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Bounce as Bridge 

Big Freedia's dance mission

click to enlarge Queen Diva of Bounce Big Freedia
  • Queen Diva of Bounce Big Freedia

UPDATE: AS Presents has announced the cancellation of tonight's Big Freedia show. From their Facebook:

"We are sorry to say that we are forced to postpone our Big Freedia show. Her Doctor has restricted Freedia from performing for longer than originally thought. Refunds are available at the University Ticket Office. 707-826-3928. We are doing everything we can to reschedule the date, and Freedia really wants to come to Humboldt. Our thoughts are with her."

... so click here to find something else to do tonight.

There's a good chances are you've never heard of Big Freedia or her style of music, New Orleans bounce, not unless you're a hip music insider or perhaps a follower of the HBO series Treme, set in New Orleans. On the show, FM radio DJ Davis McAlary (played by Steve Zahn) is a major bounce fan; in fact he loses his job at the station for playing too much bounce.

Big Freedia is the uncrowned "Queen Diva" of bounce, in particular a subset known as sissy bounce. Essentially a New Orleans spin-off from hip hop, bounce is not exactly new. As Treme music consultant Alison Fensterstock related in an interview with the Times-Picayune, it's been around since the late ‘80's but has "evolved tremendously" since then. "Early stuff is singsongy, sometimes with reggae elements, and lots of call-and-response, which is what makes it so great to hear live," she explained. Basic rhythms like "Brown Beat" and "Drag Rap" (which borrows the hook from Dragnet) gave way to faster and harder beats. Lyrics are typically minimal and repetitive, chant-like, usually with some sexual reference. Big Freedia's biggest hit, "Azz Everywhere!" repeats the title as infinitum, along with the word "overdrive" as an exhortation to shake or "bounce" your ass, the basic dance move of the genre.

"Sissy bounce" is a term that Big Freedia has in turn embraced and rejected. While born male, Freedia presents herself as female, and as noted on her website, in New Orleans sissy is the "locally used name for biological men with varied and ambiguous sexual identities."

She sees her androgyny as a bridge. As she told Prefix magazine, "Me being a black gay artist and performing for people from all walks of life provides the bridge. We can all party together and have a good time and not worry about the color of our skin or whatever else is going on. It's just a big fun party, and that's my main goal. We come together to party, but really we're one community united under one roof."

And, with Big Freedia at the forefront, the bounce tent keeps expanding. In the course of the last year, URB magazine declared Big Freedia one of the "Top 10 Artists of 2011," Rolling Stone highlighted Freedia as among the best of SXSW 2011 and NPR Music chose "Azz Everywhere" as one of its favorite songs of the year. This year started with an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! On the horizon: a coveted slot on the Bonnaroo lineup.

At this point Big Freedia is working her way down the West Coast with a crew of dancers and a DJ, Rusty Lazer. The big bounce show stops in Arcata Friday, Feb. 24, for an HSU AS Presents show at the Depot. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $10, free for HSU students, available at the University Ticket Office 826-3928 or at humboldt.edu/aspresents. Be prepared to bounce.

 
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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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Contributing photographer.

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