The Batty Mama is described on social media as “a down and dirty, open and enticing dystopic space for queer and trans bodies from all constellations and cultural backgrounds, reclaiming booties of colour”. We think that is an accurate description, their parties are full of energy, great performances and all round black queer magic.
Hakeem Kazeem, Ama Josephine Budge, and Lasana Shabazz met in 2015 at the Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Fest Fundraiser. Although, Lasana and Ama had worked together previously and spoke about the lack of Black queer club nights that are actually aimed at Black LGBTQ communities. After several conversations, The Batty Mama was born.
A.Z recently caught up with Hakeem and Ama to get more of an insight into the wonderful world of The Batty Mama.
A.Z: The Batty Mama is a very interesting name, how did you come up with it?
Hakeem: I think the general idea was to be as subversive as possible while reclaiming the word Batty. Batty has several meanings from a slur to an ass. Once we had the word we had the imagery and ethos: reclaiming our batty’s, bodies, sexuality, and fun. The original name was Batty Mammy, (which I still love), but we realised that had a few too many connotations for people.
Ama: Of course it is a very derogatory name for gay men in Jamaica. We wanted to honour the lineage of the queer community reclaiming insults and using them as banners of pride and resistance, but thinking about that with specific regards to Black queer and trans histories.
When you were thinking about creating the night, what was the most important thing to you?
H: Our vision is to financially support and promote black and brown LGBT/QTBPOC artists by creating fun, empowered and inter-disciplinary spaces for us to share and showcase our work and experiences.
A: For us, by us. And everyone gets paid.
H: The night was born from a few frustrations we were all having; I personally was having issues creatively and wanted to exercise my own event management/curation skills, which led to the conversation about creating an event instead of looking for somewhere to go. The idea came from our initial conversation at the fundraiser, that there weren’t any spaces we felt comfortable in, or particularly excited to attend; whether or not they were Black, Black LGBTQ, LGBTQ.
A: We had been to a couple of “Black” nights in gay bars that seemed to just be an excuse for white people to try and twerk. Times are hard in London, we can’t all afford to go out to everything, especially when you’ve paid entry and find that what was advertised isn’t actually on offer. There is a really exciting growing scene in South East London too – with nights like BBZ – but there’s a big community in North London too that wasn’t being catered to.
H: Personally, I’m not really a club person, but I will usually try to go to a good show. As a group, we are all artists and creatives, and the hardest part of being a creative is being able to afford to live off your work. It was Lasana and Ama both agreed performance art and visual art was an essential part of the night as that is their background.
Has your vision come to fruition?
H: To be honest I don’t know…but I think so. We’ve definitely kept up with our values and mission.
A: It’s been tricky. We deliberately held the first two at Dalston Superstores – a gay bar in Dalston, that we felt has been a predominantly white space – to enact a kind of take-over. To consider that all of these spaces were fought for and legalised by Black LGBTQI resistance too, in fact, historically we have always been on an intersection of front lines, but are still made to feel othered in these spaces. DS were really supportive and on-board, but it is a non-accessible space so that was immediately problematic, and we encountered a lot of the white queer and gay community who were annoyed that their Friday local had been taken over and were abusive to our audience. I’d say as, with all points of resistance, the fruition is an on-going journey. We’ve certainly had loads of fun, which is really important to us, and we’ve created a night we actually want to go to, which is amazing.
H: It’s nice to hear people talk about the events positively. I think one of our best events was Too Black Too Queer in November. It had such a great energy. The event was with Brixton Reel and UBN WLD. I think one of the most exciting moments for me was meeting Karnage. Too Black Too Queer was the first event Karnage performed at, and he was amazing! Everyone else had been performing for years and were people we already knew. We make a big effort to push emerging talent too. That night he was surrounded by Black and Brown LGBTQI+ people who loved him and were glad to support him. He’s been performing almost every weekend since January which is amazing I know he was booked by Sadie Sinner to perform at her New Year’s event and at the Cocoa Butter Club, and by Travis Alabanza to perform at the RVT. With each performance he gets more fans – I suppose it’s nice to know the space we made helped; technically Karnage would be our vision coming to fruition.
