Canary Sing
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Canary Sing

Seattle, Washington, United States | SELF

Seattle, Washington, United States | SELF
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Seattle gots heat and to showcase that once again is another dope product of the 206, a female duo by the name of Canary Sing. They have opened and preformed with the likes of Binary Star, Saul Williams, Talib Kweli, and Dead Prez to name a few and their charisma and energy shows why they can stand alongside the giants mentioned. Lioness and Ispire are emcees you should be on the lookout for in 2010 and this video is just a sample of what’s to come. - Blind-I For The Kids


Canary Sing, the Seattle-based duo of artist-activists Hollis Wong-Wear and Maddy Clifford, will be the headliners for the next Equilibrium spoken word performance at the Loft on May 15.

They took time out from promoting their EP to answer some questions about craft and their busy lives.

The View: A Twin Cities hip hop artist/singer/poet/activist Yvette Rodriguez has said that hip hop has been/can be misogynistic. While she can’t condone that, she can’t abandon the art form. “I am hip hop,” she says. How do you feel about the genre and its portrayal of women?

Hollis: Hip hop is more than a genre; it is a culture. It is one that started in a particular historical moment—South Bronx, mid-1970s—and has now radiated out to all corners of the country, and crossed nearly every border in the world. It has given marginalized, silenced people the opportunity to make noise, collect in community, and make themselves known. It is a culture of artistic dialogue across forms, languages, and experiences. It’s really incredible!

Hip hop is what you make it; hip hop is how it’s shaped. We enter into the culture with a deep love, appreciation and respect for its history, knowing that women’s voices have traditionally been shut out of the discourse. While obviously there’s flagrant incidents of disrespecting women that are easy to point out, hip hop is no worse in oppressing women than, say, warfare, or governmental legislation where decisions on women’s bodies are made by men. We’re working to represent ourselves and be respected as women no matter what cultures we walk between.

V: How did you find your voices? What spurred you on as young(er) artists?

Maddy: Finding our voices was definitely a process. Young women are conditioned to speak when spoken to, to question and to compromise. This is something that women can celebrate, but it can also be limiting especially when claiming one’s artistic abilities.

We were both very creative children. We performed in plays and wrote our own scripts as aspiring playwrights. In high school, we both competed in our first slam through an organization called Youth Speaks, which is based in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.

Although the idea of numerically scoring poetry is outrageous, it ultimately encouraged us to maintain confidence, perfect our craft and collaborate with other writers. Spoken word definitely prepared us for the hip-hop community, which pushes the emcee to capture an audience’s attention for as long as possible. For an emcee, confidence is key—if you aren’t feeling your own lyrics then who else will?

Youth Speaks’ motto is: “the next generation can speak for itself.” Once we started speaking for ourselves everything else fell into place. Going to college. Standing up for the things we believed in. What spurred us on was learning just how to utilize our voices.

V: How do you continue to find your voices? Who do you read, listen to, glean inspiration from?

Maddy: I can only speak for myself (but I have a good feeling that Hollis would agree) that spreading love and liberation provides constant inspiration. I feel motivated to get up in the morning when I think about the world we can create when we encourage young people while learning from elders with experience and expertise.

Also, we definitely find inspiration in one another. That’s the beauty of being in a duo—constantly collaborating with a fellow artist that you admire.

I’m flipping through a poetry anthology called Poets of the New Century. For music, I am currently listening to my favorite local rapper La (Language Artz) and Def D’s album “Gravity.” And for my dose of fiction I’m reading a novel by Daniyal Mueenuddin entitled In Other Rooms,Other Wonders.

Hollis: In terms of what we read now, I just finished Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler per Maddy’s recommendation, and she just finished Random Family by Adrienne Nicole LeBlanc per my recommendation. Both books deeply examine the resilience of women through seemingly impossible circumstances. They’re also both written by incredibly thorough, visionary female authors who were pioneers in their field. We take courage from these women, whether written characters or the writers themselves.

Maddy: Whenever Hollis recommends a book to me I know it’ll be good!

