What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Nefertiti LaNegra may be Queen of the Nile, and the thicc Dutchess of the Thigh Gap, but she didn’t always start out that way. She was born in a small town in the middle of nowhere and by golly – it has taken a lot to get her here: to 2019, to the big city. There have been ups – and an occasional down – so let her take you on a ride as she waxes poetic about growing up a queen amongst those who did not see her glory. Love (letters), sex, race, gender, (popular) song, and dance all collide in this poetic spectacle. When thinking about drag everyone expects a Judy Garland but no one expects a Serena Williams – and that’s where Nefertiti fills the gap.

Read on to spend 5 minutes with International act Mark Brown II from Washington DC

How would you describe your show to someone who knew nothing about it?

What’s Love Got To Do With It is a show about love: familial love, community love, hot-pink-sparkles-and-butterflies romantic love, and self-love – via a medley of classic rock, RnB, gospel, and folk music classics sung by a 6ft, I’m sorry 1.82 meters  – I am in Australia, biracial muscle bearded drag queen who has a little bit of a potty mouth.

What/Who was its inspiration?

The piece’s biggest inspirations been a poem I first heard on college called “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Mayda del Valle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whl7ttqbrKQ) and the other has been the classic play/choreopoem for colored girls who considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange. Both of these pieces speak about love and the human experience in this truly dynamic way that I wanted to bring to a cabaret-style performance.

In terms of my drag, my inspiration has come from so many places – aesthetically it has been muscular woman who buck at the traditional idea of ‘femininity’ such as Serena Williams (Nefertiti has been called the Serena Williams of drag), Teyana Taylor, Elizabeth Akinwale, and Janet Jackson. In terms of performance it has been drag performers like Joey Arias, Taylor Mac, Le Gateau Chocolate and of course all the divas/divos that have ever existed – Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Celia Cruz, Stevie Nicks, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cookie, and many others.

What do you think its best quality is?

I really think it is the storytelling. I think the music and the words speak to a variety of experiences so I hope that everyone will have a moment where they can say out loud “Yes Nefertiti” or “Oh My God that’s totally my story” or “She seessss me”. 

Why should people see it?

People should see the show because I think it is an entertaining, musically-diverse, community-building and vulnerable piece of theatre. While Nefertiti will be the person on stage, I like to think of this show being everyone’s show. It is my desire for everyone to be seen in this show. It is a conversation, not a lecture.

If there is one thing you would like to say to your fans, what is it?

Do it for love honey. Whatever it is, do it for love. (and eat more vegetables – and take more dance classes)

Who or what has been the greatest influence in your career?

I can think of two moments: seeing Joey Arias perform Billie Holliday in their show Arias With A Twist and seeing Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Joey Arias taught me that I can sing and do drag. That I can give homage, through being an entertainer, to the women and queers who have paved a way for me and that I don’t have to be a ‘pin-up girl’ to do it – that drag can come in so many shapes and sizes. Taylor Mac challenged and expanded my ideas of what can happen in theatre – that you really should let yourself explore. His use of audience interaction and expectations just had me floored and mouth-wide-open so many times. It was just *swoons*

Who makes you want to sing

Sarah Brown aka my Nana aka the ole’ G aka the love of my life. Seeing her face when I sing has never, ever, not made me cry and make me try harder to be better.

When did it become clear to you that music and entertainment were your passions?

When I realized how much I was willing to sacrifice to be good and how much I was willing to invest in the process. The moment I was willing to not go to the club or not eat my favorite Greek yogurt because I wanted my voice to be at its best I realized that I deeply loved them. Love isn’t always sacrifice, but sacrifice can be evidence of love.

What does music, song and entertainment mean to you?

Being able to fully express myself from a place that is sacred. Music and song have always been special to me – especially as someone who was raised in a Southern Black Baptist church. Many times music and song open me up in ways that traditional speaking and words do not and create space for improvisation and explosive personal expression.

And entertaining, HUNNIIIIIII, I don’t put on a wig, a fancy dress, some high heels and LAYERS OF MAKEUP if I didn’t love to entertain. Drag is fun, not comfortable.

What are 3 words that describe you?

Energetic, Unexpected, Fluid

What are 3 things that  would surprise people to learn about you?

I am one of 7 siblings.

I sang the National Anthem at my university’s graduation in front of the entire class of 2010 – like, the WHOLLEEE shabang – thousands of graduates, their families, the entire faculty. Twas cray.

I was in a West African, mostly Malian, dance company. My favorite dance we ever learned was Sandia.

What is next for you?

Working on a piece that somehow smashes Olympic lifting/Crossfit, modern dance, and personal narrative together.

Melbourne Cabaret Festival from Wednesday 19 until Sunday 30 June 2019, Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.  Bookings: http://melbournecabaret.com