The Voodoo Queens were definitely one of the first bands I interviewed for Hot Press. I met them in the Rock Garden, Autumn 1993. I remember I interviewed them at the same time or maybe just slightly before someone writing for a local Riot Grrrl fanzine and I thought her questions were better. She knew a lot more. She kindly sent me a mixtape afterwards with Huggy Bear and Chia Pet and a bunch of fine bands on it. This interview went fine except I had one exasperatingly smart-arse question, which was, if liking supermodels is silly behaviour (per ‘Supermodel-Superficial’), then why have you got a song glorifying Keanu Reeves (‘Kenuwee Head’)? Eh? They must have that this thrown at them by so many irritating boys. They were gracious about it. Also, I watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula two nights ago, which stars Keanu and which was in cinemas around when they would have been writing that song. Jesus, he looked great. I take their point.
THEY LOVE CHOCOLATE, HATE SUPERMODELS AND THINK THE BEST WAY TO COMBAT RACISM AND SEXISM IS TO JUST GET UP ON STAGE AND PLAY. NIALL CRUMLISH DISCOVERS THE PURE POP DELIGHTS OF THE VOODOO QUEENS.
OF THE many dodgy decisions, creative and otherwise, that Something Happens have made in the years since their remarkable ‘Skippy’ cover condemned the youth of Ireland to two years of obligatory paisley shirt wearing (yes, I’m bitter), three in particular stand out, for their sheer cavalier disregard for commercial success and personal safety.
I’m thinking, as you may have guessed, of the decision to drop the “!”, the decision to go grunge for Bedlam-A-Go-Go and the unfeasibly foolhardy decision to share a bill with the Voodoo Queens at last month’s UCD Fresher’s Ball. After all, if your most recent single was a moving tribute to Cindy Crawford, who it would be fair to say you didn’t love for her soul, would you, voluntarily, go within five hundred miles of the band who have made ‘Supermodel-Superficial’ one of the anthems of the Nineties thus far, without a restraining order tucked safely into the back pocket of your Levi’s? Ray Harman did, and look what happened to him. Hang-gliding off Bray Head? A likely story.
Well, it’s a theory, but it doesn’t wash. Having met and having not been very intimidated by Anjali out of the Voodoo Queens, I must sadly report that she’s unlikely to take a sledgehammer to Ray Harman’s shins for fancying an agent of Satan. Even Cindy herself is safe.
“We don’t hate (the supermodels), we wouldn’t waste our energy hating them. We just dislike the fact that they’re a tool in this society that other women are supposed to look up to, which is a very negative thing for other women, because we’re absolutely sick of that image being rammed down our throats, saying ‘This is the ideal woman’. Plus, whatever a woman does is based on her looks, and they’re perpetuating that by not doing anything else; they’re just models, they look beautiful, and they’re so famous, because they look so beautiful.”
Ella, their American guitarist, chips in. “And because of the pressure it puts on young girls, because all of us (in the band) have had weight problems, or thought we did, when medically none of us have ever been overweight. We just thought we were because all our lives we’ve been bombarded by images of skinny women. And it’s such a waste of energy for a woman to spend her whole life worrying about her weight when there’s plenty of better things to do.”
The Voodoo Queens have just released a CD containing both of their first two singles, ‘Supermodel-Superficial’ and the ode to Keanu Reeves, ‘Kenuwee Head’. Any meekly-delivered questions regarding the existence of maybe a teensy-weensy double standard (is Keanu or is he not the male Christy Turlington, only thicker?) are yawned at, witheringly, by Anjali: “I’m sorry, but you haven’t seen the obvious humour in that song,” (I have, by the way, I was just asking, it’s my job!… N.C.) “There have been a few men who have said ‘I don’t like that song ’cos you haven’t written it about me’ and they can’t handle it! They can’t handle the fact that the guy turns me on and, yeah, he’s a completely horny guy! But most guys do see the humour in it and they’re at the front going ‘Keanu, Keanu!’ It’s really funny!”
And there is a slight table-turning element to ‘Kenuwee Head’ which should convince even those who take ditties about bimbos (or is it bimboes?) too seriously that the Voodoo Queens have every right to drool in public.
“For centuries, women have always been a pin-up. When have we ever had a page three guy? Yeah, we have page seven guys, but that’s not very old, and they’re not even completely naked!” Truly, the injustice to end all injustices. Rupert Murdoch, you have been told; more flesh please, we’re women.
In a music scene dominated by white males, any Asian, all-female band that emerges can be expected to use its position of influence to make a few points. If you could file both ‘Supermodel-Superficial’ and ‘Kenuwee Head’ neatly away in the file marked “Female Empowerment Anthems,” then, the question must be asked: You’re 80% Asian, explicit racism is on the up, are the anti-Nazi anthems on the way?
“The point is that I am Asian, I was brought up with racism, and it’s not me suddenly deciding hey, let’s be really political, because I’ve been taunted at school, I’ve been physically abused by racist people, and it’s something that’s really important to me,” says Anjali. “Racism has been ingrained in society anyway, but it’s just getting worse now, and there are scapegoats like Asian people in Tower Hamlets. That is a really dangerous thing and people need to be made aware of it in whatever form; music, media, everywhere.
“I write about things that I get affected by, like the supermodel thing, and I’m writing a song about being the subject of racist taunts at the moment. I want to write about something because it affects me, not because everyone else is writing about it.
“We didn’t start out, I think, making statements that were that political,” continues Ella, “because, for example, we’re friends with Blaggers ITA, and they make such an issue of their politics all the time I think they cut people off, and they preach to the converted. Whereas if a band is covering a lot of topics and making good music, and then they make a statement about it, then they’re going to reach more people, people that wouldn’t listen to a purely political band.”
Recent threats (i.e. after this interview) by Nazis to the owner of a venue which the band were supposed to play, threatening his niece if the gig went ahead, are indicative of the harm that the likes of Voodoo Queens and Apache Indian and Fun-Da-Mental are doing to the racist movement in Britain. If music can aid the demise of sexism and racism, play on. They deserve your support, so to paraphrase Anjali, on Keanu, make them more than a picture on your fridge door.