On Friday October 22 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, an exuberant Kimmortal strutted to centre stage, tambourine in hand, and immediately started singing. The performance concluded Exposure UBC’s month-long festival, Artivism: Queering The Self, which spotlighted artists whose work challenges what the dominant culture enforces as the norm.
Kimmortal’s intimate, genre-blending music is a celebration of their identity. The Queer, non binary Fillipinx rapper and singer does not shy away from exploring the personal and the political. In the night’s opening song “Stars,” for example, they rap: “Constellations that course through my veins / Even when they tried to erase our face / Better say their names / We won't leave this space.”
The audience leaned forward in their seats at the urgency and power of the lyrics. This was a trend throughout the concert, with big beats and soulful, yet a clear and commanding, voice demanding engagement from the audience. The audience was happy to give it: clapping after every song, waving their hands to experimental electronic melodies and laughing at the anecdotes they told us in the breaks between songs.
At one point in the concert, the audience eagerly obeyed Kimmortal when they told us to sing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member. “Hope your breath smells good,” they joked, before counting us in to the celebration. Behind our masks, we provided supporting vocals to Kimmortal’s dramatic and entertaining rendition of the tune.
Before the show started, I had worried that the performance would be swallowed by the vastness of the Chan Shun Concert Hall, which sits on the unceded territory of the Musqueam people (a fact that Kimmortal made sure to recognize) and usually hosts large orchestras and operas. It is the largest of the three venues housed within the Chan Centre, and the crowd sat scattered and socially distanced throughout the first and second floors. But Kimmortal and their band of three – with Jamie Lee on drums at the back, Ocean Pendharkar on the keyboard stage left and Christine Bacani on bass at the opposite side – filled the space with their energy.
The last time Kimmortal had been here was for their graduation, earning a bachelor of arts in visual arts and art history. Standing under a rectangular screen, in deep blue lighting, the set-up for their return was simple, allowing the smokey haze and their self-made animations to set the tone of the performance.
The visuals changed with each song in the setlist: animated flames and black-and-white videos of protestors toppling statues accompanied “Fire”; a yellow moon hovering over the ocean complimented “I’m Blue”; and childhood pictures of Kimmortal and their sister flickered on the screen of a sketched desktop computer for “That’s My Sis.” They gave visual meaning to the songs’ narratives of exploration of identity, gender, sexuality and social justice.
Before the last two songs, Kimmortal pulled out a paper from their red jacket — which they had taken off, to cheers, a few songs earlier – and shared a poem with the audience. Inspired by a picture of a classroom taken during the American colonization of the Philippines, they had written it in the form of a love letter. It weaved a story of Queer love and decolonization carved in the space between systems of oppression.
Kimmortal closed the concert with “Sad Femme Club.” With a bouncy beat, swinging melody and fierce vocals, the song brought the audience out of their seats, singing along to the pre-chorus: “If I lose my shit right now/ Will I just be dismissed right now?”
It felt like a giant party which speaks to Kimmortal’s ability to unify people through passion.
The ethos of Kimmortal’s performance was the unapologetic celebration of identity. They teach that the personal is the political, and that honouring our differences is a form of resistance to the dominant narratives enforced by the colonial capitalist system that we live in.
“You are not a burden,” Kimmortal told the audience. “You are a gift to this earth and this universe … Your voice and your art, they matter.”