Meet the ones with an AGENDR!
These are persons who are movers and shakers in the industry, changing the face of sound….
and ROCKING IT!
Every month we feature someone new who is doing their part to educate, empower and create awareness of women, girls, non binary, trans and gender non conforming persons in the audio and AV industry in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region.
July AGENDR feature
10 Questions with Mizz Jinnay
1. How did you get your start in entertainment and what drew you to it?
My introduction to entertainment mainly began when I started my secondary school tenure at QRC. One of my first enrolments in extra curricular activities was in the drama club in form 1. This was coupled with the QRC Scout Band. Immediately I was inundated in a cultural and creative awakening, both from the day to day culture of the college as well as the influences of a drama club teacher that was intent on making something great of our club as well as a scout band that already came along with over 100 members of musicians of various levels.
As I continued throughout my time at QRC, my involvement and exposure to all things performance, culture, music, drama and also film continued to expand as extra curricular activities often translated into real community engagements or performances. I always joke that as a form 5 student, my extra curricular calendar was more populated than many adults.
Ultimately what kept me engaged was how genuine of an experience we were all having. Spending hours on end every Friday evening, rehearsing with the entire band for an upcoming performance or gathering on a Tuesday evening with old drums and mistuned brass instruments to pull together an impromptu rhythm section for an intercol game… these were the experiences that taught me the power of music and creative expression and also gave me my internal barometer for “vibes”.
2. Give us an idea of your journey to becoming Mizz Jinnay?
MIZZ JINNAY is less of a state of being and more of a way of doing for me. I can’t speak much to the becoming of MJ except to say that my own personality began to carve out a character in which I could fully live while expressing the curiosities in my mind and this became the DOING that I was focused on.
While I was still in sixth form, in the early 2000’s, YouTube began growing in popularity as a platform for video blogs. At the time, I was quite a seasoned performer, having participated in many school productions, performances and theatrical competitions for all of my seven years and I was seeking an outlet which was mine to do with as I pleased… I wanted to play. And I had things to say!
So I started a YouTube series where I would appear as different characters each week, some male, some female, some deliberately indistinguishable in gender. Here I explored various hot topics through the lens of these various characters, with comedy being my main tool. I got a great reception as schoolmates at the time and peers from other schools enjoyed the series and gave some great feedback, including beginning to quote some lines from the videos.
After this, I left Trinidad to pursue higher education in the US, specializing in Acting For Film. While spending four years living in both major cities - NYC and LA, I expanded my performing abilities as well as my exposure to different creative expressions. I paid attention to the tools of media that were being used to tell stories and how some of these were packaged like a product for export.
Upon moving back to Trinidad in 2012, I was greeted with a seething hostility towards my outward expressions of self. From my hair to my clothes to my walk and my “accent”, i was visibly queer, unapologetically so and the backlash from John Public only got fierecer. One day I remember standing outside of QRC, around the savannah, waiting for a taxi and a van drove by, and then slowed down with just enough time for the man in the passenger’s seat to spit on me and call me a “BULLERMAN”.
I began knowing that not only what I was experiencing was very normal, but it was excused and propagated by the rest of society. I also began to realize that I would not be changing myself to fit in, but instead would begin to call out and challenge these accepted norms. Though I still didn’t know how…
It was only in late 2012 / early 2013 that I began working with 3canal on their upcoming carnival production. We would meet 5 days a week, in the evenings at the Big Black Box space on Murray street for rehearsals and as I was a stage hand, I got to soak in the entire process from a bird’s eye view. Night after night, I listened to their cryptic messages intertwined into carnival rhythms and also watched as they drilled a cast of over 40 performers into high functioning vibes-athletes!
It was here that I began tapping into my core convictions of equal rights, freedoms and justice. And one Friday evening, after their acclaimed Backyard Jams in the leadup to Carnival, I went for doubles on the avenue, donning some black 3 inch platform boots. Then an exchange ensued between me, the doubles vendor and an on-looker who couldn’t reconcile my big boots and loud attire, with my request for no pepper in my doubles. This exchange formed the story behind the first ever episode of Keep It Real which was MJ’s foray into the limelight. Simultaneously, MJ also stole the spotlight in the 3canal show that year with a one-line appearance.
From here, I kept doing the weekly Keep It Real vlog which increased my audience, until I was ready for my first live appearance at Studio Rumours in mid 2013. After this show was packed out and gained a great reception, I decided to have another show of my own - Mizz Jinnay Unleashed! - at the Chaconia Hotel in Maraval in July 2013, before leaving Trinidad again to further my studies.
3. What influenced the song Love is Love? Tell us about your experience of writing, recording and performing it.
Love is Love is a direct result of the creative inspiration and prompting from being a member of the Big Black Box crew and working with 3canal in preparing for their 2018 Carnival season. In late 2017, we began meeting weekly as part of our yearly Carnival prep and Rawkus had created the “Lime Juice Riddim” for that year. As soon as I started hearing the riddim, I knew I could vibe with it and then Wendell Manwarren gave me the prompt that ultimately lead to the song. He said “if you could say one short succinct statement or word to the world, what would it be?” And so I knew what I had to write.
We then embarked upon the process of finessing the song - I brought in lyrics, bounced it on the rhythm, tweaked the melodies, teased some additional hooks (your love not better than mine, my love not better than yours) and before I knew it, the whole camp was bubbling to the song.
