Candy Bowers: Let’s start with how we know each other. I met Piath when she was in her early teens and we were working on this really epic program at the community arts centre. I was working with teenagers to put together a show that was artistically driven by them. Piath was the youngest person and I remember her saying, “I want to rap.” How old are you now Piath?
P-UniQue: 22, I’m turning 22 in two months.
CB: Yeah, so it’s been almost 10 years that we’ve known each other. I’ve been making spoken-word theatre for like, 20 years. I wrote my first hip-hop theatre show when I was 14 and it was a hip-hop take on the Nativity story. I had a rapping Wise Man! Hip-hop has always been rooted in my work. What’s different is the transferral of doing it in a community centre and now doing it at the Sydney Opera House. For me, to make a work like One the Bear, it’s taken 10 years to convince the main stages that this sort of work doesn’t just have to be in the community centre. It can take centre stage.
PU: I was really young when I met Candy and did that program [that she mentioned]. When Candy invited me to see the show, I hadn’t seen any plays or seen live theatre in a long time. I brought a friend along and I was kind of shook because there are only two people in the cast and yet they made everything work. They still were able to get the point across and still were able to engage with the audience and make people feel something.
CB: Right now the music scene in Australia is at a point where you have a pathway, P-UniQue. You can look to people around you, people like Sampa the Great and even the fact that Missy Elliott this year was entered into the [Songwriters] Hall of Fame. As black women in hip-hop, we go “finally!” There’s acknowledgement of amazing craft and ability. I wanted everyone, particularly young black women, to know that they can be centre stage and that our storytelling has its place at centre stage too. It’s not on the outskirts, not waiting to be acknowledged. When I was growing up, kids were so shocked that I rapped. They thought boys rapped and girls do the sexy dancing in the background and do the hooks. Ashleyrose [Gilham, who also performs in the show] plays men and white women. We can play all of those characters too and rap. And be funny. And bring everybody into our world and our perspective. We don’t have to be the sidekick or the sassy friend or the co-star. We can be the star and smash all the stereotypes.
PU: Yeah totally, I can really connect with that. Doing music in Australia, I find women are so under-represented and underrated. Every single time I do a show, I find myself being the only female artist in the line-up. For almost every single show, females are singing and not rapping. There’s not that many females that are black that have been represented and pushed to do music. At a time like this it’s very important that we push each other and we have that network of people that are doing things for us to be at the top. It’s very important for us to help each other when we’re feeling down and not feeling important enough. This kind of work reminds us that ‘yes you can do this, yes you can do that’. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, doesn’t matter if you’re female.