TOSHI REAGON: The First Line of the Revolution

Interview – 06.07.07: Igniting the television show The L Word with her blues performance, Toshi Reagon reminds the viewer that great films require collaboration. As Reagon fuses her unique sound, Black, Bold, and Queer, with The L Word’s cast and crew she demonstrates musical and gender complexities with enduring charisma. Reagon started performing when she was seventeen, nurtured musically by her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Despite her mother’s influence, Toshi Reagon transcends the biological connection between Toshi Reagon’s band, Big Lovely, and her mother’s group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Big Lovely is utterly Toshi.Recently, Reagon has teamed up with Righteous Babe Records. To listen to more Toshi, click here. However, for emerging Queer artists, Toshi Reagon gives a shout out to the Black Lily Film and Music Festival . When the Queer Film Review asked Toshi about her interest in films she responded, “Absolutely. I thought I would to film school – I love visual media and I always see movies with my songs.”As a self-proclaimed sucker for romance, Toshi described her love of the film When Night is Falling (Dir. Patricia Rozema). But Toshi is far more than sentimental. Her favorite books include Kindred by Octavia Butler. As Toshi continues to look for fresh perspectives in the arts, television like Stephen Spielberg’s The Show bore her senseless. However, Toshi’s disappointment only fuels her to toss potential film ideas around with her love, J. Bob Alotta, a Queer media maker. A few ideas Toshi shared with us were a film about Thomas Dorsey, a pioneering gospel composer, a documentary on Black teachers in rural communities during segregation in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and a good film adaptation of an Octavia Butler book.Photo, left, Toshi Reagon taken by J Bob Alotta Photo, right, Octavia Butler, photographer unknown

Toshi’s appearance on the The L Word was a true cameo; her talent, panache, intelligence, and bold pioneering shined through her performance. Toshi sings and plays guitar at a going away party for Tasha, a tough lesbian solider who is about to go fight a war in Iraq. Toshi’s music and the show’s perspective do not shy away from the difficult situations that face woman who are Black and who are Queer. And for this reason, the union of Toshi Reagon and The L Word is sublime.

– reviewed by T Nova

Check out the Interview:

How did you get started as a musician?
TOSHI REAGON: I started being interested in music as a small child around 3- but did not point to it as a profession until I was around 14 I really started working on it when I was 17 that is when I did my first shows.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: How has being related to Sweet Honey in the Rock influenced you?

TOSHI REAGON: I get asked this a lot and really I was influenced by so many people – Sweet Honey has had over 20 women in the group so I think I was really instructed by their business model- this idea of continuation and making paths where there were none before them. My mothers style of building songs is present in my work even though I almost always work with instrumentation that includes the human voice and she primarily uses the human voice. I have taken a little something from most of the long time members of the group and have enjoyed working with them especially when I have produced a record for them.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Would you consider a documentary film at some point?

TOSHI REAGON: Absolutely. I thought I would go to film school- I love visual media and I always see movies with my songs. My Partner J Bob Alotta is a film maker and I make her crazy with my ideas. documentaries really interest me.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Tell us about the first gig you had

TOSHI REAGON: My mom told me to learn to be a concert producer so that i would noy have to depend on others for gigs- so i produced my first sho at my high school- it was fun.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: What are your musical influences?
TOSHI REAGON: everything

QUEER FILM REVIEW: How did you come to be involved with Righteous Babe Records?
TOSHI REAGON: i love ani

QUEER FILM REVIEW: What do you think is the biggest problem facing Black, Queer
artists today?

TOSHI REAGON: jeez- what is the biggest problem facing humans and the planet- we as humans are just ass backwards about what is important for the continuation of life on this planet. Black Queer Artist in American are desendents of African people who were kidnapped and brought her as slaves to build the foundation of our country and I mean every foundation- including our economical foundation that threatens to destroy all. We still have an idea that one small entity should have power over the masses. The idea to find out what you need and then charge you for it or make you build it but not own it or both is crazy. But it is the excepted backbone of the American life. When you come over as a slave and all that you do and are is owned by someone else include in that your creative voice. 400 to 500 years later your decedents will still struggle to have have their voice be heard and to own the intellectual property that is their voice and creative work. I mean their films, and recordings and poems, and books etc… So you are Black and you are Queer- you are the first line of the revolution. I see the struggles – I understand the history and I also expect that Black Queer Artist will do their jobs and take their place and not be deterred by any of it. It is why we are here.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Do you have any favorite Queer films?

TOSHI REAGON: wow- i may need to think on that- i am a sucker for romance- i have seen when night is falling a million times
tongues untied was really important when i was young- i remember seeing it screened in all kinds of places-

QUEER FILM REVIEW: How was it for you to come out in the Black community?
TOSHI REAGON: I am here I am not sure what you are asking.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: What are your future goals?
TOSHI REAGON: To continue to be a good parent artist and member of my community

QUEER FILM REVIEW: What was it like to score a piece like that? How
does that compare to your work on the L Word?

TOSHI REAGON: I did a wonderful adventure on the L Word- My great friend elizabeth Ziff is the musical supervisor and she already new what song she wanted me to sing- So we worked together to do 3 versions of the song- I was on the set for a day in Vancouver and 2 days in Malibu- it was great.
Africans in America was a 3 year project. My mom was the composer and I was her primary musician. She would sometimes come into the studio and put me across from her and point at me to sing what she was singing as soon as i got the line she would move on to something else- I play every instrument I know how to play on that score and some I don’t know how to play. Sweet Honey is on the score but a lot of the songs people assumed where Sweet Honey were mom and I. It was a really important part of my musical life.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: At this point in your career, what do you consider to be your most satisfying accomplishment?

TOSHI REAGON: too many to chose one- I am Blessed for sure.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: How did you come to be featured on the L Word and can you tell us a bit about your experience?

TOSHI REAGON: see above- it was so much fun and everyone was so nice- had a great time with Jennifer Beals, Pam Grier and Mia Kirshner.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: As a working musician today, how do you manage to note be overwhelmed?
TOSHI REAGON: I am often overwhelmed- it is ok- i move through it.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Any favorite L Word moments?
TOSHI REAGON: watching it with friends when it came on- I had no idea what was going to be on TV and hear the feed back- I went to New Orleans the week after it was on and a group of Black Women were really mad that I was not more featured and that I did not sing a whole song and that I did not have more dialogue – it was funny I was surprised I was on as much as was. It was great fun

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Do you have any predications for Season 5?

QUEER FILM REVIEW: Is there any story you would love to see on screen?
TOSHI REAGON: My friend Lisa Bonet once told me she was interested in developing a movie about Angela Davis. That would be cool if it was done well.
I would love to see movies as a whole be more progressive and diverse- even the Indie movie scene is so white and male- I think if we can keep making room for all kinds of folks many stories can be told. It just seems like to small a group of folks are dominating the music biz at every level
I just watched the Stephen Spielberg show the lot- i mean how many cute while guy s between the ages of 22 and 35 do we need to hear from ( smile) Ok that might not be nice- we just need to keep making room for diverse voices.
I would love to see a movie on Thomas Dorsey a pioneering Gospel composer.
I would love to see a documentary on Black teachers in rural communities during segregation in the 40′s and 50.
I would love to see any of Octavia Butler’s books made into GOOD films- don’t bother if you are going to mess it up. Kindred would be amazing.

QUEER FILM REVIEW: What advice do you have for emerging Queer artist?
TOSHI REAGON: Keep Working.
I like to give a shout out to the Black Lily Film and Music Festival- check them out they did a great festival you should interview them if you have not already.


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