Moving onto recording was interesting as I had only ever recorded voice-overs before this and was unsure of my ability to deliver a vocal performance that could stand the test of time. Recording in a space such as the Black Box - on the stage itself, with the live sounds of carnival time in woodbrook buzzing through the air, sets a great foundation for tapping into the energy and spirit of the song. Also having the support crew of experienced performers and entertainers, gives you a great litmus test and so even on the night of recording, I knew that once my performance could move the folks in the camp, I could trust that it was ready for export.
In finally getting to perform it at the Backyard Jams series, in the lead up to the Carnival show, from the first one, I knew it would be a journey in the joys of performance. I could feel the electricity of the crowd even before I stepped on stage and once I got swinging into each performance, I would inevitably lose myself at some point, just coming back to reality when i’m stomping off stage sweaty, feet hurting from my heels and the rest of the BBB crew backstage in a MESS because this was our Soca Monarch and we just mash it up!
4. Tell us about your experience as an artist in residence in Liverpool.
My time in Liverpool was very eye opening. I should mention that I was there for a 3 month artist residency program, through a company called Brouhaha International. They brought together 2 artists from 7 different countries to create, collaborate and perform throughout the city of Liverpool over their summer. For me, the contrived engagement process for the team of artists was less interesting/ engaging / enlightening than the performance opportunities I was determined to secure while there.
I managed to get myself into Liverpool’s oldest LGBT bar - The Lisbon, for quite a few nights of performances. I also got to perform my music for the opening of the Liverpool Pride parade, to a crowd of over 10,000 people. This was truly life changing, to look out at such a vast expanse of people engaging and enjoying my music though this was our first introduction to each other… I also performed at club MoMo’s in London, as feature in 3canal’s set. Then I secured a performance at the Caribbean Pride Stage in Amsterdam Pride. This was electric and one of the highlights of my performance career to date. The people of Amsterdam absolutely loved the performance, being as they are already steeped in Caribbean culture, and ready to celebrate our lives as LGBT people - both of which are married in my music.
5. Describe a day in the life of Mizz Jinnay
This is tough to contextualize.
Mizz Jinnay is a character that only lives in the sphere of performance. My day as Xoë isn’t much to talk about :)
6. Have you faced any barriers or obstacles as an entertainer being a trans female? How have you dealt with them?
I am not sure that I can articulate these well. I say that because my awareness of not only my personal identity, but the fact that MIZZ JINNAY is by her very nature, a symbol of LGBTQI activism, I believe that I have tailored my goals, and engagements with this in mind. So before getting rejected by a corporate sponsor because of what my platform stands for, I would save and fund my own ventures, even if it would prove to be to my own financial detriment. I prefer to ask for excuse rather than permission.
Strictly speaking in terms of entertainment and platform opportunities, I am aware of how limited I am by the context in which we live here in T&T. I know many people who revere my work as Mizz Jinnay and my ability to electrify a crowd, or entertain through a screen, but will still not extend an invitation to perform for their events and it’s not because they can’t afford me. And I don’t hold this against anyone. I’ve never seen performance as a right or entitlement, I see it as an exploration which I’m blessed enough to engage in. A gift.
In my mind, the possibilities are truly limitless, and it’s up to me to envision whatever I see for MJ and then make that a reality. I don’t see barriers, only opportunities.
7. What new projects are you working on now and what motivated you to embark on these projects?
At the moment I’m not working on anything new of my own. 2020 has been proving to be quite a unique year and I’m taking sometime to follow the lead of life, as opposed to directing my own dream. So I can’t lay claim to any grand motivations.
Within there, I’m remaining open to whatever comes my way, and already one such thing has landed in my lap. A friend of mine recently began her career as a DJ - DJ HoneyColada and so I’ve started teaming up with her as a MC/mic-woman ZOZO ON DA MIC. Music is already my language and engaging a crowd in that context flows so naturally that this combo was almost inevitable. For now it’s fun, a fab combo and I’m letting it be what it is and seeing where it leads.
8. What can we see from Mizz Jinnay in the next 3- 5 years?
I wish I had grand plans and mastermind ambitions but sometimes the aridity of being an artist in our context leaves me dreary to dream. The only thing I can promise for now is an album. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a few songs other than Love Is Love and it’s been burning on my heart to get them properly recorded and released. Other than that I’m sure more shows are on the way.
9. When not performing, what do you do in your spare time?
This question always stumps me. I begin to try defining “spare time”... Most of my time outside of commitments, I spend in my own meanderings. From meditating on my own journey through gender, to teasing a hook that’s been in my mind from morning, to testing a new performance idea. Outside of that I’m generally VERY quiet and laid back and enjoy indulging in my leisure time. The polar opposite of MJ on stage really. I spend time with family and friends and I seek out as many opportunities to be in nature as possible. Beaches, hikes, rivers, these are my places of healing and rejuvenation.
10. Finish this sentence….”I am….”
I am cosmic.
I am enough as I am.
More of Mizz Jinnay here:
Subscribe to the Youtube page: http://bit.ly/Mizzjinnaytv
LOVE IS LOVE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRzrpB4IUPE
BATTYMAN ANTHEM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cb-grIPm8o