RVA trans beat maker Sha Shakusky wants to make cis-white people feel uncomfortable
Sha Shakusky, a self-taught beat punk, knows how to command a room. And she’s changing the face of music in Richmond one album and show at a time.
“Something is telling me that the energy that I am putting out is directly affecting the people of my community and enacting change. I’m cool with that,” Shakusky said in an interview with GayRVA after a recent show at Gallery 5.
Her album XXI (Vignt et Un) was released on January 24 and a few days later the release party coincided with her birthday. “
“it’s cool that we can take something that we do in our living room and we can take it and do it live and bigger,” Sha said of one of her first shows. The Hallowed Greens showcase, for those that don’t know, was a successful house show that brought together many local artists under Sha’s roof. “None of these institutions around showed me the ropes on how to [organize music]. It was through DIY, community, and word of mouth and power in that: you can do whatever the fuck you want.”
Sha identifies as a trans woman and her tenacity to supersede her counterparts, regardless of gender, in the underground music game has made her stand out in recent months.
Shafest #1, as the event was named, featured a mixed bill that bridged the span of genres coming from the city. Local artists such as MNLV, Go Go Leche, Lopside, Heja Rames and so many talented others shared the stage to give a full house an interesting show.
“I asked about 30 [musicians] and almost everyone said yeah, but after that, I realized I had to crunch times,” Sha said. “If I’m going to have more than three people on the bill I had to develop set times and be professional. I could only organize so much; some people were late or didn’t show up on time. There were some issues with the mic, but all of that was fine- it happens.”
While sound at Gallery 5 was lacking in some performances, the stage presence of performers kept the crowd interested. Musicians from in and around the city that weren’t performing even came out to support Shafest #1.
“I’m glad I’m here, I enjoy the energy of the place,” said Anneliese Granthttps://soundcloud.com/anneliese-g, a vocalist from Richmond that actually appears on XXI (Vignt et Un). While Sha concedes to Gallery 5 being a cool locale, she also stands firmly on the humility of herself and her collaborators: “I had to break it down to about 10 people and I tried to show people that before any of this started- we were at Ma n Pa’s doing the same shit.”
In the beginnings of Sha organizing and creating music, she started out of her home like most independent artists do. Her house shows gained notoriety, eventually taking on the moniker ‘Ma n Pa’s’. Artists from well-known collectives throughout the city (like B.ckwards Haus Ops or Satellite Syndicate have performed alongside her as well as in her home.
The lack of femme energy in other spaces doesn’t necessarily intimidate Sha either, but fuels her drive to create better spaces and forums for women like herself.
“My existence is a juxtaposition within the everyday. Especially in the lo-fi scene itself, don’t get me wrong, but find someone like me, and I’ll stop talking my shit,” she said. “I’m not going to demand respect and say ‘I want to be viewed as an artist’. I’ll show them. It’s like I don’t need to talk shit… but I will talk my shit if I need to.”
Sha’s sound has a place within the Hip Hop genre and community at-large- XXI (Vignt et Un) features beats born from samples of soul music and rap-friendly bass lines. Much of the music loops older easy-listening soul, Motown and jazz while layering clean percussion, reminiscent of throwback hip hop producers. Sha’s sound makes sense too, considering she grew up all around the sounds she now manipulates to create something unique and solid.
“My mom was really big into the native tongue like De La Soul. When my mom put me on to 90s hip hop, my grandfather was always playing Motown. He would always play this Moments song,” she said. “I remember him telling me ‘go away, this is for grown folks’. So growing up and being told I know nothing about this but being constantly around it only pushed me to explore [these sounds] and discover as much as I can about it. Not [to] necessarily be some pretentious record warrior because I don’t give a shit about that.”
Her most recent album also reflects her appreciation of how sound can create images and tell a story. She credits The Avalanches as inspiration in that regard. “I’m fucking crazy about The Avalanches. They make their shit sound like movies,” she said. “If you close your eyes and listen to it, it’s not something you can dance to but it creates pictures. If music doesn’t do that then I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”
Nowadays, Sha finds herself listening to more easy-listening sounds from around the world; “I found this Youtube account that has been uploading a lot of compilation albums of really interesting world music. There is Italian detective cinema music just 40 minutes of sly detective shit,” she said.
It is through Sha’s affinity for love, vulnerability and music that she continues to raise awareness of the intersectionality of women, especially women of color. Her events and music projects usually feature diverse groups of artists that promote ideals of unity and inclusion.
“It all comes down to really coming to grips with accepting that as a Black trans woman, the ultimate goal is to reach complete vulnerability and complete softness with who I know I really am. The problem is that society won’t allow me to do that,” she said. Sha spoke on how her event, Shafest #1, was truly a revolutionary act in that it stands against the other spaces in the city where she is given faux respect or none at all.
“Society is conditioning me and will continue to make me [out to be] a hard motherfucker. People find me intimidating sometimes and that sucks,” she said, noting that her intersectionality as a Black trans woman thematically shows up in her music as well. The mixing of hip hop elements with softer sounding genres to create a whole new sound is something that mirrors her own life. Her song Lick (available on her album and Soundcloud) explains the opposition from her the hip hop community, saying “straight dudes hate this… you getting robbed by a trans bitch.”
All in all, her contributions to the underground music scene should not and have not gone unnoticed. Her dedication to her music spills over into her dedication to uplifting platforms for herself and people like her.
“If anything, I’m not the first person to do this or the last person. I may be sensationalized as someone that’s really great but this is a generational thing and someone started it,” she said. “Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it just transfers over from thing to thing. Right now, I got the energy.”
Future endeavors for Sha include experimental albums, physical merchandise and a tour.
“[B.ckwards Haus ops and Masterhand Records artists are] going on two legs. One week we are going south from here, through North Carolina stopping in Texas. Then in the first weekend in June we’re starting in Rochester, stop in NYC, stop in Philly and work our way back down to Richmond. We’re starting June 3rd and we have the welcome back party at Strange Matter June 10th in Richmond,” she said.
The Backhand Tour, as it’s called will make waves at the American Babylon Festival in North Carolina this spring as Sha mentioned and tickets are currently on sale.
Only ten months into creating her brand, style and music and Sha is making waves here in Richmond as well as other places she’s performed like Harrisonburg, VA, Rochester, NY and Washington D.C. “For all my POC and QPOC people, be unapologetic about who the fuck you are. Take a little bit of time to know and figure yourself out, and once you do that follow through with it,” she said. “Don’t give up. Especially to my QPOC out here, make these cis-white people feel uncomfortable.”
Words by Brad Kutner
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