V: How do you juggle traveling, working, working on craft, being good to yourselves?

Hollis: It’s a great question, and it’s an act we definitely haven’t gotten down pat. One skill I’ve been working on is being patient. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, both by all the logistics and time we put into our art, and also by all the amazing opportunities we have to perform and the ideas we have swarming between us. Giving ourselves space and time to carefully, intentionally make decisions is far more empowering than doing everything Superwoman-style at the speed of light. Sustainability is key. That’s where the real growth lies.

The goal is that one begets the other: that our work is our craft, that our work takes us to all the places we want to go (lots of places!), and that our work innately nourishes and sustains us as we continue forth.

V: What words of encouragement and wisdom do you have for young artists?

Maddy: I would recommend that young artists learn how to communicate their needs to adult artists and adults in general.

I would tell youth to reach out to poets that they admire and ask for feedback. In turn, adult artists—that really know what’s up—will learn and gain encouragement from future generations that are being impacted by {the older generation’s} body of work.

If a youth can’t get in direct contact with an adult artist, a good way to develop is to imitate. This doesn’t mean stealing ideas without credit, it means trying out compelling styles. If youth imitate lots of different artists, they’ll find their own style in the process.

V: Tess Gallagher has given this advice to writers: “Listen for the music, don’t drone, trust your jumps, and cut, cut, cut (or alternately) expand, expand, expand.” How would you describe your philosophy of writing poems and songs?

Maddy: What is so amazing about the lyricism of hip-hop is that it allows a writer to do all of the things that Gallagher mentioned—cutting and expanding—precisely because an emcee must fit her poetry into bars. We enjoy trying to fit complex or seemingly indescribable meanings into a structure. We also love to recite these meanings and play with different cadences, known as flow.

Our philosophy of writing is the untraceable quote: “write what you know.” In hip-hop, it’s easy to tell when an emcee is “frontin.” For us, a song will spark from experiences or memories that we share as women of color. For example, we wrote “Club Hit” as a response to being of legal drinking age, and consequently trying to navigate the bar and dance club scenes—spaces often oversaturated with mindless party music. We thought: what would happen if we made politics danceable and fun? The result was declaring that Canary Sing can “cut a rug and remain unplugged from the matrix.”

Canary Sing will appear at Open Book for the Equilibrium spoken word performance May 15, 8 p.m. Special guest Khary ’6 is 9' and music by DJ Nak. $5/$3 students and Loft supporting members. - The Loft (Twin Cities, MN)


Get excited, people: Hollis "Ispire" Wear and Madeleine "the Lioness" Clifford, Seattle's favorite poet-MCs, are finally making a full-length album. Well, they're working on it, at least—there's no concrete space for them to record in yet (would someone just hook them up, already?). And because of that work, shows have been sparse. "Both of us have been performers for five or six years," Clifford explains, "but we've only been recording for a year. So we're focused on learning more about recording music right now." For those out there who aren't familiar with Canary Sing yet, they're the women who, even though they're unsigned with only a self-released EP to their names, earned themselves the privilege of performing with Saul Williams onstage at Bumbershoot this year. See, before Ispire and the Lioness were MCs, they were spoken-word poets. Which is how they learned to spit such eloquent rhymes at speeds most MCs only dream about. Both full-time college seniors (Madeleine's an English major at the University of Washington, Hollis is a history major at Seattle University), the women write informed, mad-catchy rhymes about being biracial women in a male-dominated scene. But they also write more lighthearted stuff, and even when they get serious, they infuse difficult subjects with humor; they refer to themselves, Clifford tells me, as "playfully political" MCs. So watch out: If you're posturing, they will, as Hollis says in the song "Heroines," serve you like couscous. That's right. Couscous. Chew on that for a minute. - Seattle Weekly


