In the process of writing this I’ve clicked on over a dozen Beyoncé-hate memes. As if it’s super novel to criticize a woman of color. Maybe the frustration with her popularity, success and the unwavering devotion to her from people like me stems more from the imbalance of praise. It seems the only way a woman of any shade can gain recognition or achieve praise in most cultures is by being exceptionally beautiful, vocally and/or rhythmically gifted, have thighs that make the world weep and are extraordinarily pleasant like all the damn time. It’s the idea that someone like Mrs. Shawn Carter is the standard for all of us and is crafted to perfection via the bane of all our existences: pop music. That’s gotta be it, right? Like a little bit? I won’t argue with any of that.
The Super Bowl featured other beautiful, talented and highly respected women of color besides Beyonce – Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson both had incredible performances, and haven't been subject to the amount of backlash that Beyonce seems to have been. But what Beyonce's critics don't seem to be taking into account is how Beyonce has used her fame and momentum to do more than just make us all swoon – she's used it to give other talented women of color the invitation into the spotlight that they deserve. Today we’re going to look past Beyoncé and into her fucking awesome band and kind of swoon there and talk about things.
Beyoncé works with an all-female band called "The Suga Mamas." This isn't an accident. This is a very intentional choice made by the Beyoncé brand to promote women in the music industry, to showcase talented women that run the gamut of presentations and skin color while still aligning to the core values of the B brand: girl power aka sisterhood, independence, and badassery. (I don't know if those are the official core values. They are most definitely the ones I've made up for the sake of this piece.) Beyoncé found most of her original 10-piece female band via American Idol-esque tricks. She put out the word for an international musician casting call for her I Am...Sasha Fierce tour. Thousands of musicians applied but only a few made the cut.
There aren't a lot of all-female bands. And the ones that do exist aren't gaining exposure on a national level via the Superbowl (which is obviously not a big deal to some people, but when discussing advertising dollars and viewership it becomes a huge player in this game of visibility that we're constantly playing). So we got the Suga Mamas on tv, y'all! Who the fuck are they? We'll highlight a few and name drop the rest because goddamn it's hard to find info on all of these awesome women.
Let's start with the guitarist that brought Jimi Hendrix's spirit to the Super Dome while shooting sparkler flames from both ends of her instrument.
Bibi is gloriously tattooed, rocks natural hair and is pretty much an all around badass worthy of the internet buzz surrounding her Super Bowl performance. But she's way more than that, Bibi McGill focuses her business and life around sustainable living. When interviewed about her organic kale chips "Bibi Chips" and her earth-friendly lifestyle, McGill told EcoLiving, "I try do everything I can to be conscious of everything living thing: plants, animals, stars, the moon, you, me." Word, Bibi, word the fuck up.
Check out McGill at the Musicians Institute.
Before playing with Beyoncé, I didn't know that many female musicians period...I'm really honored and proud to be a part of this movement.
Assistant Musical Director and Keyboardist
Tsuji is from Saga, Japan. She started playing piano at age 6 with the Yamaha Music Foundation. She studied jazz piano at Berkley University in 2006, went on tour with R&B singer Eric Benet and then boom, was Beyoncé bound. Least that's how her blog lays it all out. Either way, she's here and she's unfucking believable.
Saxophonist, Composer, Singer and Songwriter
Rodriguez was one of the lucky artists handpicked by Bey to be a part of her touring band. She's performed with an eclectic group of artists besides Bey as well, like Kanye West, George Michaels and Jill Scott. Homegirl even released an album last year highlighting her vocal skills.
Thompson was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. According to Drummer Magazine, she's toured in "over 33 countries" and performed at legendary music clubs such as The Blue Note and the Avalon. For more on Kim Thompson, check out her interview on Vimeo with Raymond Spaddy.
Crystal J Torres
Along with the trumpet, Torres is also supremely talented when it comes to vocals and songwriting. Besides Beyoncé, she's also worked with Cee-Lo Green, Jennifer Lopez, Keri Hilson, and Lupe Fiasco, and that's just a start. Her self-produced debut album is Life Lessons: Vol. 1, and she'll have something new out in Spring 2013.
Chapa has been obsessed with the drums since she was in high school. Although her family wasn't well off, she won a scholarship to the New School For Jazz And Contemporary Music. Later, she won Beyoncé's attention in the auditions for her all-female band, and has been with her since the BET awards in Houston.
Fuller has released three albums with her jazz quartet: Decisive Steps, Pillar of Strength, and Healing Space. She performs with a variety of bands, including the Ralph Peterson Septet, the T.S. Monk Septet, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, the Rufus Reid Septet, the Sean Jones Quintet and the Nancy Wilson Jazz Orchestra.
Both Washington's parents are pastors, and her keyboarding skills were first displayed in her home church. She played in her parents' church five days a week from the age of six on. She impressed Beyoncé in her auditions, and has been touring with her ever since. Washington's solo album, Pink Polish, is available on iTunes.
And then there are the remaining mystery two that all my googling hasn't procured. Seriously, check out how vague this PR Newswire statement is regarding the members of the SugaMamas.
It's because we're all so focused on Beyoncé that no one gives enough of a fuck to ask who those other girls are. I'm always going to ask who the other girls are. I may love Bey but when it comes to the women who catch my attention in real life, it's the ones not being showered with ridiculous amounts of attention. I notice the girls in corners doing their own thing or finding their moment to shine based on the art that fuels them. Aren't we all those people kind of? So let's make sure to give them their due.