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Fierce, Femme, Fabulous: Mama Alto on gender & the curiosities of cabaret

Fierce, Femme, Fabulous: Mama Alto on gender & the curiosities of cabaret

As a queer, transgender person of colour, Mama Alto has carved out a striking career as a gender transcendent diva, cabaret artiste, jazz singer and community activist. Fierce, femme & fabulous, she draws on the legacies of vintage torch singers and her own identity, disrupting societal constructions and empowering the marginalised through their art. 

In her own powerful and personal words, Mama Alto explores how she embraces cabaret / jazz as an artform and outlet to share important stories about gender, identity and the world.

Cabaret is a site of possibilities, of potential, of pluralities. Fluid, layered, and complex, the cabaret is like a prism: held up to the light of our lives, it refracts the singular beam out into a rainbow, revealing the full, rich, multifaceted glories of human experience.

Similarly, the art of the jazz singer is one resplendent with expressive potentials. The interpretation of lyric and the innovation of melody combine to create a deep, in-the-moment, living mirror of human emotions. 

And in the form of torch songs, these two rich veins of meaning-making and music-making combine and flourish, articulating our humanity, our lives, our spirits. From the most abundant of joys to the most devastating of sorrows, the troughs of tragedy to the peaks of triumph, torch songs navigate the complex and confounding journeys of love and loss, of poignancy and pathos.

This kind of music can be an archaeology of the self: an excavation of one’s own interior psychological universe. Or, it can be a walk in someone else’s shoes: an exploration of what it means to move through the world in someone else’s skin.

For me, devoting my life to singing this repertoire has been a liberating and empowering experience, as well as at times a confronting and challenging one. I have learned much about myself, and about others; about gender, about sexuality, about identity, about acceptance, and about humanity. And I know from audience members, and from fellow artists, who I have spoken with over the past decade that these songs have helped them learn, too

It is a kind of empathy, a kind of storytelling, a kind of discovery, a kind of communal or collective knowing. In the music, we find ourselves - and each other.

Mama Alto performs Torch Songs at Melbourne Recital Centre on 19 July

Mama Alto is a jazz singer, cabaret artiste & gender transcendent diva. 

Mama Alto, and her research and work into the social implications of the diva, the torch song, and cabaret performance, is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and the 2019 Creators Fund.

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