If smart hip-hop is something Seattle does well, then consider the brilliant Central District duo of Madeleine "Lioness" Clifford and Hollis "Ispire" Wong-Wear pinnacles of that scene. Their spoken word background makes itself evident, and a self-defined “playfully political” nature makes for an elegantly forceful message. Canary Sing’s newest release (and occasion for tonight’s night’s celebration), titled The Beautiful Baby EP, features production from names like Marcus D and MTK and mixing by Justo of The Physics and town legend Vitamin D. It’s an unfortunate fact that female emcees don’t have an easy time of things in the hip-hop industry, but with any luck Canary Sing will get the attention they deserve. With Diamond District, Vitamin D - Seattle Weekly


...Canary Sing is a duo out of Seattle who I first came across a few years back at a sold out All Female Showcase in Seattle where they were blowing up the spot. Madeleine “Lioness” Clifford and Hollis “Ispire” Wong-Wear are incredibly talented who can do it all, spoken word, spit nice flows and sing. Check out their mix tape Boss Ladies and their newly released EP Beautiful Babies which can be heard on their myspace page. Cuts like My Style, Prove it and the remake of dead prez‘s Mind Sex show their skillz. This video Freakshow is nice.. I wish they had more because you can see that they fill a big void in terms of going beyond the simple and predictable. - Davey D's Hip Hop Corner


Canary Sing may be unsigned, and they may only have an EP to their name thus far, but if you've got a gig sharing the stage with esteemed spoken-word poet Saul Williams (who will also perform on Saturday with a full band), you are obviously going about things the right way. It's tough to be a lady MC in a genre that favors men who spew misogyny like a frat pledge during Rush Week, but Madlinez the Lioness (Madeleine Clifford) and Ispire (Hollis Wong-Wear) offer a refreshing and all-too-rare counterpoint to all that testosterone and gangsta posturing. For those who thought hip-hop died, this is how it's gonna be resurrected: not by little dicks spitting hateful bullshit, but by tough, razor-sharp women who rhyme about stuff that matters. And they're young: Clifford and Wong-Wear are still students at UW, where they work with Youth Speaks (which also happens to be where the women met).The next Blue Scholars? Boeing Performing Arts Stage, 1:30 p.m. - Seattle Weekly


THEESatisfaction, Canary Sing, Lisa Dank, Queerbait, Katie Kate, Sap’n, and DJ Colby B are playing tonight’s big “Ladies Night” show at Neumos. There was a time when all female hip-hop showcases didn’t get much publicity in Seattle (ahem, Ladies First). No longer. The hype heading into tonight’s gig is shutting down the the city.

As folks far and wide should now know, headliners THEESatis are cued up for a big year.

Canary Sing are also starting 2010 off right. They played a sold-out show at Nectar last month, released a new music video, and dropped a fire-brand mixtape called Boss Ladies, all in the past few weeks. The group’s two MCs, Hollis “Ispire” Wong-Wear and Madeleine “Lioness” Clifford are two of the funniest and most talented women I know. Hollis is all over the place, either penning stories for Seattle Weekly or catching as many shows as possible. Madeleine is a bit more reclusive. I decided to catch up with the Lioness yesterday to learn more about her background, her group, and her thoughts going in to tonight’s show.



A lot of folks might not know how you two formed Canary Sing. Exactly what brought you two together?

We met as youth spoken word poets and members of Youth Speaks Seattle. After performing together at the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam, where our piece “Crossfire” was featured on the Apollo Theater stage, we realized we had a dynamic chemistry together.

Rapping was a natural progression from spoken word for us. A lot of the emcees we knew and loved got their start as spoken word artists such as Geo of Blue Scholars, Laura “Piece” Kelly and Gabriel Teodros. Our first rap song was dedicated to Angela “Angel” Martinez-Dy. She had a lot of influence on us and ran Youth Speaks. After that we just kicked it in the local hip-hop scene and freestyled in ciphers.

Have you ever been told here in Seattle that girls shouldn’t rap?

Nobody has ever told us that out-right, but there are subtle ways that we have been discouraged from doing what we love to do.


Men are not used to seeing women as fellow artists; some of the time, they automatically assume that we’re just another couple of groupie chicks. Then when you say that you rap guys think you’re weak or something. The good thing is that hella guys have encouraged us to keep rapping. They’ve also been honest when we sucked, and given us lots of resources from studio time, to help with learning how to mix and master, to free instrumentals. At the end of the day, it’s all about a balance, so women need to be rapping just as much as men do.

