Mama Alto: Our strength is in our togetherness
June 7, 2019 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Mama Alto is a Melbourne, Australia-based queer trans non-binary femme of colour who is also an accomplished jazz cabaret artiste, creative producer, and community activist. Her work intertwines and uplifts the stories and experiences of people of colour, queer and trans people, and other marginalised identities, whether through reimagining jazz classics or through direct advocacy.

[Disclaimer re the change in the friend-linking rule: I have worked with Mama Alto many times as we're part of the same communities and I do consider her a good friend. Her work & her impact have been recognised locally and internationally, so it stands strong on its own, and I would have shared it even without the personal connection. None of the links lead to work I was directly involved with or stand to gain from.]

ABC Adelaide: Mama Alto performs 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' at the 'Flat Out Fringe' (Facebook video)

Mama Alto performing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" at the 2019 Australian LGBTI Awards

Queerstories: The Last Time I Saw Aretha [Franklin]

Heaps Gay: Mama Alto
The form of cabaret as a performance style is inherently transgressive. It's inherently subversive and people expect to come and experience something risque. And traditionally this sometimes falls into the dangerous trope of the freakshow, of the peepshow, of objectification or fetishizing. Take those expectations that people have and use them as a way, while their defenses are lowered, while their walls are down, to reach them with powerful ideas about sexuality, about acceptance, about diversity.
Liminal #59: Mama Alto
Jazz, as a genre, attracted me because of its boundless creativity, its freedom, its expressiveness, its innovation, and because it so often centres the power and beauty of women of colour. Cabaret attracted me because it is a space of diversity, of queerness, of idiosyncrasies, of embracing authenticity and vulnerability and uniqueness, of challenging authority and bigotry. At their best, jazz and cabaret offer alternative visions of what the world can and should be.
Archer Asks: Jazz singer and activist, Mama Alto
When I perform at my best, I rip open my rib cage and let all my emotions pour out into the story and the song. The audience can feel and respond to that in many different layers as they see fit. The challenge is learning how to pack it all away and stitch yourself back up and tend to your wounds, so that you don’t die, literally and figuratively.
Australian Jazz: Mama Alto: “We can all aspire to bear a torch against the dark”
The torch song is at once obvious and enigmatic, with embedded meanings, a multiplicity of perspectives, and an entanglement of identities. And at the heart of the act of torch singing is the delicious tension between tradition and subversion. As a cabaret singer interpreting, re-interpreting, presenting, re-presenting, and representing, torch songs, I work both to honour the legacy of the great women who have kept the flame before me, as well as to subvert the dominant and affirm the marginalised through song and storytelling. But I would also suggest that we can all aspire, in our own ways, to bear a torch against the dark.
Aussie Theatre: Mama Alto on the intersection of identity, activism and performance
I realised that anyone who holds minorities and marginalised people as inferior human beings, including but not limited to those minoritised, marginalised and Othered aspects of my own identity, was not someone who could genuinely love or value me. [...] However, it also made me realise that perhaps, through artwork that is at once seductive but subversive, these people might be reached, and confronted, challenged or changed. If they love jazz music, if they love cabaret singing, if they love storytelling, but they hold homophobic, transphobic, racist, xenophobic or misogynist views, and they encounter someone queer, someone gender diverse, someone brown, someone feminine who shares and articulates the art that they love and relate to, maybe that can reach their hearts and change their minds.
Archer Magazine: Marriage equality debate: Self-care and love at a tender time
I say to you, my dear queer: you are valid. Yes. You really are. You are worthy of love, respect, liberty, dignity and equality. You matter. You make beautiful and important contributions to the world, and to the lives of many – your friends and loved ones, and even strangers you haven’t met. [...] You are part of a queer lineage going back to the dawn of humanity, a queer patchwork family that spans the globe, and a beautiful constellation of diverse humanity that will endure into the future. And remember, it is okay to not be okay. We are tired, and we are hurt. You can be vulnerable. You don’t need to be strong all the time, or at all. It is okay to ask for help. There are services out there who can provide support, only a phone call away. [...] Whether we win or lose this fight, we will continue. We will dream and we will shape a brighter tomorrow. We will persist and survive, and we will resist and thrive.
posted by divabat (5 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post, thanks for pulling all this together! Lots to read and hear, be back later :)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on June 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a wonderful post! I'm still only halfway through the links, but I wanted to chime in and say that her voice is amazing, and she is immensely thoughtful and insightful about the work she's doing.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:53 PM on June 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you for this post.
posted by PMdixon at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow! I can't mash favorite any harder! What a lovely person absolutely working her butt off! Loved her comment on the audience in the Heaps Reel - damn!

Thank you so much for putting this all together!
posted by esoteric things at 6:52 PM on June 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

What a lovely person absolutely working her butt off!

I keep threatening to crowdfund a vacation for her - problem is, I don't even know WHEN she'd be available. I blink and suddenly she's got ten gigs lined up in two weeks, not to mention all the other projects she helps with in various capacities.

She's pretty much the Mother Hen of the local queer/trans/PoC/indie artists and activists here. Going to her shows and seeing the audience is pretty entertaining because half the audience are rich fancy (often white) old people and the other half are us punk queermos on comps she's organised.
posted by divabat at 12:59 AM on June 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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