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(L-R) Photo of sisters Bhagya "Eboshi" Ramesh and Priya "Contra" Ramesh who are the duo behind Cartel Madras. // Photo courtesy of Cartel Madras.

RAAAAR!: A Variety Show showcases BIPOC performers

By Jenn Gorrie, July 23 2020—

Affirming Connections, an organization that focuses on LGBTQ+  inclusion within faith communities,  held its first online fundraiser on July 18, offering RAAAAR: A Variety Show. Radical Artists and Activists Against Racism (RAAAAR) showcased BIPOC performers with diverse sexual orientation and gender representation. According to the Facebook event page the online show, accessed by a provided Zoom URL, was free to attend but viewers were encouraged to donate.

Miranda Martini,  a singer/songwriter who was also an event organizer, was asked by Pam Rocker, director of Affirming Connections, if she would be interested in joining the organizing committee for RAAAAR.

“It’s really just a group of us, who are activists and academics and artists who felt like we wanted to do something productive to channel all of our rage and sadness with everything that is happening around the world,” said Martini. 

Performers were not required to follow a specific theme when selecting what they would share, but were instead given the freedom to express themselves as they wished.

Local Drag King DeVery Bess produced a video they recorded of themselves rapping to their reflection in the mirror, whereas electro-pop musician Kait Angus sang acoustic songs with one focusing specifically on people against the movement.  Martini said her own song choices varied from “being light-hearted and silly, to some focusing specifically on John Ware.”

“If you don’t know, [Ware] was a Black cowboy who lived in Alberta and was good friends with some of the founders in the Calgary Stampede,” said Martini.

Dallas Hayes-Sparks, an African-Canadian opera major at the University of British Columbia, was second to perform at the RAAAAR event. She was asked by Martini, who is a relative of hers, if she would be interested and after hearing what the fundraiser was for, she knew it was an opportunity to share her voice. 

Sparks performed an operatic-style song and said that her voice can be used “to help create change.”

“I want to be instrumental causing people to listen and take the strongest stand I can against racism — I want to fix this for the next generation, I don’t want my niece and nephew to ever feel the way I am feeling right now,” said Sparks.

In the past, Sparks has performed at the EPCOR centre for Black History Month and a few weeks ago was asked to be part of the Storybook Theatre’s talk show. RAAAAR has been the first opportunity for Sparks to participate in a fundraiser that closely supports BIPOC. When asked if her ethnicity has ever affected her as a performer, Sparks shared her experience and said that often, she would be the only Black person performing, or maybe one of two.  

“I have been in programs where they brag about diversity and tell the audience I am from Africa, when in reality my family has been in North America for over four generations.”

Sparks also has to provide her own make-up for the shows, noticing that not all make-up would be available to match her skin tone, and would feel singled out if asked to wear light skin-toned tights. 

“These things happen more than they don’t, though you learn to brush it off — I hope for a day where I don’t have to. Many other Black performers don’t speak up when these things happen, because the brave ones who do get labeled as difficult to work with, which can destroy a career.” 

Famed hip-hop duo and fixture on the Calgary music scene, Cartel Madras, also lent their voices to the show.

Overall, the event raised $6,400 and the funds were split between non-profit organizations Black Legal Action Centre, RAVEN Trust and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“We wanted to divide the funds between a couple of Canada-based organizations and one in the States, as it’s important to us to demonstrate solidarity with Indigenous communities as well as Black Canadians and Americans,” said Martini. “The primary purpose was to raise money for some organizations that are doing good work — especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter [movement] being in the headlines and protests gaining traction against police brutality.”

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