“I identify as a witch from a spiritual sense and from a resistance sense,” comments Backxwash, “I’m definitely a modern day witch.” Born and raised in Zambia, the Montreal/Ottawa-based rapper identifies parallels in the persecution of witches and queer people by colonialists and missionaries, and teases these connections throughout her catalogue. Her powerful self-determination as revolutionary angry trans rapper bursts through on her music which couples dizzying lyricism over progressive and challenging beats. “I had to find myself… and I felt that hip hop was a good place to explore that because it sounds so rebellious and it gives form for you to be able to create all of these vivid stories.”
My conversation with Backxwash was peppered with laughter. She possesses ease in moving from cheeky shade to devastating revelation and back again. Her effervescent personality is a fascinating counterpoint to the rage in her music and the transformative power she cultivates when expressing her anger in song creates its own kind of magic. “I rarely ever show outward anger – I’m extremely mellow, but I’m always bothered by what’s going on, so I think that usually comes out in my lyrics. I like to call it productive rage because it’s not like angry for the sake of being angry, but it’s angry because things are so, so bad.” She explains that her song “F.R.E.A.K.S.” was written after being heckled by a group of five men on her way to Montreal weekly hip hop jam, Le Cypher, “I was really angry about why these things are happening. I think anger manifests itself into the art that I’m creating because things are pretty awful for people like me, and I don’t know any other way to express that.” In this way, Backxwash transforms hate into a creative seed, just as her uplifting laughter converts the weight of her stories into joyful acts of resistance.
The rapper casts spells of evolution and conversion all over her music. From her ever-evolving range of vocal timbre to her approach to production and beatmaking, she is firmly committed to flipping our expectations. “I spent a month listening to Death Grips and vaporwave… I realized the reason why I like those beats so much is because of the transformation of one piece of art into something that’s completely different.” In the sonic world of Backxwash, samples function as insider languages – nods to ballroom culture, Zambian chants and punk aesthetic bubble together to signify her unique imprint. “These het cis men are like, ‘woah that [sample] is so obscure,’ but when it comes to our communities, it’s not really that obscure.”
“As an angry trans woman, I don’t know any other way I can rap. This is the logical conclusion for me… I never knew my voice could sound like that. It comes from a place of inside rage.”-Backxwash
Backxwash’s rise in the ranks of Montreal alternative rap has been meteoric. Her live show smacks audiences in the face with joyful independence and searing authority. She’s also incredibly prolific, having dropped both F.R.E.A.K.S. and Black Sailor Moon EPs in 2018, she will be releasing her debut full length Deviancy this year with LGBTQ centered label and artist collective Grimalkin. “I was inspired… to create this project that intersects all three aspects of who I am, which [are] mysticism – the witchcraft, the queerness and the struggle with religion. I tried to do that with the previous EP but I think this will be more sonically cohesive.” As she continues to release one devastating bop after another, Backxwash creates more and more space for herself, a process that will be sure to reach new peaks in her forthcoming release. “For the first time that I’ve been rapping in my whole life, this is the first time that I actually like my voice… As an angry trans woman, I don’t know any other way I can rap. This is the logical conclusion for me… I never knew my voice could sound like that. It comes from a place of inside rage.”
Backxwash will be supporting Lido Pimienta for Suoni Per il Popolo Festival on Saturday, June 22 at La Sala Rossa.
Peggy is a musicologist and recording artist who is deeply invested in music’s role in society. She is particularly interested in how marginalized artists create representations for themselves through music and she is passionate about artists who exhibit strong musicianship and poignant songwriting.
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