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Showing skin: Cocoa Butter Club are repping POC within cabaret culture

In advance of their appearance at the Yo! Sissy Music Festival, this weekend at Festsaal Kreuzberg, the London troupe's leader Sadie Sinner spoke to SIEGESSÄULE

Sadie Sinner by Connie Taylor

Jul. 25, 2017 – Another year, another Yo! Sissy and another line-up of queer talent I’m deeply unfamiliar with. But enough about me. With the capital’s festival season underway, it might be time to have a look at the queerest fest of them all – and in particular, one of the international acts the 2017 edition has managed to attract. The Cocoa Butter Club – a cabaret initiative showcasing a cast of black and POC burlesque, voguing, drag, live vocal acts and beyond – will grace this year’s stage. Their line-up sounds like a concert unto itself. “We come in numbers, we move as a group, that’s what makes us so special,“ CBC founder and curator Sadie Sinner tells SIEGESSÄULE.

The group was founded for a number of reasons, including the widespread claim among cabaret producers that there were no black and POC cabaret performers. Sinner recounts a time when a fellow peer was billed as the “UK’s only black burlesque performer”, something which, for one, is not true, but beyond that, is deeply insulting: “You don’t bill someone because they’re black; you bill them because they’re fucking amazing.”

In addition to the need for a more prominent platform, the initiative was also borne out of a response to the racist practice of blackfacing, still all the rage in the cabaret circuit. “The Cocoa Butter Club was the result of performers of color being sick and tired of our white peers having the confidence to get up on stage, blackface and try to move and be like us.” Says Sinner.

A blackfacing incident at the 2017 Toulouse Burlesque Festival, where two white cabaret artists acted out a love story between a savage and an explorer (guess which one is in blackface, no, guess) resulted in protest and a collective walk-out of eight POC artists. Sinner wrote a delightful response to the festival: It is our own responsibility in life to communicate to others how we wish to be treated, and I am graciously taking the time, as a black artist, emotionally affected by the f*%kery of this all, to communicate to you that I and all performers of color would like white performers to stop clowning us.

The best way to combat blackfacing in the scene, according to Sinner, is to organize, promote and celebrate the work of black and POC artists, “so hopefully people will no longer be satisfied with blackface acts. We need people to start thinking, 'Why would I book you when I can book an actual black person?'” As with all other areas of history, the history of black and POC cabaret acts has been subject to a process of silencing. Platforms such as CBC not only promote such acts in the current day; they also make historical erasure more difficult.

“In my ideal world, if white drag queens decide to do blackface, people will laugh at them. I want no one to take them seriously. I want people to say, 'You do know that FKA exists, you know that The Phoenix exists? There’s nothing you can do as well as an actual black person.' That’s what I need the world to do.”

As for Yo! Sissy, Sinner promises to bring it: “I will turn your party out! It’s in my soul – it’s in my black girl magic.” Abso-fucking-lutely.

Riri Hylton

Yo! Sissy Queer Music Festival
Jul. 28-29 at Festsaal Kreuzberg
w/ Planningtorock, Karim & Karam, Vitalic, Chicks on Speed, Lotic, Mary Ocher, Alinka & Shaun J. Wright, Cocoa Butter Club and more



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