Lessons from hip-hop

Huzir Sulaiman directs Pooja Nansi and Jessica Bellamy in their confessional show Thick Beats For Good Girls.
Huzir Sulaiman directs Pooja Nansi and Jessica Bellamy in their confessional show Thick Beats For Good Girls.PHOTO: JOEL LIM @ CALIBRE PICTURES

Writer-performers Pooja Nansi and Jessica Bellamy explore how their love of hip-hop intersect with their traditional upbringing

Do good girls listen to rude music?

Well, writer-performer Pooja Nansi and her Australian counterpart Jessica Bellamy bonded over their love of hip-hop and a mutual struggle against traditional expectations of how women should behave.

They will put on a music-fuelled confessional performance, Thick Beats For Good Girls, at the Drama Centre Black Box from April 5 to 22. The production is presented by Checkpoint Theatre and directed by the troupe's joint artistic director Huzir Sulaiman.

Nansi and Bellamy met at the 2013 Singapore Writers Festival. "We were matchmade by someone who thought we would get along well," says 32-year-old Bellamy.

Over breakfast at Tiong Bahru, they discovered that they were both minorities in their country of origin - Nansi is Indian in Singapore and Bellamy is Jewish in mostly Christian Australia - and had what one might call a "traditional upbringing".

Both say their parents were liberal, rather than conservative, but both families were also concerned about maintaining "face" in the community. Nansi, 36, might tussle with her mother over the kind of clothes she wore to dinner at someone else's house, for example.

For Bellamy, the rule handed down was: "Say whatever you want to say, but don't be rude about it."

  • BOOK IT / THICK BEATS FOR GOOD GIRLS

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, Level 5 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: April 5 to 22. Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays, 3 and 8pm; Sundays, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $45 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    RATING: R18. No admission for patrons below 18 years old

"We both had liberal parents, but they were very aware of the role they had in the larger community," she adds.

Naturally, as young girls, both writers thrilled to the rebellious rhythms of hip-hop and singers such as TLC, Lil' Kim, Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott.

Bellamy says: "It's an art form that doesn't care what someone thinks of it. It finds new ground very brazenly. It's very liberating."

Nansi also found role models in hip-hop that she could identify with.

"Growing up in Singapore, I didn't see a lot of people who looked like me in the media. What I love about hip-hop is its celebration of women's bodies as curvy and dark-skinned."

In the past, she often saw looks of surprise when people learnt about her taste in music.

"When you listen to hip-hop, you're confronted with overt sexuality. Is that something good young girls should listen to?" she says with a laugh.

She and Bellamy proposed a project with Checkpoint Theatre two years ago and Huzir was fascinated by the intersection between the women's love of hip-hop, their self-identification as feminists - though gangsta rap often has misogynistic lyrics - and their traditional upbringing.

"Hip-hop is the older sister teaching them about life and a prism, a lens, through which they have a point of view of life," says the director, who served as dramaturg on the project as well.

"It's a privilege for me as a man to witness this investigation of being a woman in contemporary society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Lessons from hip-hop'. Print Edition | Subscribe