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More Bounce to the Ounce

Big Freedia makes a big Bounce noise from the Big Easy

By Brian Baker · July 6th, 2011 · Music
Freddie Ross Jr., known to nearly everyone in his native New Orleans as Big Freedia (pronounced Free-da), is an iconic figure in several ways. On one hand, he is a flamboyant, larger-than-life representative of gay pride and member of the city’s Sissy culture, a local appellation denoting men with ambiguous sexual identities. A quick scan of stories written about Freedia over the years reveals a tendency to waver between “he” and “she” as the personal pronoun. Although his website bio clearly favors the feminine, Freedia isn’t vested in either form.

“It doesn‘t matter to me,” Freedia says by phone from his New Orleans home. “I’m comfortable with my sexual preference. I know who I am: I am a gay male, I’m not a transexual. Whatever my fans decide to call me, he or she, is whatever.”

On a related but different level, he is a passionate spokesman for Bounce, a bass-heavy, lyric-light Dance genre that has been bubbling in the NOLA/Southern underground for nearly two decades. Related to Hip Hop by virtue of samples and Rap-like lyrical content, Bounce has clearly evolved its own distinct sonic identity, and with Big Freedia’s recently released eponymous five-song EP, distributed by Scion A/V, the style’s profile is about to get the kind of raise one would imagine for a Wall Street banker.

“The five-song CD was a project I had with Scion, the first Bounce CD to get national publicity,” Freedia says. “I’ve been to New York like 13 or 14 times and my shows are getting bigger and bigger. I’m getting bigger in a lot of different places — L.A., San Francisco and all over Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver — and I’m excited about that.”

As a child, Freedia was active in church and school choirs, and in adulthood continued by organizing his own choir.

After hanging with local transexual Bounce pioneer Katey Red as dancer/backup singer for a couple of years, Freedia made his move to contribute to the genre that Katey had helped define, winding up with a handful of New Orleans hits — including “Gin in My System,” “I Ain’t Takin’ No Shit” and “Azz Everywhere!” — culled from a pair of albums, 1999’s An Ha, Oh Yeah and 2003’s Queen Diva. Since then, Freedia has maintained an almost constant studio presence, concentrating mainly on single tracks rather than full albums (a collection of those tracks, titled Hitz, came out last year). Bounce is more of a live entity. As such, Freedia spends the bulk of his time in front of an audience, but he's also on the verge of finishing up his first full album in eight years.

“It should be coming out soon, we don’t have a date yet,” Freedia says. “One side’s done. We’re still working on the other side with my collaborations and different things, but we’ve been recording in San Francisco and New Orleans. I go back and record next week. I’m steady working. There’s no break for Freedia.”

Freedia and Bounce got a pretty big boost last year when he, Katey Red, Sissy Nobby and Bounce legend Cheeky Blakk guested on Galactic’s eclectic Ya-Ka-May album, and helped set the stage for Freedia’s national launch. With the rise of social networking, it’s amazing that Bounce hasn’t gone viral yet. Freedia doesn’t quite understand the delay in getting the word out, but he’s more than happy to be the point person taking the genre to a wider audience.

“I cannot answer that question!” he says, laughing. “I feel like everything has it’s time and it’s season. We’ve put in a lot of work over the years. You know, Hip Hop artists don’t get a big deal for a long time. They’ll be underground for years and then get discovered. It’s just season and time, and it’s Bounce music’s time.”

Freedia has opened for a number of disparate acts and has consistently found a way to win over audiences who have never heard of him or his music before the moment he faces them on stage. With little more than his tour spinner DJ Lazer, a handful of dancers and his own intuitive sense of what will light up a crowd, Freedia has an incredible capacity to entertain.

“I just go and have fun,” Freedia says. “I don’t do a set list or anything. Once I get there and feel the crowd, me and my DJ just roll. We have fun and let people let their hair down. It’s not about being so uptight, let’s just go have a good dance party. Let’s just dance our asses off. I’m gonna come and Rock it.”

As the new national face of Bounce, Big Freedia has had to adjust to life on the road, and even with his packed schedule of shows nearly every night at home, the experience of physically getting from gig to gig is draining. The reward for Freedia is knowing he’s spreading the Bounce gospel and that a great show waits at the end of the trip.

“Sometimes being on the road gets difficult, traveling and traveling and jumping from plane to plane,“ Freedia says. “It gets frustrating sometimes, but I just keep moving forward. I’m a very positive person. And I’m on a mission.”


BIG FREEDIA headlines the MidPoint Indie Summer Series 9:30 p.m. Friday on Fountain Square. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.


 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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