Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Program Board dedicated its first show of the 2020-2021 school year to women’s empowerment with a tongue-in-cheek name: Women Are Powerful (WAP). That should be a given. Women really are powerful. However, if for some reason you needed proof, the lineup of immeasurably talented women brought exactly that to the virtual stage.
Opening the show, Zambian-Canadian rapper Backxwash came to show NYU that she is a force to be reckoned with. Along with her stunning virtual visuals, her approach of blending rap with occult lyrics and elements of rock and heavy metal brought a unique sound that you haven’t heard before and certainly won’t forget. However, Backxwash didn’t just come to entertain. Growing up in a very religious environment in Zambia, she had a lot of restraints on her identity and now uses her art to explore it, a journey that is most prominent on her latest release God has nothing to do with it leave him out of it. As a trans black woman, an identity often not readily embraced by society and the music industry, she encourages her audience to explore, accept, and love themselves, and in that vein, left her audience with an important message: Black lives matter, and Black trans lives matter.
Although Magana wasn’t on the original lineup , the NYU student’s intermission set was a short and sweet surprise. With both a Summer Walker cover and her original single “Keep It Goin’”, she showed her incredible talent, hitting runs and high notes we usually keep to our showers with ease and grace. But singing isn’t her only strong point. Her songwriting will just get you; “Keep It Goin’” perfectly captures the feeling of loving someone you shouldn’t. NYU has a star in its midst, and Magana is a name the whole student body should keep their eyes on.
Up next, Tennessee native bbymutha came out of retirement to grace us with a set that left every person in YouTube Live’s chat feature with nothing but good vibes. As her name implies, she really is a bbymutha; she radiates both the same love and the same ferociousness as a mother does for her kids. She smiled, laughed and doted on the audience in between songs, but as soon as her beat came on, her lyrics were ready to pounce. Through double entendres and plays on words, every punchline was both a surprise and delight; you can’t deny the genius of “Bitches be feelin' theyself on the net / These Helvetica hoochies ain't really bold.” As a single mother of two sets of twins, bbymutha’s experiences of Black single motherhood form the backbone of both her music and her persona, as even her stage name is a flip on the often negative nickname “baby mama”. She isn’t afraid to shy away from any parts of herself in her music, whether it be outwardly expressing her sexual bravado (as she should) or facing her emotional turmoil and trauma, and she does it all with a smile on her face. As she danced and smoked on screen, Telfar bag strapped to her chest and bars ready to spit, she served as a necessary reminder that being unapologetically yourself really is the best way to be.
Next on the lineup, Chicago rapper Queen Key kept it refreshingly real. Like any of us would, she had to find her perfect angle, ending up in her garage. Before she even started performing, the live chat ate her up: “She’ll take yo man, not yo IT job.” Although she may not be talented with technology, she certainly is with music. If you had to describe her music, it would be like driving with the homegirls in a car with the volume all the way up, windows rolled down, screaming the lyrics for the entire block to hear. Key has an infectious confidence about her in her lyrics, convincing her audience that they’re just as bad as she is. Although her songs may make her seem braggadocious and almost intimidating because she’s cooler than you, she’s also just fun. She could easily be one of your friends, hyping you up with her own iconic “My way, my way or the highway” if you went to the club together. Queen Key knows she is that bitch, but she’s here to tell you that you are too.
Closing the show, Raveena’s acoustic set was exactly what you’d need to end your night. Her blend of R&B with South Asian traditional touches conveys her message of feminine tenderness. As a queer South Asian woman, her identity is an important part of her music; she seeks to break the taboos around the different parts of herself to empower women of color and the LGBTQ+ community. With just one live instrument accompanying her for each song, she’s ethereal and soothing. Even when she speaks, she’s soft and calming, like a warm blanket or a good ASMR video. Although through comforting means, Raveena delivers lyrics that touch the soul, romanticizing everything from the simplest kinds of imagery to abstract, complex ideas like womanhood and femininity. She reminds you to love yourself, telling you the words you need to hear in case you can’t find them.
In the coronavirus era, we can’t deny that live concerts and virtual shows are inherently different. We all miss the energy of crowds, the unique connection that comes with seeing and hearing the artist directly in front of you. However, our phenomenal lineup showed that although that connection may be a little different, it’s certainly still there. The virtual stage opens up so many new possibilities for creativity and expression. For example, Backxwash was able to create and prerecord visuals that exemplify exactly what she’s about, bbymutha and Queen Key were able to let loose and have fun in a way that you can’t quite do on a real stage, and Raveena’s stripped set in her room was a comforting and intimate environment. You can still have fun, connect with your new favorite artist, and even make jokes with fellow audience members like you would at a regular live show. Program Board’s first virtual concert of the year was most definitely a success, and we hope it encourages you to, at the very least, check out our next one!