For the show you’re playing at Neumos tonight, how did this get organized? And how do you feel being a part of a night like this?


The show got organized by Lisa Dank. Actually, we’ve done other all-female hip hop shows before, but I think this is the one that’s getting the most hype. It is wonderful to be continuing the legacy of women in Seattle hip-hop. We gotta give respect to those who have paved the way for us such as Felicia Loud, Christa Bell, Piece, El Dia, Sistah Hailstorm and many others.

Canary Sing just put out a mix tape called Boss Ladies. What do people need to know about it?


[That] it’s dope! Two of the tracks we recorded ourselves “Mind Sex” and “Sippin Brew.” I love listening to it because it really shows off how much we’ve changed over the years. I am my biggest critic, so if I love it … it must be good.


What type of year do you think women in hip-hop are going to have locally?


I think that a lot more women are going to pop up onto the scene. The more the merrier. Last year was a great year because THEESatisfaction came out with a lot of material; they brought their own unique swagger to the forefront and the scene just feels fuller because of it.

I predict that there will be a lot of talent in the coming year. The ladies are going to have to step their game up, and I’m hoping that there will be collaborations happening across the board.


If you had to predict the next hip-hop act to break out of Seattle on a large level, who would it be?

At the moment, I don’t see anyone that I can say, without a doubt, that they would be commercially successful outside of Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I love my city to death. It raised me and it’s a wonderful place to grow as an artist. People really listen to your lyrics and they nurture new sounds. At the same time, its hella easy to become, like the cliché says, “A big fish in a small pond.” If Shabaaz Palaces keeps coming out with more albums than I would bet money on them breaking out on a large level. Ish has already done it before—whose to say he can’t do it again?

People know that you rap, but some folks might not know you’re Jamaican. What Jamaican artist are you checking for at the moment?

Yes, I’m Jamaican! My father immigrated from St. Catherine province to the U.S. in his twenties. My family lives mostly in Spanish Town now. A lot of people also don’t know that my father is the late Raymond “Ras Bongo” Lindsay who was part of the small local reggae scene here in Seattle.

I have always loved Damien Marley ever since his album Halfway Tree. Halfway Tree is a street that connects Uptown—a wealthy neighborhood in Kingston—with downtown Kingston, which is really rough. Damien’s mother was wealthy and came from Uptown while his father was, obviously, Bob Marley, who grew up in the ghettos of Kingston. Damien was making a statement about his mixed upbringing. I’m looking forward to Damien and Nas’ collaborative album Distant Relatives. Should be filthy!

Where does the name Canary Sing come from?


Hollis and I are both biracial and that informs the way we look at the world. Our poem “Crossfire” dealt with confronting the hardships that mixed youth face in a society that is constantly trying to limit and categorize people of color. We felt that the following quote most eloquently summed up our experiences as half-breeds:

“The mulatto in America functions as a canary in a coal mine. Canaries were used by coal miners to gauge how poisonous the air underground was. They would bring a canary in with them, and if it grew sick and died they knew the air was bad and eventually everyone would be poisoned by the fumes. Likewise, mulattos have historically been the gauge of how poisonous American race relations were. The fate of the mulatto in history and literature will manifest the symptoms that will eventually infect the rest of the nation. We are the first generation of canaries to survive, a little injured perhaps, but alive!” (Danzy Senna, Caucasia)

Any chance that Canary Sing is going to put out a dancehall influenced track in the near future?

Yes! We already did a remix of Bob Marley’s song “Misty Morning,” so it’s only a matter of time.

Lastly, what else is on the docket for Canary Sing this year?


