Transcending Poverty and Creating an Intersectional Queer Community: Cha'ves Jamall's Flat Pop Sessions

We know Cha’ves Jamall as the stylish, philosophical queer pop artist and multidisciplinary talent who brought us songs like “Field Trip” and the installation “Queen Black America.” But what we often don’t get the chance to glimpse in our favorite artists is the internal and societal plights they’re grappling with, often hidden behind their public personas and social media profiles. In an age where our best selves are displayed on the internet for all to see, we lose so much of the authenticity of being human and of being inevitably flawed.

Transparency is one of of Jamall’s strengths -- both in his artistry and physical presence. In our first interview session, I was in awe of his ability to walk into a room with a vitality so massive, it was as if the energy in the room immediately heightened to a level in which he could fit. And at the same time, the depth of conversation and ideas he presented were suited to this energy -- he spoke of his theories, hopes, and personal philosophies with a seemingly easy sense of brilliance. It makes one wonder how a single person can carry all of it.

Being a musician or artist in New York City means that to be recognized in a place where the best of the best in every medium dwell, you have to have not only an enormous well of talent and the resilience of a cockroach during a nuclear war, but also a way to convey those talents in a way that will get people listening, and more importantly, thinking.

Jamall, with his personal brand of fabulousness accompanied with lyrics that confront such demons as depression, poverty, and self doubt, is able to keep the audience in a bopped-out state while teaching them something -- that fabulosity doesn’t come without its expectations, conflicts, and ultimate failures. This is an important aspect of producing powerful work -- the ability to project ideas that are not only worthwhile, but also relatable on a grand scale.

When asked about what it means to be an artist trying to make it in NYC as a queer person of color, and an outspoken one, Jamall reiterates how important the aforementioned resiliency is to visibility within the vast network of NYC artists, honestly saying: “I’m going to do it a little better than everyone else.”

PHOTO: Liz June

PHOTO: Liz June

Jamall’s collective, FagMass, has been producing shows with exclusively queer artists since 2017, but the collective is branching out in order to inspire intersectionality in the arts, and also to build the collective’s notability within the community while promoting safe spaces for artists and audience members to gather.

Previously, FagMass’ shows benefitted charities like the Trans Women of Color Collective, and while they will still be donating some of their proceeds accordingly, FagMass’ newly developed Flat Pop Sessions will also see proceeds going to the artists that perform with them.

While lifting up queer artists is still very much a driving force for FagMass and its creators, Jamall and his partner and collaborator Rick Marcello, with the induction of The Flat Pop Sessions any and all artists will be welcomed, whether they are queer, of color, or of any gender identity.

Recognizing the marginalized in the NYC arts scene means recognizing the underlying issue that 44.2% of New Yorkers face. That is the percentage of people living below or near the poverty line according to research done by the city in 2016. Nearly half of NYC residents are barely able to afford their basic needs. Many of the artists in the city, especially queer people or those of color, are likely within this margin. Jamall recognizes that creating a space for these artists is invaluable.

Jamall has struggled to transcend the limitations of poverty in his own life. In all honesty, so have I. Finding time outside of necessary paid work to not only make art of any kind, but to perform it, likely without pay, is a creative success, but not a financial one. It is a significant reality that artists who are struggling to “make it” in NYC are also struggling to survive. It’s difficult to get to a show you’re performing at if you can’t afford a ticket on the subway.

This reality is what birthed The Flat Pop Sessions. The artists are free to share their art, their truth, their vulnerabilities, and will get paid for their time. The show will feature artists from various backgrounds performing music and jazz, and will contain aspects of storytelling, audience participation, and a Q&A. The 4-part series, done in a neo-noir pop style, will be differentiated by color, which Jamall hopes to create an “emotionally hued environment” from.

Opening up FagMass’ community to include all artists wanting to participate will create an intersectionality we need in the arts and is a microcosm of what we need in society at large. When asked about audience members who wouldn’t ordinarily have attended his or FagMass’ prior events, but find themselves enjoying them regardless, Jamall has a characteristically nonchalant and scintillating answer: “It’s about reaching the ears of the unintended listener.”

The first installment of The Flat Pop Sessions will begin with “Electric Blue” on Sunday, March 31st at Broken Shaker at Freehand New York. There will be performances by Kate K-S, Brett Williams, Kamilah, Allison Ponthier, and Kola Rai. Follow Cha’ves Jamall @chavbrand and @fagmass on Instagram for updates on future shows.

Dakota is a poet, journalist, and right in the damn center of the Kinsey scale.
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