Would you like to take Batty Mama to other cities or in London your main focus at the moment?
H: Definitely!!! I would love to do a sort of UK tour. Currently just looking for venues, artists and partners in Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast/Derry. Currently, nothing is set in stone. Would also love to do Edinburgh Fringe!
A: Absolutely, I lived in Glasgow for several years, so have quite a few connections there. I think it’s really problematic how many resources remain London-centric and having lived in Scotland, I know how desperately needed events like this are for BME communities nationwide.
H: London is just where we’re based, so it’s easier to stay here for the time being.
A: But the sky’s the limit really – Europe – the world! I’d love to do one in Johannesburg and maybe even an underground one in Accra, where I’m from.
What are your thoughts on the decline in LGBT venues and the gentrification of London?
H: I only really just discovered LGBT nightlife through Batty Mama, I always knew it was important in theory, but it’s different seeing why people need them in person. It’s mostly just frustrating, but a big part of our politic is occupying space(s), therefore it does galvanise us to seek out and support LGBT venues, but also be nomadic and host events in mainstream spaces especially black and brown spaces/venues.
A: There’s also this feeling of nostalgia. Working on Too Black Too Queer, our collaborators talked a lot about the 80s and how much was going on then when there were so many more spaces and because London was so much cheaper it was inevitably much more accessible. We work hard to keep Batty Mama affordable and to always pay people because economics is a key to POC and Black LGBTQI+ community surviving in London. I do think that a lot of people are
moving out and that can be exciting too, people create little villages outside of London where things are cheaper, but with the increasing nationalism in the country, a real concern is safety, both in and outside of London.
What is your favourite LGBTPoC night out outside of Batty Mama?
H: Again, I never go out, but English Breakfast and PxssyPalace always have great vibes.
A: I’m a great fan of BBZ, I think what they’re doing is fantastic – keeping it low-key – all about the music and the vibes. It’s also a wom*n, trans, non-binary-focused event which makes a really nice change from nights that have traditionally been dominated by gay men. Cocoa Butter Club is also fantastic; Sadie Sinner is just an inspiration with
her tireless prioritisation of POC performance art and burlesque, she’s really doing revolutionary work in her field, and the night itself is a blast.
Who is your favourite LGBTPoC performer at the moment and why?
H: Again Karnage – growing up listening to grime and hip hop I always wanted to see myself. We need someone as fearless as him, especially someone who is genuinely talented, lyrically and as a performer.
Lasana Shabazz has always impressed me with his ideas, visuals and storytelling.
A: I kind of hate this question because I really try not to subscribe to the way that we are all in competition with each other for funding and paid opportunities. Raju Rage is an amazing performance artist who has been working with really nuanced aesthetics
and developed politics for a few years, I also think Zinzi Minott’s work is very exciting – she’s working on a new show called ‘what kind of slave would I be’, and the work of Mojisola Adebayo I just follow with awe. Her piece in Black Lives Black Words at the Bush Theatre was – well – I’m still getting over it.
What does the future hold for Batty Mama?
H: Right now, we’re spreading our wings a bit. Doing events and projects outside club nights; like film screenings, podcasts, mixtapes, immersive theatre/plays and newsletters. Basically, exploring our ethos by finding interesting ways to fund Black and Brown LGBT artists, etc. We will be hosting a screening of Pick Up the Mic with a panel of LGBT rappers on 13th May and a screening of Born in Flames on 9th September.
A: We’re working on a big event to celebrate Batty Mama’s first birthday in the summer, and then we’ll see,
but the ideas are big.
Do you think it is important to raise some political awareness when you host your nights?
A: The fact that our bodies exist, and that we celebrate them, in all their forms, iterations, adornments and performances is absolutely a political act. Some of us are more overtly involved in being vocal with our politics and that is welcomed, but not essential. Sometimes we need a place where we can just be, dance, heal, rejoice. Those are the spaces that have been stolen from us and sometimes just showing up is enough.
H: The Personal Is Political: I think paying Black and Brown people for the voices and work is political. Showing and centring our bodies is too. The more events we do, the more we’ll have time to become overt and address other concerns. But Yes!!! It is!