For Realness [by James Wenley]
I don’t think I’ve ever been to any album release parties before, but if I do in the future, I don’t see how they could top The Best Possible Album Party Anybody Has Ever Been To.
Donna Rose (Frith Horan) and Carla (Kate McGill) have risen from the slums of Columbia to international pop super-stardom. There must have been a clash at the Vector, because here they are at The Basement Studio for one night only (make that till the end of the week) to launch their genre-blending pop-hip-hop-electronic-R&B album Krystopia.
There are a number of elements that are supremely impressive about this launch. We’re in the bar when five dancers strut in and pull out their moves. Then Donna Rose and Karla make their own epic entrance. They are “Lady Latinas” who are “gonna burn up the night”. They promise an album, and show, about heartbreak. About being full in love, and the top of the world, and having your world rocked.
Upstairs is a trip with a bright pink curtain running across the length of the Studio, behind which we glimpse shadows slowly moving to the electronica beat. Lyrics are whispered through the sound system. Let the music feel you.
What is most impressive is that the music (various collabs between Horan, McGill, Adrian Hooke and Oswell Didsbury) is decent: catchy and boogyable. Donna Rose gets the diva high notes, Karla embodies rap attitude. They’ll have you willingly clapping along and even dancing on your feet by the end. Songs range from body empowering “Makes Me Wonder” to sexually suggestive “Gas in my Ass-O-Line”. While the lyrics don’t take themselves too seriously, they rarely go for straight out jokes, more subtle subversiveness. “Spanish Love Song”, about love and loss is performed acapella with genuine emotion, and the strength of the experience is that they don’t necessarily go for the easy gag.
We are showered with empowering platitudes throughout the show. “Respect the struggle”. “Be true to who you are”. “Your culture is your culture and nobody can take it away from you”. The elephant in the room is the appropriateness of Horan and McGill’s cultural appropriation. They aeluded to these issues inv public interviews and in the program, writing that they are testing if “we can clown the people who appropriate the culture, not the culture itself”. Appropriation and representation is a hot issue, magnified by the scrutiny of social media – they cite figures like Iggy Azalea and Chris Lilley, and I’m also reminded of the uproar over ethnic stereotyping in Pitch Perfect 2, and production controversy in Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous 6.
Here’s the problem, there’s a fine line between critique and inadvertent celebration, and I don’t think they have delineated it enough. While they can articulate these intentions in print, it does not come across in the show itself. We are still dealing with stereotyping, othering, and a fetishisation of the third world. Fact is, I don’t think they could get away with this show in a society that has a significant Latino population, and that is what worries me.
The showmanship, choreo and music, I must repeat once again, are supremely impressive. I had a really good time. Donna Rose and Karla have the X-Factor, though it did feel that Horan and McGill were holding themselves back and could still take their performances up a notch during the season (in saying that, Horan freely admitted she was losing her voice by the end of the night). To make this show really pop they need a really good sound designer, and maybe some stickier tape to prevent microphones falling off!
As a delightful bonus, you if you like the music, you actually can buy the album. 50% of sales goes to the artists, and 50% is given to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.
The Best Possible Album Party Anybody Has Ever Been To is presented by Alacrity Productions and plays at The Basement until 30 May. Details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe