The piece began with Inez, the Haitian American empress demarcating the space, placing white tape on the floor in the shape of a cross creating boundaries that were crossed, disrupted and trampled on. She wore a red long sleeve fitted shirt with black palazzo pants, cowrie shell bra, black corset, and African fabric draped around her hips. Was she the devil woman? When she completed her ritual, the rest of the cast entered to a reggae beat. Niurca and Michelle carry linen and prepare their area and take their seated positions.
Michelle and Niurca wear pants in various earth tones. Michelle is wearing goggles on her head, body paint, a cowrie shell bra with African fabric attached to it, providing a rich layered effect and can we talk about the diverse movement technologies that live in this woman’s body? I’ll wait. Niurca dazzles us with a yellow print bustier, pants split up the thighs serving us legs hunny. She also has feathers in her hair; I’m getting indigenous vibes. You can see the gorgeous tattoo that extends from her hip to her shin/ankle. Tao enters, wearing red loose pants, a printed vest, cowrie shell necklace, and arm band, the cast starts singing. Mercy’s costume boldly informs us of duality or identity struggle. There’s a rough and edgy element to her look, juxtaposed with a calmer persona. And girlfriend is rockin’ bantu knots, okay! And then Queen Keshia! Melanin is poppin’; her essence is giving all kinds of fierceness! She wears several shades of blue, a crown, gold chunky necklace, a feathered top that resembles some sort of breast plate, cowrie shell belt, leggings and carries her most important artifact, the Moses rod. Queen Keshia takes her seat upstage center in all her regality. All I can think of is Tarrus Riley’s song “She’s Royal” to describe this vision. Queen Keshia looks at Nuirca, identifies her as “lover”; now we are ready to begin!
Each cast member shared powerful monologues ranging from being in love with a god (Niurca), engaging in religious rituals with church elders and a baseball reference (Michelle), being half punk and half skin (Mercy), the challenges of expressing feminine energy in a male body (Tao), and colonization, slavery, and the inequities and injustices in the prison system for Black and Brown people (Keshia). The topics were heavy, but the integration of satire allowed for a realism that is indicative of Black culture, “you gotta laugh to keep from cryin’”. These are our survival strategies, right? Thematically, the work is deep, overtly addressing the “isms” of society—much of this went over, around the corner, and down the street to the predominantly white audience (missed, ignored, avoided etc.). I mean the ensemble were calling out and SCREAMING colonialism, inequality of Black and Brown lives, and racism, and the space was ripe with ancestral spirits which was visible in the costuming, the monologues, movement, music, and artifacts.
Tao offered us his absolute best and got it all in. There was dub; punk; rock; capoeira; African dance; modern dance; twerking; popping; winning; grooving; waacking; LGBTQ references; the Orishas Ogun and Yemeya; and Haitian loas Demballa/Yanvalou and Ghede, Latin culture (language and aesthetics), Dionysus and so much more. This was a political work with so many contemporary cultural references that you had to sit with it and make connections and decisions—if you wanted to. Congratulations P. Funk Junkies…y’all did that!
Photographer: Kevin Alvarez Cordova