The Bellhops is a blues hip-hop theatre ensemble based in Madison, Wisconsin. Many of the members of this group derive from the First Wave Program of the University of Wisconsin, the nations only hip-hop theatre ensemble and learning community of its kind. The University of Wisconsin’s First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community is a cutting-edge multicultural artistic program that harbors students that are published authors, nationally renowned and internationally ranked poets, and rappers.
The music produced by the musical collective, The Bellhops, finds its roots in black musical traditions that make known the impact that oppressive institutions have on people and society. Their music intertwines the lyrical sentiments of the blues, elements of jazz, funk, and spoken word. The ensemble first began as a platform for women-identified artists and today serve as a safe space for a host of individuals from varying backgrounds; however, their main mission is to bring forth the voices of those marginalized at the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender.
BEHIND THE MUSIC.......
Shades of Melanin had the opportunity to interview with the founder of the Bellhops, Taylor Scott. This is such a unique, talented group that brings a plethora of stylistic ambiances sure to cater to any music enthusiasts. Check out what is behind their music, and how they came to be.
La-Toya: Where are you originally from?
Taylor: Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But we have singers from Detroit, a singer from Philadelphia, a writer from Atlanta, and another from Illinois.
La-Toya: Why the name Bellhops?
Taylor: We needed to come up with a name now! And the guitarist was like “The Bellhops”. And we said there’s something there, especially given our content we carry so much as human beings, and as black women because most of the artist are black women…but we just carry so much as a particular group..you know you’ve heard of Erykah Badu’s song Bag Lady so it comes from the idea of keeping all these bags, but then you have a band behind you that looks nothing like you that don’t have the same experiences but they’re helping you with that message. So that’s how the Bellhops came about.
La-Toya: What was your journey to having this group formulated?
Taylor: People dropped out. I’ve had three different jobs, three different pianist, two different bases. The singers were completely different from a year ago compared to now. The poets in the group changed. You may see one pianist one rehearsal and another the next. That was exciting about the group. It was always evolving. There was always new back up singers, always new writers, new songs, and new approaches to music. I just looked at the group as something ever-evolving. It was never stagnant in what it was or what we were trying to do. There was always something new.
La-Toya: How does being in Madison Wisconsin particularly affect the music you guys produce and make?
Taylor: The good thing is there is such a great artist community there with First Wave. It brings a lot of culture to the campus space at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as well as the city.
But sometimes it feels like we are creating in a bubble like all this great art only to be consumed by the immediate public. And that’s a downer sometimes because as a college student you might not necessarily have the means or the time to go outside of Madison to promote yourself as an artist.
La-Toya: Are you a singer, spoken word artist, instrument enthusiasts in the group?
Taylor: I’m the Artistic Director and a vocalist.
La-Toya: What was the attraction for this group of individuals to come together and form this group?
Taylor: So many talented individuals. Everyone within the group can stand by themselves as an artist or as a musician. They are just that talented. I could go home and listen to just the guitarist play and be satisfied. But as a group it’s always 10 times better than our individual work. So I think being in a group with so many other creators that are serious about creating you never know what the production is going to turn into, you never know what you’re going to learn.
La-Toya: How does the diversity within the group affect the original platform created for women-identified artists?
Taylor: I think there is some power to our diversity. Look at the visual component of it. You have all these white men behind these black singers. The visual is a little off but It’s a beautiful visual component to the band. People are sometimes thrown off by it. There’s a level of understanding because we’re all creating together. Even though black women are at the center of this extrinsic endeavor there are so many connections being made, and so many things being learned. And I definitely think this has added to their character as white men in the world and how they may approach people of different walks of life.
La-Toya: Because we are a site primarily dedicated to woman of color from all backgrounds and walks of life how do you feel the Bellhops speak to the independent struggles, societal and socio-political issues of that exact body of people?
Taylor: Well, our album is called, “Hero of my own Tale” and the cover is of a black woman, naked with a cape and all of the writers are black women and that title really speaks to ”no one can tell my story like I can tell my story.” Yes this may just be another black woman but our experiences might be completely different as far as what we decide to talk about. The themes are prevalent; they speak on survival, womanhood, and sexual agency making the platform on which we speak really important.
La-Toya: From the site I saw a really profound declaration about the music of the Bellhops: “Our music is grounded in black musical traditions that make explicit the impact of oppressive institutions.”
Could you elaborate on that?
Taylor: Sure, the song “Old Man Murruy” for instance, Murry means means master and it’s a metaphor for the instituition. “Old Man Murray won’t let me pass” is a statement that is three-folds in what it means. He won’t let me pass socially. You know the lighter skin blacks that use to pass for white back in the days, and this song is actually sung by a biracial man so it was really important for him to sing this song. It was illegal for blacks to read and learn, so he won’t let me pass through education. And then the physical passing of space. That’s evident within the yard part of the song, “Old man Murray won’t let me pass through his yard.” When I think about the campus of University of Wisconsin there are certain streets that black people are scared to walk down because of the physical crimes that have happened on them. Another song of ours called Same Old Blues is saying that nothing has changed at all. Like even though we are in this day in age the only thing that has changed is that we have cell phones, and we can record the violence that has been perpetrated against our bodies. And as far as Nathalie’s piece goes it’s a very subtle critique of patriarchy. So definitely a lot of pieces speak to that declaration.