First impressions of Hot Brown Honey are misleading. There's a merchandise stall selling earrings made of guitar plectrums, a honeycomb of beige lampshades forms their set, the show begins with a noisy hip-hop call and response: all the signs seem to point to an irreverent, high-octane, low-content pop video of a show. But then DJ/MC Busty Beatz does three things: she declares it time to “heed the mother”, shouts “fuck the patriarchy” and soberly reads out a feminist statement by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Those first impressions are overturned, the assumptions underlying them challenged, the tone of radicalism set for the rest of the show.
Based in Australia, Hot Brown Honey are a collective of all-sizes women of colour on a mission: to deliver “black feminist truth” and “cultural awareness training” while subjecting received white feminism and unconscious colonial-supremacist thinking to close interrogation. That they do all this using the tools of irreverence and high-octane pop culture ensures that their message can reach further, to a general and age-diverse audience who might not even be fans of Beyonce, let alone poet and activist Audre Lorde. The group take a historical approach to burlesque, which was used to lampoon modern politics before it mutated into a general word for striptease. Bodies definitely appear almost-naked and sexuality is rampant, but there is always a clearly articulated political purpose behind this flaunting: one that bypasses individual parties or leaders, and instead digs to the very foundations of capitalist-patriarchal structural oppression.
At the lighter end of the scale, there's a song about black women's hair that goes through a number of musical styles before finishing with thrashing, head-banging hair metal. At the most poignant, there's an aerial routine which uses the bondage of looped ropes to inspire empathy with the women silenced by their experience of domestic violence. In between they debunk romanticised fantasies of the African motherland, condemn the ease with which white holiday-makers vomit entitlement over other countries, and reject the hollow chatter of those with “two cents to put in but not common sense”. Throughout, erudition and entertainment are kept in balance, with quotes from other key black feminist thinkers, including Indigenous Australian Lilla Watson, demonstrating the group's respect for and solidarity with their intellectual foremothers. Hot Brown Honey's work might never be catalogued in the library of feminist academia, but as long as the female body – especially the body of colour – remains objectified, their expression of radical politics will be no less essential. (MC)
Hot Brown Honey are on at various times at Assembly Roxy until August 28th (not 22nd). Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/hot-brown-honey
Excerpt from 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/adichie.html
Excerpt from Audre Lorde's 'The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action': https://iambecauseweare.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/the-transformation-of-silence-into-language-and-action-excerpt-by-audre-lorde/
A potted biography of Lilla Watson: https://lillanetwork.wordpress.com/
Beyonce's Formation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfMlFxrMb18
Dita von Teese's brief history of burlesque: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/a-brief-history-of-burlesque-471288.html
A basic reading list on race and racism: http://citizenshipandsocialjustice.com/2015/07/10/curriculum-for-white-americans-to-educate-themselves-on-race-and-racism/
On the hideous whiteness of Brexit: http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2733-on-the-hideous-whiteness-of-brexit-let-us-be-honest-about-our-past-and-our-present-if-we-truly-seek-to-dismantle-white-supremacy