We are writing some insane new songs! I’m really excited to release more material in March. We also have some touring to do in May. We’ll be flying out to the Twin Cities, then New York City and lastly to Kingston to shoot a video. This is going to be a defining year for us since it’s our last one in Seattle. We are trying to decide between the Bay Area (where Hollis is from, and where I might be going to Graduate school) and New York. Personally, I want to be in Brooklyn. I’d like to fight the gentrification by being yet another Jamaican moving into the neighborhood. - Publicola


...Lioness and Ispire, the two-woman crew known as Canary Sing, just dropped The Beautiful Baby EP online (www.canarysing .bandcamp.com). Over production from Justo, MTK, Amos Miller, Toast, and Marcus D, the two rep their town proudly with collegiate rhymes, declaring "our power's on the conscious tip" but unafraid to flex their "Femininity," or even nerd out with the comic-book battle track "Heroines." However, the boilerplate conscious-rap fun-bash undertones most prominent on "Club Hit"—for all its noble intentions—can't help but come off outdatedly backpack. "You are not alone, said flesh to bone," begins Lioness on the EP's best moment, the Language Arts–featuring "These Days"—her bars, paired with Ispire's jazzy hook, are pure chemistry, hinting at greater things to come. - The Stranger


Locals Canary Sing- Madeleine "Lioness" Clifford and Hollis "Ispire" Wong-Wear, have just dropped this Wes Goodlife-directed video for "Freak Show", off of their Boss Ladies mixtape, available at shows. They continue to grind on their debut album release — but in the meantime, they just played a sold-out all-ages show opening for D.Black and Binary Star.

They'll be rocking shows in Vancouver, BC at the end of the month, and have a show with THEESatisfaction & Lisa Dank on February 9th at Neumos. In May, Canary Sing will take the show on the road to the Twin Cities and NYC; that same month, they'll also travel to Jamaica, the soil where the very seeds of hip-hop were sown (and where Lioness' family resides). As the great Soulsonic Force (not to mention the late great Dilla) once said: Go Ladies. - The Stranger


Discography

The Beautiful Baby EP -- 2010
Singles: These Days, H206

Boss Ladies: A Mixtape -- 2010
Singles: Mind Sex Remix, Freak Show

The Filthy Filthy EP -- 2008

Photos

Bio

The women of Canary Sing are not bitches. They are not hos. And they are not going to show you how low they can go. Hailing from Seattle and Oakland, CA, Canary Sing -- MCs Ispire (Hollis Wong-Wear) and MADlines tha Lioness (Madeleine Clifford) -- are a superhero crime fighting force out to fight misogyny and evil wherever it resides -- whether it's your ex-boyfriend or 50 Cent.

What makes CS so unique is that both members are college graduates, avid organizers and experienced workshop developers and facilitators. They've built global partnerships with artists such as Sabreena tha Witch of the documentary Slingshot Hip Hop and have visited the following colleges and literary arts centers in order to share their knowledge: UW Bothell, UC Berkeley, Shoreline Community College, Pomona College, The Loft Literary Arts Center, The Richard Hugo House, Seattle University, Under the Volcano Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival.

Both Ispire and Lioness are biracial, which is why they chose to call their partnership "Canary Sing." The name is derived from a quote from the novel Caucasia, by Danzy Senna. Here is that quote:

The mulatto in America functions as a canary in a coal mine. Canaries were used by coal miners to gauge how poisonous the air underground was. They would bring a canary in with them, and if it grew sick and died they knew the air was bad and eventually everyone would be poisoned by the fumes. Likewise, mulattos have historically been the gauge of how poisonous American race relations were. The fate of the mulatto in history and literature will manifest the symptoms that will eventually infect the rest of the nation. We are the first generation of canaries to survive, a little injured perhaps, but alive!

But Ispire and Lioness aren't just trying to survive, and they're out to make a lot more noise than a couple of canaries. Fresh off the release of The Beautiful Baby EP, Canary Sing wants to make you shake your ass without losing your soul. Veterans of Youth Speaks Seattle, Canary Sing has shared stages with Saul Williams, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, The Coup, Mystic, Medusa, Zion I and Blue Scholars. Playfully political with tight flows and head-noddical beats, Canary Sing is out to make the habitat more hospitable for the elusive, endangered female MC.