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Words with megaphones

Edinburgh’s Zorras embark on a mini Canadian tour.

Since forming in Edinburgh in 2007, Zorras have been receiving international acclaim for their distinctive and interactive presentation of poetry, musicality and image. With their peculiar type of humour, the Zorras combine art forms to convey witty social and sharp personal observations, all while blending the heritage of poet Sandra Alland and musician Y Josephine. The demand for their unique style of performance has brought them to Canada, on a tour that will take them all over Ontario and into Quebec.

I had the opportunity to speak to Ontario native Sandra Alland about Zorras’ stage show, the creative process and what makes this performance troupe tick.

Queeriesmag: Can you please tell us who Zorras are?

Sandra Alland: Zorras are Y Josephine and Sandra Alland (that’s me). We also sometimes collaborate with others, mainly with Ariadna Battich (Italian-Argentine photographer and filmmaker).
Y was born in Venezuela and is mixed race (Afro-Caribbean and Spanish). I was born in Scarborough to a white Scottish father and a French-Canadian/Dutch mother. Ariadna was born in Argentina and is of Italian descent. We all now live in Edinburgh.

Y started performing when she was 13. She was blackmailed by her school; if she didn’t sing and recite a poem, she would get a shite grade. I was kind of a child actor, but don’t tell anyone. I started writing and performing for real when I was about 23. I studied photography when I was 26 and randomly made my first video in 2007. Ariadna doesn’t perform, though sometimes we force her onstage with her computer. She’s been studying InterArts and photography for about four years.

I write, read and perform most of the text for Zorras. I also create slides and short films. Y composes, sings and plays percussion, guitar and electric bass. Ariadna creates some of our films and sometimes stage-manages.

QM: How do you describe your performance style?

Alland: Zorras make what we like to call “poetry-music-video-weirdness fusion. With megaphones.” The poetry ranges from sound poetry to lyric poetry to surrealist. There are also demented short stories once in a while. The music ranges from Venezuelan folk songs to rock derivatives to abstract percussion and funk with a bluesy overtone. We also do dialogues that are like radio plays and soundtracks for some of the films. Some films are silent; some have their own sound that we play along with. Some films are documentaries, others are abstract and bizarre.

As a whole, the performance ranges from the silly to the (almost) sublime. Our main goal these days is to try to give all of the elements (text, music, visuals) equal focus so that you’re not listening to poetry with just random beats and pretty pictures behind it. Everything is there for a reason, and each aspect gets a solo of sorts.

QM: What are the messages that you are trying to deliver through your performances?

Alland: We generally don’t think too much about messages. We like to ask questions, present situations, tell stories from our lives or stories that we invent. But generally the message that comes across is that humans have a lot to work on. Zorras prefer not to preach, especially to the converted. But we present stories we think are important and others that we think will make people laugh.

QM: Can you please describe the process by which you create a piece or performance?

Alland: Our process varies. Sometimes Y comes forward with a guitar riff or a rhythm on the cajón (drum), and then I respond to that with a piece of writing. Sometimes the reverse happens. Once in a while we begin with a film and treat what we’re creating like it’s a soundtrack. Sometimes we do it all at once.

Each performance depends on where we’re performing, for whom and what kind of equipment and space we have to work with. We tend to do shows of about 30 minutes. When planning the show, we try to balance out the funny with the serious, percussive pieces with guitar pieces, the weird with the less weird. I don’t think we’ve ever done the same show twice. Hmmm. Now it makes sense why we’re so exhausted!

QM: Can you please explain your influences, both musically and in literature?

Alland: Explaining what these artists might have in common is difficult, but we can list them and maybe someone can explain it to us?

Camille, the French singer: she and her band make their music mainly with mouth-sounds. Meshell Ndegeocello. Miranda July. Bootsie Collins. Chavela Vargas. Maybe Tracey Emin, though she’s leaning nastily towards the right lately. Tagaq. LAL. Bluemouth Inc. Un Solo Pueblo. Gein Wong. Juliana Spahr. Naila Keleta Mae. Trish Salah. M Night Shayamalan. Sook Yin Lee. Andra Simons. Karen Miranda Augustine. Rachel Zolf. d’bi.young.anitafrika. Alí Primera. Diamanda Galás. Yoko Ono. bill bissett. Grupo Vera. Stuart Ross. Monique Mojica. Anna Camilleri. Guerrilla Girls.

Can we name dead people? Frida Kahlo. Tracy Wright. Janis Joplin. bp nichol. Samuel Beckett. Claude Cahun. Virginia Woolf. Lhasa de Sela. Buster Keaton.

QM: Who do you think your work connects with the most? For example, is your work queer?

Alland: We collaborate and connect with people from our various communities and others: queer, bisexual, gay and lesbian, arts, genderqueer, transsexual, transgender, women’s, intersex, deaf, migrant, people of colour, crip, disabled, mental health, avant-garde, poor, leftist, feminist, anarchist (is it okay to say that word out loud?). We cover topics including race, class, gender, (dis)ability, sexuality, language, communication, nationality, war and migration. But also we are funny. Honest.


QM: Can you tell me Zorras’ future ambitions?

Alland: It’s been hard for us to think of the future before now. We had a lot of weird and horrible shite happen to us in Scotland, experiences that meant we couldn’t leave the UK for three years. Now that we can move again, we can begin to dream.

We’d like to do a tour of the west coast of the US, make another album, go to Mexico and Venezuela, see more of Europe via train, create a travelling intermedia art installation. We’d also like to find a big chunk of funding for our multimedia, multicultural, queer and trans cabaret, Cachín Cachán Cachunga!

QM: What has made you decide return to Canada for this tour?

Alland: I wanted to see my friends and family and introduce Y to them. Also, it’s good to keep up with what artists in Canada are doing, and reading/performing alongside them is an excellent way to do so. Canadian artists tend to have low self-esteem in an international context, but they’re actually some of the world’s finest.


The Zorras start their Canadian tour tonight (Sept 23, 2011) in St Catharines and continue through to the end of September and into October, hitting Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston and Montreal. For a full listing of their tour dates, visit their Facebook Page.

For more info, or to buy their 2009 CD We Apologise For Any Inconvenience, visit Zorras’ online bio page.


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