Big Freedia

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Usually built around the ‘Triggerman’ beat (you know the one – dan-da-da-dan) and sampling hip hop and R&B chart hits of the past and present, Bounce is a frenetic mix of looped beats and high hats, whistles, horns and shout-outs. In short, upbeat club music designed for nothing more than getting you to bend over and show everyone what you’re working with.

The MC’s role is not to demonstrate lyrical dexterity and word play, but rather to get the people going with a mix of Mardi Gras Indian chants and call and response – think Waka Flocka Flame if he was trying to hype the party rather than demonstrate how hard he is. And when it comes to Bounce MCs who get the party started, nobody does it for more people or more frequently than Big Freedia (pronounced ‘Frida’).

Big Freedia’s one of the leading lights of ‘Sissy Bounce’, a micro-genre so-named because it’s Bounce music, but MCed by flamboyantly gay or transsexual MCs (although, as Big Freedia says, “You may have a gay or straight rapper – but it’s all bounce music”). I’ll spare you the essay on why it might be culturally significant that New Orleans is home to massively popular gay rapstars, or why an outrageously fabulous gender bender is the best possible emissary to get women and men shamelessly shaking their arses – it’s all been written before. Suffice to say, Big Freedia rules bounce parties from Brooklyn to Melbourne, and she’s worked damn hard to get there.

Between playing at least two clubs a night, six nights a week in New Orleans, Big Freedia also runs an interior design and party planning business, and for the past few years has been hitting the road regularly as an emissary for bounce music.

Bounce has been popular in New Orleans since the late ’80s, but recently it’s gained wider attention; Freedia believes that, “Hurricane Katrina brought a national spotlight to the bounce music scene.”
But while the disaster may have focused more media attention on New Orleans and its culture, it’s only in 2010 and 2011 that media focus has really come upon the world of ‘Sissy Bounce’, with coverage in the New York Times, Fader, Vice, NBC and regional US papers, sparked largely by Big Freedia’s work on the road.

Freedia got her start in the Bounce scene as a member of Dem Hoes, the back-up group for Katey Red, a svelte transvestite MC who kick-started ‘sissy bounce’ in 1999 with her release Melpomene Block Party (named for her hometown projects) on bounce specialists Take Fo’ Records.

Red has now retired from active duty on the bounce club scene, but the mic has been carried on by Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby – Freedia’s close friend, collaborator and ‘daughter’. Long before Katey Red encouraged Freedia to step from the back of the stage to the front, though, Big Freedia was an aspiring performer, directing the choir at her high school.

“I was always involved in some singing group; before back up for Katey, I was singing in local church choirs and in high school choirs,” Freedia says. Watching a Big Freedia film clip, like the insanely catchy Azz Everywhere, for instance, two things are immediately apparent: people go absolutely nuts at her parties; and if you’re not able to shake it like a salt shaker, you might feel a little left out. But Freedia says not to worry if your pelvic flexibility is a little lacking. “Freakin’, grindin’ – you can do anything you feel comfortable doing! The most important thing is for people to feel free to let loose at a Big Freedia show. We get all types everywhere – gay, straight, black, white, punk rockers, hipsters. Big Freedia shows are for everyone.”

Freedia and one of her dancers actually run classes on booty shaking, often delivering lessons before playing gigs to get unfamiliar crowds loosened up and ready to pop. The whole role of a Bounce MC like Big Freedia is to conduct the action on the dance floor like a manic, ass-clapping aerobics instructor, shouting out directions to ‘bend over’, ‘lift your leg’, ‘wind it’, or ‘make it clap’. You can also count on it getting pretty filthy-minded, as is to be expected from a genre where the dance style is entirely based around sex simulation. Classic bounce shout-outs include ‘suck dat pussy for a pork chop’ and ‘do it, baby, stick it’, but Freedia has a few shout outs of her own in the catalogue. “Listen out for, ‘I got that gin in my system. Somebody’s gonna be my victim’ and ‘You already know!'” says Big Freedia, “but they all mean the same thing: get ready to shake some azz and have a good time!”

BY NICK JARVIS