by Avenue Magazine on Jan 25, 2011.