“Queendom”: A Pan-African/Norwegian Arts Collective, A Sisterhood, A Mindset Monday 18 June, 2012
Editress’ Note: I decided to get a little off-the-chain with this introduction to our Queendom interview. I invited one of the most inspiring and unchained cultural workers, I know, Jess Solomon, to write the intro as a siren song to women of African descent around the world making collaborative artwork like the Pan-African Norway-based music [...]
Editress’ Note: I decided to get a little off-the-chain with this introduction to our Queendom interview. I invited one of the most inspiring and unchained cultural workers, I know, Jess Solomon, to write the intro as a siren song to women of African descent around the world making collaborative artwork like the Pan-African Norway-based music and performance group, Queendom.
As a black woman who creates performance art collaboratively with other black women, I know our art takes on an intimate, cultural complexity that is not explicit in its basic definition. Art that is rooted in a cultural aesthetic, born out of personal experience, and nurtured in safe (but challenging), creative spaces is magical. It’s the kind of stuff that affirms, transcends language, and can smooth over self-doubt, self-sabotage and plain old fear (of greatness). On this leg of my journey of self-discovery and becoming, my artistry is fluid, moving between that which is both core and distant to me: my experience as a woman, born when and where I was, in the skin and body I am in.
For me, Queendom – a dynamic constellation of women artists of the Diaspora – is a light that shines through the cracks in the silos we Creatives sometimes build out of self-preservation and/or survival. Queendom’s beautiful light reminds me that we – like light – are EVERYWHERE, creating, affirming, re-imagining, challenging and transcending. Queendom, I want to come to Norway with my Sister-Friend Artists (SFA’s) from Washington, DC, New York City, New Orleans, Oakland, Chicago and Durham for a visit. We’ll write radical love poems in between cups of tea and laughter. Keep shining. The glow feels good.
How did your group come to have the name Queendom?
Queendom is a sisterhood, a mindset, and a creative space where we can express ourselves freely and be proud of who we are, despite our imperfections. The name Queendom reflects that we are female artists in a male dominated entertainment industry and Black women in a white society. In our minds, all women are queens, and they should live it by loving themselves, supporting their sisters, and taking control of their lives.
With members from Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda, Queendom is a pan-African female crew. How did you all connect?
We met in the 90’s through a theatre in Norway’s capital, Oslo, called the Nordic Black Theatre and we were also involved in an NGO called Afrikan Youth in Norway. As aspiring artists, we realized that we didn’t want to just act in other people’s plays, but wanted to write and perform our own material! Years later, we have performed for royalty, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and for ordinary people all over Norway and abroad, so we know that our stories hit a nerve.
You all share some powerful thoughts on women’s empowerment with songs like “‘Till the Battle is Won.” What makes a woman empowered?
A woman is empowered when she has control of her own life. That requires a lot of things: A society that gives room for women’s ambitions and dreams, and a self that does the same. It has been a long journey for us. Just as other young women, we used to struggle with low self-esteem and fear of other people’s judgment, but through constructive criticism, supporting each other and pushing each other to do things we are afraid of we have become better people and better artists.
How does your African heritage inspire you? How does Norway inspire you?
Africa is a continent that brims with talent, innovation and energy, so Queendom wants to challenge all the negative images people are presented with through Western media. Our African roots are the basis of our music, and people love the combination of groovy African beats and politically conscious and funny lyrics. We performed at the HIFA festival in Zimbabwe (an arts festival bringing together international artists) in May 2012, and the fantastic response proves that our music really speaks to Africans, women especially.
Norway has probably inspired us more than we think. We appreciate the values that Norwegian society is built upon – gender equality, peace and distribution of wealth – but it is also a country that has subjected us to racism and taught us the importance of defining ourselves, and fighting for our place in society. Queendom would not be Queendom without Norway.
Your song “Zum Zuma” really made an impression on me. Can you tell me about the creative process for that song? In the lyrics, are you referencing the orisha Shango?
Yes, the lyrics refer to the orisha Shango inspired by Yoruba culture found in Cuba, but the origin of this song is based on a very personal experience when Hannah in our group went to a small town, Mafikeng, at the border of Botswana: “I had one of the strongest spiritual experiences of my life. One early morning, just before the sun came up, all dressed in white, we were doing a cleansing ritual to welcome the good spirits and chase the evil ones away. This to bless the wedding that was going to take place on the same grounds later in the day. As I opened my heart and let the good spirits in, I felt an inexplicable inner peace. Later, that inspired me to write the song ‘Zum Zuma’. I am a person who doesn’t easily let go. So when I dared to just be still and accept, magic happened in a good way.”
I once heard someone say the only reason poverty and other developmental issues remain prevalent across African countries is because Western industrialized nations have not fully decided to intervene. What do you think of this sentiment? What role do you think art like yours plays in creating positive relationships among Western and African countries?
Africa’s problems are caused by a number of historical and present factors that are very complex, and the solutions are just as complex. When Western nations “intervene”, they have often done so out of their own economic interest, and/or with a paternalistic political agenda, so that is certainly no quick fix. To get a healthy relationship, they must see Africans as equal partners, and help Africans do what is best for Africa.
As artists, we cannot liberate a whole continent, but our music highlights important societal issues, provides comfort, empowerment, and strengthens people’s spirits. This, in turn, can inspire people to fight their own private or political battles. Queendom knows that women play a key role in peace and development and hope that our music can inspire women to take charge of their own destiny.
You all deal with some serious issues, but there is also a lot of fun and humor in Queendom. You all even have a comedy show. Can you share one of your funniest experiences collaborating with each other? What makes you all laugh when working together?
We wouldn’t survive if it weren’t for our sense of humor! In our early comedy shows, we would act out the racial prejudice and the ignorance we had encountered in Norwegian society. Then we started making fun of ourselves, like how come the most white-looking queen in the group has the blackest voice and the most African name, and how the Soul-Sister queen can’t dance and loves Willie Nelson? The audience didn’t always share our sense of humor. Once, in a small, conservative village, people covered their children’s ears and left the room! We still laugh when we think about those days.
Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
In Queendom, we believe in artistic freedom, brutal honesty and quirky personalities – but also respect and consideration for our fans. We are all bound in some way by family, history and society, but that doesn’t have to limit us. As artists, it is also our strength.
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