It may be just a coincidence, but it's fitting: The kickoff of the Pittsburgh Pride celebration coincides with the appearance of New Orleans' queen diva herself, sissy bounce goddess Big Freedia, at Shadow Lounge.
Big Freedia (pronounced "Free-duh") is known for her hyper-sexualized rap -- through call-and-response lyrics urging "azz everywhere," and through encouragement to put one's "hands on the floor," coaxing audience members to collectively pussy-pop and shake their asses. Freedia's performances are whirlwinds of energy that start out by pushing people's comfort levels, but soon leave them feeling liberated through the release of dance.
Born Freddie Ross, Freedia is a transgendered woman who self-identifies as "sissy" -- a term reclaimed by the queer populace. Her music is "bounce," a uniquely New Orleanian type of danceable hip hop informed by that city's cultural diversity and sexual liberation.
Many call Freedia's music "sissy bounce," but sissy artists themselves see no need to differentiate their music from bounce music in general. Either way, their music often edges into a cultural debate over the parameters of hip hop and sexual politics.
Last year, in fact, such discursive elements led Carnegie Mellon's student-run Activities Board to collaborate with local electro promotion outfit VIA on an educational workshop led by the transgender rapper. Held during last September's VIA Festival, the workshop was, according to VIA co-founder Lauren Goshinski, "the first time Big Freedia ever lectured/performed in a university setting."
The lecture and dance workshop attracted a crowd that ranged from undergrads to professors and visitors of all ages, says Activities Board president Adam Kriegel. "It was a very diverse group of people, [including] a couple people maybe too old to be dancing to bounce music."
The diversity only made the atmosphere for the dance workshop more illuminating, Goshinski says. "It ended up, in a very sweet way, turning into an ad-hoc self-esteem 101 course, all by way of talking about gender and music.
"Ms. Freedia asked as many questions of her audience as they did of her," Goshinski adds. Topics included "discovering one's sexuality, learning how to publicly express it, and how we might judge others based on sexual orientation and class. But the best way to understand expression is to experience it. Once the group got to dancing, we knew they were on to something. People you'd never expect just went crazy."
The next night at Freedia's performance at the VIA Festival, Kriegel recalls, "her music came on and her DJ started to perform; the crowd just lit up. Everyone gravitated to that one space and within minutes there were 20-some people on stage pussy-poppin'. It was incredible."
BIG FREEDIA with JAVELIN, DJ CUCITROA. Thu., June 2, 9:30 p.m. Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty. $12. Pre-sale sold out; limited number of tickets at door. 412-363-8277 or www.shadowlounge.net