I was in Detroit a couple weeks ago for the Allied Media Conference, and goddamn is it summer! It was 95 degrees for most of the weekend and I was consistently sweating my makeup off. I’ve been thinking about leaving the Bay Area, which I and most of my folks have essentially been priced out of, but I’m so spoiled with our year-round mild weather that I don’t know if I could go anywhere else.
Pride just happened here in the Bay, and I got out of town to avoid the crowds for the second year in a row. I went to the beach and got my new titties sunburnt this year; last year I went to Yosemite, both excellent options for the socially anxious. But you don’t have to march or go to rallies or parades to be queer! You can hang out with close friends and be gay together, and support the amazing queer and trans artists on this list with your ears. Totally valid way to celebrate Pride!
Here are some summer tunes for political Oakland barbecues, late night sweaty house parties (if you live somewhere with regular summer weather), or, if you’re like me, enjoying your bed on a hot summer Saturday instead of going out. Le1f, featured below, performed at AMC and I MISSED IT because I was too tired and it was too hot and I kind of regret it but I know that it’s what I needed to do to take care of myself. Still wish I saw him live though, his new EP is KILLER! See this month’s new releases below!
Witch Prophet, The Golden Octave
Witch Prophet is Ayo Leilani, a queer Toronto-based East African artist. On The Golden Octave, her debut album, Leilani blends vocal layers, harmonies, and loops over a gorgeous amalgam of r&b, jazzy, neo-soul, and hip-hop inspired beats and rhythyms to put together an arresting palimpsest of sound.
Album opener Loops begins, fittingly, with just some intricately layered vocal loops as Leilani harmonizes with herself. Time Traveler digs into the overall afro-futurist message of the album: “What if I told you just who I was/ would you be more careful?/ Know what I’m capable of?// I’m a time traveler/ from another dimension/ did I mention I put a spell on you?” Manifest is an ode to the struggle and success of her people, specifically Ethiopian and Eritrean family, and how war seems like an eternal return – but so is liberation struggle, asking: “How many times do we have to do this over again/ living life like the pain will never end/ how many lives do we have to sacrifice for them/ fighting a war that will never end? // I will manifest.”
Along with her other band, Above Top Secret, Leilani is on a healing mission for her people, providing magical inspiration to accompany us through the often difficult pilgrimage through our particular positionality in time and space.
Listen to and buy The Golden Octave here.
Le1f, Blue Dream (EP)
Le1f, a queer black rapper, is well known for 2012’s Wut, eerily similar to Macklemore’s huge smash Thrift Shop, which came out about six months later. (Listen to them both and… make your own conclusions.) Blue Dream is his first release since his 2015 debut album, Riot Boi.
Le1f raps extremely fast with a deep, expressive voice, and modulates and shifts his pronunciation and emphasis to flit and circulate around the often harsh, dark beats, utilizing his voice as another instrument and source of percussion, as the best rappers have always done. His lyrics are both pointed and measured, as on “Say Nothing,” where he deconstructs the experience of walking through the world as an unapologetic dark-skinned black gay man, and also hits on mass surveillance culture:
“If you see something suspicious, then say something/ I bet you won’t say nothing/ tell me why you all up on my package?/ If you got a question, motherfucker come and ask me/ if you think I’m sus, then you got some audacity/ … grab your pearls, clutch your purse/ ain’t nobody want that weak ass purse!”
Check out this dope performance of Wut on Letterman here.
Buy Blue Dream on iTunes here.
Mercy Bell, Home/No Prayer (EP)
The other day I was in a Lyft in Detroit and my driver was a friendly black man who was JAMMING to some country tunes. I’ve never enjoyed country too much — I had a bluegrass phase in college, and I loved the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and I dated a Texan girl once who tried to convince me that “Texas Country” was different from “Mainstream Country.” Which, like, OK, sure? Eli Young Band had a couple bops.
But regardless of whether it’s my jam, we don’t see a lot of lesbian representation in the genre! I’m sure we’re out there, of course, but it makes sense when so much of the country fanbase is conservative that there wouldn’t be too many out queer country singers; while we’ve been around, it wasn’t until 2010 that there was a certifiable “out” queer country singer.
So I’m excited! I don’t know if Mercy Bell’s music counts as Country, Americana, Rock and Roll, or what, but I love the acoustic guitars, lively piano, string section, and of course the soaring harmonies on Home. Her rough, expressive voice reminds me of Gillian Welch, and the lyrics are a direct and poignant exploration of the coping mechanisms we use to deal with trauma:
“Just trying to get it together, it seems/ takes all of the energy I need to succeed/ Spent six whole months waking up in strange beds/ trying to outrun the call finding out that she’s dead/ Won’t you come pick me up? / Forget the years that I spent drunk/ Take me home.”
Paper Citizen, SHKN (Single)
Paper Citizen is the band led by Claire Gohst, a musician from Singapore who started playing piano at age five and violin at age nine, is the daughter of a pastor, was kicked out of her home after coming out as a lesbian, and eventually moved to the U.S. to pursue music. BUT: she was recently asked to play Pink Dot Fest, the largest LGBTQ event in a still very difficult-to-be-gay-in Singapore. Talk about going full circle!
SHKN is the latest single from her upcoming EP, Distraction due in September. Title track Distraction is a gorgeously layered pop rock ballad, featuring Gohst’s precise vocals along with intricately arranged guitar, percussion, synths, and especially harmony — the way the backing vocals float in and out to emphasize and extend Gohst’s is expertly crafted, as is the climax of the song, when all of these pieces come together into a charmingly overwhelming whole.
SHKN, the new single, is a energetic, hip-shaking pop-rock banger, about the difficulty of online dating while queer and the power of finally finding someone who isn’t terrible, and makes you feel good: “You make me feel like a shakin’/ shakin’ bottle of soda/ you really got me breakin’/ breakin’ all my walls down.” The video features a bunch of queer couples, was all filmed in Singapore and is SO CUTE!
Mama Alto, Lady Sings the Blues
Mama Alto is a non-binary trans femme Australian jazz and cabaret singer with a transcendent, at times vulnerable, at times explosive and powerful voice. Long inspired by Black American jazz and blues singers like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday, and the lauded cultural status of Waria priestesses and singers in her own culture, Mama Alto brings storytelling, cultural transformation, and audience connection to her work as a vocalist.
With her long-term collaborative partner, pianist and musical directress Miss Chief, she has just released Lady Sings the Blues: A tribute to 100 Years of Billie Holiday, originally a sold-out, critically acclaimed 2015 performance series celebrating what would have been Holiday’s 100th birthday. The songs on this album soar, whisper, float, and pierce the heart.
I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to much jazz. When I was very young — maybe three or four years old —my father would put Motown and jazz LPs on his record player and we would dance together in our living room. Listening to Mama Alto immediately transported me back to that place of safety, warmth, connection, and love. There is also a subconscious undercurrent of intense sadness, present in the original Billie Holiday recordings, but which take on new poignance for me, as a trans woman of color in 2018 listening to the songs afresh, sung by another trans femme of color.
As Mama Alto explains in the video above, jazz and cabaret music have always been countercultural and have always pushed culture forward, as predominantly white audiences confronted the sometimes painful, sometimes hopeful stories of life sung by Black artists still regulated to second-class, and if we were lucky, citizenship. Mama Alto continues this tradition, weaving it with her experience and positionality as an Australian trans femme of color, and the results are beyond beautiful.
Buy on iTunes here.