100% Expressive: TYGAPAW Interviewed

Talking liberation through club culture...

Since moving to NY from Jamaica in their younger years, TYGAPAW has devoted their time to enriching the club scene within New York, creating spaces for the city’s LGBTQIA+ by creating Fake Accent, an event series established to create safe spaces for the Black queer and trans community in nightlife across New York. A journey that has led to founding an independent record label, and a solo music career.

Their critically acclaimed 2020 debut album ‘GET FREE’ was a wider exploration of their ethos to date, providing a groove-laden soundtrack for their community to celebrate each other and party within the walls of a club or their own home. Three years of sold-out tours across the world have followed, leading to their second album; ‘love has never been a popular movement’. An eight track project with a more direct and intense sound than its predecessor, the album acts as a rallying cry to end division. The title is a quote from American writer James Baldwin that explores how the world is held together by the love of only a few people and that it is up to the individual to exude a love that contributes to a wider unity.

Clash sits down with TYGAPAW to discuss liberation, the movement in ballroom culture completing a unique cycle of music and dance, and how to play being overlooked to your advantage.

If you don’t mind me asking, I would love to hear about the origins behind your love of music. Was there someone or something that sparked that flame for you?

Very early in my life, when I was a baby, music was always being played. With Jamaicans, that’s a part of our culture, it’s a musical culture. We just naturally enter into the world and then we’re completely consumed with music. So that’s my earliest memories, hearing lots of music being played, especially on Sundays.

Because I was born in the 80s, it’s like Tina Turner and the song I think it was ‘Private Dancer’. Maybe I was too young at the time to understand what exactly was going on but I very much loved Tina and Whitney! She was like one of the biggest vocalists for me, I was obsessed with them and I just wanted to learn all the songs and sing them back.

Talk me through your influences and the inspirations that fed your creative flow on this project.

The place where I create music from is a position of need, to have something that doesn’t inhibit me. Where I could just fully be 100% expressive, especially the type of artist that I am, I don’t have major label contracts, I’m not a pop star. Quite frankly, I use the fact that I’m quite overlooked a lot to my advantage. When you’re overlooked you’re not scrutinised you have quite a lot of room to just go off wherever you want to go. I tend to lean into whatever direction that emotionally I want to express at a time.

That’s how this album kind of came about, I knew I wanted to have a follow-up to ‘GET FREE’ but not being the same sort of tone at the time because my music follows my growth as an individual as well. I’m just growth-oriented. I was stepping into a place where I just wanted to express how powerful love is, how powerful dance music is. What dance music has done for me is absolute liberation.

Where were you building on your 2020 album ‘GET FREE’ and that process with this project? What did you do differently from your first album?

I think it’s a response of gratitude that I wrote ‘love has never been a popular movement’ . I received so much affirmation from being so boldly myself. Every step of the way, with every project, I felt the need to thank my audience for understanding, for knowing and seeing me. I am unique to a music industry that seems quite homogenous right now. It seems quite one-dimensional and to have that sort of rogue individual that is authentically, unapologetically themselves.

I think that reception is what affirmed to me that I could step boldly into and solidify this position that I have as an artist. I don’t necessarily fit into any sort of lens, a lot of my musical references come from the 90s because that’s where I grew up in. But for my audience, I wanted to give them something to celebrate us.

With your tracks, it’s like movement is coded in and essential. It hits you in your spinal cord. Is movement and body movement something that you are conscious of in the process of making music?

To make dance music is not easy. I’m glad you are acknowledging this and more people should acknowledge this because it’s way harder than making pop music, it’s way harder than making hip-hop. I have been through so many iterations of exploring genres. Way back in the beginning of my musical career I took some trap samples but made it for the clubs. It’s not until I came across ballroom, and I always take it back. Because ballroom made me understand movement in relationship to the music. It’s a genre that directly connects the sound, how it’s made is connected in response to how movement is executed on the dancefloor.

Once I was introduced to this world, I was like, okay, this is a game changer. I would say it comes very close to dancehall as well. We have dances that are in response to certain rhythms and certain songs. So that just made sense to my world of understanding. Dance is inherent to me and my culture. I grew up learning how to move very early. 

I can imagine there were many points where culture and personal identity have come to difficult and painful clashes. Has making music and djing brought a sense of healing and reclamation to your connection with your culture?

Jamaica don’t want to claim me. I love that I’m Jamaican. I love that I was born and raised there, it is difficult to still reconcile with the fact that a country doesn’t want to acknowledge me. Look at me, you know that I’m Jamaican because I’ve always had a swagger because of who I was born and where I was raised. So I’m still very much in that process and that headspace of wanting to shift my people over.

I still believe that we can have those conversations. I think we can start this conversation right now. But absolutely music, the club space, DJing and producing dance music and techno it all connects and also the fact that I started fake accent, that I just immerse my culture into the club space and being able to centre and queer and trans Caribbean’s. I’ve always championed for the change that we so desperately need and I’m still on that work. 

From the conception of ‘love has never been a popular movement’ to now, what do you feel most grateful for on this journey? 

Oh, my gosh, the ability to know how good I am. I didn’t know that before and that’s the problem. Humility can only get us so far, there was a point where I realised, one of the tracks was ‘GLAMOUR Riddim’. When I finished it, I was like, Dion! I had to wait a year for it to be released from making it and in that whole process, I sat with it. I kept listening to them and there was that nervousness. But there came a point where I was like, this is it!

The reason I feel I got there is the consistency and my audience joining me. I’m grateful 100% for my supporters. They’re the realest, they understand me, they understand authenticity. There’s something to be said when you’re overlooked by publications, Get free wasn’t reviewed but my reviews came from the public. My reviews came from my supporters and they reviewed it over and over again. It set me up for the next one because I know what y’all love, you know it’s a two-way street with this. I’m not creating this to just play music for myself, I’m creating this dance music to share with the world.

I feel very much held and supported by the people who love my music. They stop me in the streets and say, Oh, my God, I love you. Nothing compares to that experience, to be affirmed by your supporters.

‘love has never been a popular movement’ is out now.

Words: Naima Sutton

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