Following the recent release of their debut album, Get Free, Tygapaw spoke to us about the revolutionary roots of dance music, as well as why their new project is radical for the present. Born and raised in Jamaica, the multi-talented artist’s influences include dancehall, reggae, and futuristic techno. Their experience of New York nightlife and love for ballroom culture has also shaped their approach to the music she’s making now which involves a queerness that’s inherent to them as a person and as a producer.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivates you? Being born and raised in Jamaica, how did this influence your approach to making music?
It will always innately influence the way I make music or approach music, from being exposed culturally to dancehall and reggae. Also, the spirit of Jamaican people is what’s truly embedded and engrained in me, because we know how to have a good time, I guess.
Living in New York now, I imagine this feeds your creativity in a different way. To what extent has living there enabled you to explore yourself and your music more authentically than in Jamaica? Are there pros and cons of each place in terms of creating?
I wasn’t making music when I was in Jamaica. I was just going to high school and asking my mum for piano lessons which she refused to let me do. I just started creating and making music when I came to New York; I went to the art school Parsons, and I just knew I had to make music. I just had to find my footing, my own way.
As soon as I graduated, I had that time to fully immerse myself in what I was passionate about. I picked up a guitar and I bought a little Casio keyboard and started from there. As my journey continued in New York, I got exposed to the nightlife, specifically queer nightlife for me, which really opened things up.
Being exposed to mostly ballroom culture has been a huge opening for me in terms of access to genres of music that I wasn’t exposed to growing up in Jamaica, and that’s a big part of the shift for me musically.
You’ve said that Get Free “Explores what it is to actively dismantle imagined limitations.” What are these limitations for you, and how do you think the record achieves this?
The imagined limitations are not quite imagined – they’re systemic; they’re put on young Black girls, from my personal experience. They’re patriarchal and gender-based, and I quickly knew from a young age I wasn’t having it.
Just because I’m a girl I have these things stacked against me because society deems me obsolete, or whatever. Incapable of accessing or achieving the goals I set for myself. They set the bar quite below any standard I set for myself, so those are some major challenges, oppressive structures that have been put in place to deter a young Black girl to believe that she’s not able to achieve the things that she would like in her life or not to aspire to greatness. Those are the limitations I’m speaking of, and the constant work it takes to get over that bar, to shatter that glass ceiling, to dismantle that self-doubt.
In regards to the album achieving it, it’s just a practice of realising a fully-realised body of work is a challenge, and that’s a challenge I choose to overcome. That mental block you might have, those dialogues as a kid that you won’t amount to anything and all that shit. That kind of fuckery you have to push to the back. You have to leave space for yourself to do the damn thing, and that’s what I did with this album.
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You’ve also stated that the album “Relentlessly pulses and moves with intention.” Given that this is also a project of self-discovery, how do you think the music reflects your own attempts do understand yourself and the world around you? Is there a sense that you always have to keep moving with purpose even during times of trouble?
I guess I’m being literal with regards to syncopation and rhythm for a techno-album. I’m very heavy with percussion and groove. That’s my focus, and coming from a DJ practice, producing techno has opened a world of rhythm to me so I can experiment a bit more, incorporating a bit of my culture and blending different rhythms, but I don’t necessarily think it has anything to do with anything else.
Music does what it does; it has the ability to uplift you and put you in a better place. It’s cathartic. With this particular album, the concept of liberation is also my goal. Don’t limit yourself is obviously what I’m trying to portray. I just want people to enjoy themselves and feel uplifted.
This release also follows your Ode to Black Trans Lives EP. With regards to Black trans lives and other issues that minority groups have to face, do you feel like the dance music scene has a responsibility to step up?
Dance music is revolutionary. The basis of it is revolutionary, and that’s starting with disco. It just depends on what gets focused on, and usually, the most frivolous, baseless, and asinine things get the focus, and revolutionary things aren’t acknowledged until 20 years later. I always feel like people paid that EP dust. It didn’t get much of a response; even looking at the streaming numbers it didn’t get a lot of plays. It’s a very important EP, so it connects with the right people, I suppose. That’s the best people making music can do.
You also have a reputation for creating and contributing to inclusive spaces within music through Fake Accent, a monthly event series. Can you explain what drives you in that respect? Is it personal for you?
I like to create inclusive spaces because it’s important for people to feel like they’re a part of something. Community is an important thing, especially within queer Caribbean culture for me. Growing up I feel I wasn’t exposed to queerness, so coming to New York it just led me to that place where I wanted to create a space for people to connect and vibe together. That’s ultimately the goal of Fake Accent, and I feel like I’ve achieved that over the years and hope to continue to do that work.
I saw you expressed anxiety about what’s been happening in the United States recently. Do you often turn to music as a means of soothing anxieties you have with what’s going on? With this being said, which Get Free track will you play for the revolution?
I’ve been going through a state of anxiety for the majority of my time living in the US. It’s a very difficult place to get acclimated as an immigrant. Art in general for me is a place of solace. I go to it to centre myself and, although not necessarily an escape, it helps me to be present in a way.
For the revolution, I’d play all of the album tracks, every single one. I have my favourites. Facety is definitely one of them, but all of them are suited for that purpose.
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I'm also interested in your experience as a DJ. To what extent do you believe DJing is still a boys' club? At the same time, do you ever get sick of being asked what it’s like to be a woman in your field?
I think things are shifting a bit with the DJ experience. I can see how things have shifted in a way; women are more visible.
I don’t necessarily get tired of the question, but I just don’t know how to answer it differently. It’s the same kind of answer; it’s gatekeeping mostly, but I don’t know if that’s really gendered anymore. It’s about who has a look and who they can capitalise off of based on that look. It doesn’t have much to do with talent anymore – that’s quite obvious – so I don’t even know what to say about DJing at this point.
The album cover itself feels very Grace Jones-inspired, but I hope that’s not too reductive a comparison. How do you normally approach selecting the images to complement your projects? Is this usually collaborative, and do you normally have a concept of what you’re trying to achieve before shooting?
It is collaborative. I like to pick artists I admire and whose work I love so it’s input on both ends. For them to understand, I send them the music so they can conceptualise, and we come together and conceptualise the cover. Also being from a visual artist background, I’m very hands-on with that process as well. I’d definitely always pick a photographer or artist whose vision I trust, and this makes the process very enjoyable.
Avion Pearce did the cover for Get Free and knocked it out of the park. To get to that point, it was a full day process of setting up, shooting, and working out the lighting, and she did an amazing job. I’m really happy with it.
As much as I love the new album, we have to say it feels criminal that we can’t enjoy it in a club or at one of your sets. If the situation allows for it, how do you plan on bringing it to life in a live setting? Are there any plans to promote it at any virtual festivals?
Well, thank you. I mean, I’m a firm believer in time, there will be plenty of opportunities. Patience is a virtue. I’m working on getting dates put together for the end of 2021. So, yeah, there are plans. This all gives me time to work out my hardware set for it and to work out visuals as well. Doing the best I can with what I’ve got. It will happen eventually.
To finish, what’s next for you? Are you already planning more music, or are you happy to let the dust settle for the time being?
I have a lot of projects in the work already. Some pretty major projects I can’t discuss yet. I also picked up an art film score gig. That’ll be my first venture into film scoring which I’ve been manifesting the hell out of! I’ve been wanting to do that for so long, and I’m very excited about it. There’s some remix commission work, and always, I’m already planning the next project/album/EP, whatever it is – more music definitely in the very near future.
The biggest thing is working on getting Get Free on vinyl, and as always the financial obstacles. Hopefully it’ll be available by the Spring.
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