Rita Bratovich reviews the inaugural Express Yourself – Queer Discovery showcase, which gives emerging queer performers a chance to shine at Mardi Gras.
On 28 November, on what was officially the hottest November night on record in Sydney, the stage at the Beresford Hotel sizzled with young, outrageously gifted artists. It was the first of a three heat (‘scuse the pun) series of shows pitting emerging LGBTQI performers against each other for the chance to perform alongside Montaigne at a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras event in 2021.
Round one of Express Yourself – Queer Discovery was held in conjunction with music rights organisation APRA AMCOS and Great Southern Nights – an initiative by the NSW Government in partnership with Destination NSW and ARIA to help reinvigorate live music in venues across NSW.
In a Covid-safe environment, patrons were greeted, seated and treated to a free cocktail and exhilarating entertainment.
A master of expressing himself, Brendan Maclean was the host for the evening. After an electrifying performance and failed costume change, he introduced the judges for the first round: Australian music royalty, Marcia Hines; singer/songwriter/occasional medical practitioner, Gordi; musician and sought-after producer, Alex Hope; Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger; and APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston.
Montaigne was there to check out the contenders and perform two of her incredible songs, Ready and Don’t Break Me. The diminutive songbird with a massive voice was in high spirits, mirroring the enthusiasm of the audience who were happy to be in a real world music environment again.
JamarzOnMarz was the first of two competitors to take the stage for the evening. This rambunctious rapper is only 22-years-old but has a confidence and aesthetic that belies his youth. He is also unafraid to take action for his principles and recently successfully petitioned against school uniform policies that inherently discriminated against minority groups.
With his Kenyan and Sri Lankan-Tamil roots proudly displayed atop his head, and his queerness showing through his jagged skirts, JamarzOnMarz swaggered onto the stage with a gleaming saxophone, flanked by a good-looking pair of trumpet players. It’s very rare to see band instruments played live on stage in this kind of setting and especially in rap, but boy did those boys blaze.
JamarzOnMarz performed two songs: Israel Falafel, a deliberate pun and searing take down of one of the community’s least favourite villains; and Tomorrow, which involved the audience in some call and response. He had a lot of personality and filled the room with energy.
Aya Yves, competitor number two, came on with a drummer, keyboard player and lots of powerful emotion. The 23-year-old confessed she had only really come out about a month earlier, but all her queerness shone through in her authenticity and raw sentiment.
Born in Cooma and raised in Canberra with Czech blood coursing through her veins, the singer previously known as Vendulka, has already made an imprint on the Australia music scene. She gained her big break via Triple J’s Unearthed and has co-written with and been produced by some of the music industry’s elite.
Aya had a small posse of fans in the audience when she took to the stage, but she had claimed the entire room by the time she left it.
It is definitely not going to be an easy choice for the judges – and this was just the first outing of Express Yourself – Queer Discovery, which has two further showcases to come.
The final heats take place in January 2021.
For more on the Express Yourself – Queer Discovery showcases, visit www.mardigras.org.au/events/express-yourself-queer-discovery.
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