Roundtable Part 2: Gina Chavez, Mama Duke, Tje Austin on city’s music equity struggle
Editor's note: This story was originally published June 25, 2020.
On June 22, Latin pop singer Gina Chavez, rapper Mama Duke and R&B singer Tje Austin Alldredge joined our weekly Zoom chat show, the Monday Music Mashup, for an in-depth roundtable discussion about the significance of the Pride movement, LGBTQ rights in America and the specific challenges facing Black and brown gay musicians.
These are their stories. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Sengupta Stith: Right now, the Austin music scene is kind of going through a reckoning about a historic lack of diversity in venues, in the festivals, in some large music events. Do you feel as LGBTQ artists of color that you've had sort of a double whammy of discrimination as you've been trying to build your career in the city?
Mama Duke: I feel like there's a triple whammy as a female. Again, I'd say that I've been blessed. I think now we're realizing that they need us. We can survive without them. I get booked, and we find our way without them, you know. I think it is (expletive) that people don't book Black. It's evident. I get it. Some of us are loud as (expletive), but we have money, damn it. We bring our people, too, damn it.
Sengupta Stith: What about you, Tje? Has there been a resistance that you felt getting booked in Austin?
Austin Alldredge: I feel that the more effeminate you are and the louder that you are, possibly maybe there is some sort of pushback. But being Black, I just don't perform a lot at venues in Austin. Prior to quarantine, I (did play) at Geraldine’s often. There are not a lot of spaces that I can get booked at. So I just stopped trying, honestly. I will just play random stuff. You know, there are organizations that I work with. Like the (Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau), they hire my band. There are other places that I've worked with word of mouth.
I stopped looking for places to perform in Austin, because I just wasn't getting booked. You know, and I want to play, but It was frustrating. I stopped submitting to (South by Southwest) because I've never ever gotten an official showcase for South By, except when companies decided to hire me.
Sengupta Stith: Gina, you're kind of at this point in your career, I would consider you kind of on the upper echelon of what people think of as Austin musicians. Were Austin audiences always receptive to your art?
Chavez: So, I think there's a couple things. I do feel like Austin is a place that enjoys and supports original music. That, you know, is harder in some other communities. I feel like we have a great music community that really does feel like a community as opposed to a pay-to-play situation, or you're fighting for you, like we're all against each other. I feel like we're on the same team, right? At the same time, I'm a native Austinite. I was born and raised here. And I grew up going to Blues on the Green. And that is one of the few festivals that I would love to play. Like, it would mean so much to me. And yet, you know, the first Latina to ever even play there, not headline, was our good friend Stephanie Bergara of Bidi Bidi Banda, which is great. And I'm so excited that she got to play there. But I think it's also worth noting that that's a cover band.
Sengupta Stith: And also that was in 2018.
Chavez: Exactly. And so, it's like, I sing in Spanish and English, there's also the language piece. Austin, and even Texas, we have a huge Latino population. And is that represented on our stages? No. And then you have people that are constantly invited back to things like Blues on the Green or (Austin City Limits Music Festival) or SXSW. I feel like I had to get national attention in order to get Austin attention. And so, I got attention on NPR. I got to be on All Things Considered. That was huge for my career. I literally saw my album shoot to the top of the charts alongside Shakira, Enrique Iglesias. My little album was up there, but that's because I got attention from NPR, and then suddenly Austin cared.
I do love Austin, and Austin has been very good to me. But there are a lot of things that need to change. And, of course, once you have something like a Tiny Desk (Concert, an NPR series), well, then your doors open for you, because then when you're trying to book somewhere, they're like, “Oh, a million views on Your Tiny Desk? OK.”
But before that it was the same thing. You go beat down a door and they're like, “Cool. Can you bring 500 people?” And you're like, “No, I've never played there,” you know?
Mama Duke: Can I ask you a question, Gina? It's like one of those things. I always think about this, and you're there. So you try to knock on these doors. They don't open, boom, you're over here. How do you feel about reaching back? Do you play your cards? Do you use them? Are you bitter about it? Do you say (expletive) it? How do you feel? What's your mental (state) when somebody that said no to you is now saying, “Hey, Gina, what's good?”
Chavez: I would say that, you know, we all need champions. I think that's kind of what I'm talking about. I had champions at NPR. It allowed me to get that attention that allowed me to get other attention that allowed me to get other attention. So part of it is understanding that, like, each of us has the opportunity to be a champion for someone else. And the other thing is, no matter what sphere you're in, no matter what line of work you're in, you’ve got to play the game. You have to play a game. There's always a game to play. There's multiple games to play. And so you have to figure out what are the rules of the game and play the game.
Like, you know, right now, I released an album in time to be nominated for the Latin Grammys. And so I'm playing that game. I want to get a nomination. So what does that mean? I just feel like on some level, you know, I don't necessarily want to burn bridges. But at the same time, I think we're having conversations that are more poignant and more pointed now, and that there is at least more of an appetite for it now than there ever was.
So I do think I feel that privilege on me that, it's like, OK, so if I'm getting invited to play something, taking a page from Jackie Venson's book and saying, “Is this a token situation? Am I asked to be the palatable Latina because, like, I also look very white?” (Editor’s note: Venson recently went public about diversity issues related to a Blues on the Green booking.) I'm cute. Kind of like Tje said, I pass. I don't think my gayness scares people, you know. And so on some level, it's like I have to balance those things and be like, “Am I the voice that's really needed here?” Or if I have my own thing going on, how do I uplift a voice that may not be heard?
Mama Duke, I'm a huge fan of yours. I completely love what you do and how you do it. And I think we need your voice in the Austin community more and more and more. It's those kinds of things, just understanding like, OK, where do I have influence and how can I make a difference?
Mama Duke: I say, create our own damn space. Like, I have enough people. Like all the people that show up to something, if I wanted to, I could pack a room of 500 people. I can start my own (expletive). What am I doing over here making money and splitting (expletive) with other people?
ABOUT THESE ARTISTS
Gina Chavez is an acclaimed Latin pop artist whose work has been featured on National Public Radio. Her latest EP, “La Que Manda,” dropped in May. It is available on streaming platforms or for purchase at ginachavez.com.
Mama Duke is a rapidly rising rapper who’s been making waves on the Austin scene. Her latest single, “Mad,” is available on streaming platforms, and the video is available on YouTube.
Tje Austin is an R&B singer who was featured on the first season of the NBC singing competition “The Voice.” His latest single, “I Can’t Breathe,” written in response to the police killing of George Floyd, is available on streaming platforms.
The first part of this conversation that deals with diversity in the Austin music scene and the full video of the roundtable are available on austin360.com.