Jesswar: Reclaiming Racial and Gender Slurs

Fresh off the trail from the Laneway tour, we caught up with Brisbane based Fijian artist Jesswar, a female powerhouse who is unapologetically reclaiming derogatory gender and racist slurs in her debut single “Savage”. Tapping into a primarily male dominated music sector, Jesswar surrounds herself with equally powerful and talented female forces, making a much needed dent for women in the Australian hip-hop scene. She is not a force to be reckoned with, and we’re excited to for her debut EP, which is due to be released this year.

Your debut track “Savage” focuses on reclaiming racial and gender slurs. What meanings do the words ‘savage’ and ‘cunt’ have for you?

It seems like the rest of the song’s meaning has been lost in those two words. They seem to have gotten under people’s skin. “Cunt” can mean whatever you need it to mean personally – that word has hundreds of meanings, so take it as you please. But “savage” is reclaiming my savagery as a proud Fijian. 

jesswar

‘Cunt’ has such a negative connotation associated with it, in some places it is considered almost taboo to say. However, in Australia it is used as a slang term regularly. Do you think that growing up in this country made you feel safe to use it in your music?

I just don’t agree that a word that refers to women should be a put-down anymore. If I wanna reclaim it I will, if I sing and it makes you feel empowered roll with it, embrace it too. 

What challenges (if any) have you faced as an artist, and as a woman, in the primarily male dominated rap/hip hop industry?

Let’s leave gender at the door. That’s a given in all industries, and in hip-hop that’s just part of the game. As an artist I face the same struggles as all emerging artists – we face the hustle to get to where you wanna be. It’s hard hours, it’s lots of travel and huge leaps of faith regularly in order to make good music. jesswar

Who are some of your idols and inspirations?

Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B for the modern day. Lauryn Hill, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Big Band Swing. I’m pretty broad and like to watch all forms of musicians and performers and see how everyone does it.

Would you consider yourself to be a voice for the QPOC community?

That’s crazy. No one person can be a voice – we are all just one of many, I make sure all the communities I’m part of feel important and fuckin front and centre where they belong at my shows, but I am part of many more communities than just that one. jesswar

Your video for ‘Savage’ features a powerhouse of Brisbane creative women. Can you tell us about some of those featured?

My friends Miss BlanksKaylah TruthAywin and G Elenil who I do the Fempress Cypher with are all part of it.  Those women make me proud and inspired, so I wanted them in it. There are so many to name, but every woman in the clip creates in her own way, there are incredible black models, DJs, rappers, visual artists and poets who make up that cast. They are all fearless and embody the song so I had to put people in as strong as the track. 

You seem to be constantly reinventing yourself as an artist. Is this a conscious process for you?

I’m not sure it’s possible to stay completely the same throughout your career. You grow, you change, your life moves you to new places, so of course my music is going to reflect where I’m at. I think I started very young, so if anything I’m just getting started. 

jesswar

Your debutEP is due for release in 2018, what themes will we be seeing & hearing you explore?

I like the element of surprise. But to give you a lil vibe it’s heavy 808’s and I’m feeling inspired by Missy Elliot and Nirvana. 

Photography by Hannah Bronte, interview by Sara Nicolette.

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