Music has always been an escape for Big Freedia, the out and proud Queen of Bounce. The New Orleans-based entertainer is a worldwide ambassador of bounce music, indigenous hip hop characterized by Mardi Gras Indian chants, energetic call-and-response vocals, heavy bass and up-tempo beats.
Freedia, who grew up singing in church choirs and admiring artists like Patti LaBelle and the openly gay “Queen of Disco” Sylvester, was first introduced to bounce music by drag entertainer Katey Red in the late 90s. Red is considered the first transgender emcee to rise to prominence in New Orleans and is credited with creating the LGBTQ-inclusive subgenre sissy bounce. She also welcomed Freedia as her backup dancer.
By 2003, Freedia released “Queen Diva,” her first studio album. By 2011, she was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, and by 2016, she caught the attention of iconic mainstream artists like Beyonce and Drake. She was quickly featured on the former’s Grammy-winning single “Formation” and the latter’s “Nice For What.”
Her third studio album in 2018 welcomed rising artists like Lizzo and in 2019, she collaborated with superstar Kesha for “Raising Hell,” the lead single from the singer’s long-awaited, fourth studio album. In 2020, Freedia is virtually everywhere.
In January, Freedia was featured in a musical commercial during the Grammy Awards, music’s biggest night, where she promoted Facebook’s “More Together” campaign. The video focused on the benefits of Facebook Groups, highlighting the International Kazoo Players Association; an interest of the Bounce Queen’s.
It also showcased the title single from the forthcoming EP “Louder,” scheduled for release March 13. Freedia’s latest will feature a new collaboration with Kesha and welcome Swedish electropop duo Icona Pop.
Ahead of its release, Freedia will perform at Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Music Festival March 7, a product of the Gasparilla Music Foundation. The nonprofit supports and promotes music and education, seeking to create a long-term sustainable institution to benefit Tampa Bay, promote the region’s cultural heritage and enrich the lives of the area’s underserved and impoverished children. Watermark spoke with Freedia ahead of her bounce into Tampa about her music and more.
WATERMARK: Was your Facebook commercial as much fun to make as it is to watch?
BIG FREEDIA: Yes, it was! It was a great day of production. Everybody from Facebook was super awesome, as well as the cast members that were in it. The National Kazoo Day group was super sweet. The background dancers, the photographers, the videographers, the 10 directors – it was amazing! It was quite a day to make the commercial. I had a blast.
Do you have a favorite song to play on the kazoo?
“Louder” right now; “Louder” is the one. We all were playing. It’s stuck in our heads.
Your new release features two collaborations – “Pipe That” and the title cut – with Icona Pop. What do you like best about working with Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo Duo?
They’re super sweet and awesome to work with. It was fun day in the studio. We got to hang out and get to know each other. The energy in the studio was up. I love both of them. When they get together musically it’s a great thing to see.
I love the sample of “I’ve Got the Power” from Snap! on “Louder.” Why was that song chosen?
For me it was stepping up the production. The producers are the one to credit for coming up with the sound. The only thing I wanted to do was use the line “I’ve got the power,” with this being a powerful song lyrically. I’m coming different with all my music moving forward, exploring new sounds and new rhythms and melodies. I’m excited about the new project as a whole.
“Chasing Rainbows” is your latest collaboration with Kesha, with whom you are also going on tour. What can you tell us about your creative chemistry with her?
Me and Kesha connected when I did the Kesha Cruise. [The artist’s inaugural “Weird + Wonderful Rainbow Ride,” a musical vacation featuring multiple artists and fans on the sea.] I was invited to do the cruise and we hung out and got to know each other.
Kesha told me about how she became a fan of mine. Her brother saw a show of mine a while back, maybe about 10 years ago. He told her about me and we did the cruise. We got matching tattoos, we exchanged phone numbers. We started texting and talking. Before we left the cruise, I said, “I’ve got a project I want you to get on.” She was like, “As a matter of fact, I’ve got something I want you to get on.” That’s where that process started. Next thing I know, “Raising Hell” is out and my song “Chasing Rainbows” is on the way!
In addition to touring with Kesha, you are also making the rounds of the festival circuit, beginning with the Gasparilla Music Festival. What can fans expect from your set?
Lots of energy, lots of ass, lots of fun times. Get ready to come and party. Let their hair down, wear comfortable clothes, because we’re going to turn it up and have a great time. Come loose and ready. Maybe stretch a little bit before you come. If not, you’ll probably be feeling it the next day. (Laughs.) That’s what you see when you come to a Freedia show. (Laughs.)
Good advice! Brandi Carlile, another out musician, is on the Gasparilla schedule with you. How important do you think it is for LGBTQ artists to be represented at festivals such as Gasparilla, especially at this time?
We need to be seen and our voices need to be heard. That’s very important. To keep representing for our community and let them know we’re here. We’re coming louder and even harder. All artists should have equal opportunities and have a platform to express themselves musically and physically all across the board. We’re coming, 2020; more visuals, more sounds and better than ever.
The Gasparilla Music Festival will feature more than 40 acts across four stages March 7-8, 2020 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa. Big Freedia will perform March 7 from 6:15 – 7:30 p.m. at the Ashley Homestore Stage. Festival tickets range from $40-200 and are available at GasparillaMusic.com. Big Freedia’s EP “Louder” will be available March 13 wherever music is streamed and sold. For more information, visit BigFreedia.com.