“People with disabilities have the right to be heard. Some people have trouble with talking and it’s hard for them to communicate so we have to support everyone, no matter what their disability is. It’s not the disability, it’s the ability,” says Shea MacDonough, an MC in Melbourne hip hop collective Inkrewsive.
Inkrewsive has been creating and performing hip hop for a decade now through arts organisation Wild At Heart, which works with professional musicians and multimedia artists to inform and empower disabled, mentally ill and socially disadvantaged Australians.
She has joined Audiofemme via Zoom, along with fellow MC Felicity Brown and Executive/Artistic Director of Wild At Heart Community Arts, Philip Heuzenroeder.
The morning we speak, Brown is running a bit late. She has had three seizures and has to be careful not to overexert herself during the interview. When she does show up, she is a riot of colour, from her rainbow-hued hair to her dangling, red bauble earrings. She first joined Inkrewsive a decade ago, and got involved with it again over the last year after taking a break.
“I’ve got depression and anxiety, a lot to do with mental health and all that stuff, and other disabilities that don’t help,” she explains. “I manage to get through them in doing hip hop, and I do songwriting as well. I do everything!”
For Brown and MacDonough, Inkrewsive is more than an artistic outlet, it’s a community and a family. The regular Thursday meetings, which have returned to their usual venue at Ministry of Dance in North Melbourne post-lockdown, are a place of solace and inclusion for Brown. “I get to be with my friends, especially my MC that I’m looking at,” she says with a cheeky smile for MacDonough. “I enjoy hip hop, dancing, rapping, creating songs and all that.”
“I’ve been involved in Inkrewsive for over 11 or 12 years now,” MacDonough shares. “Back then, I was an MC hosting dance parties and all that. That’s been my favourite part, public speaking. I’ve been doing that for quite a while now.”
She adds: “It feels that we’re all family, all of us have different needs different abilities. I would not say disabilities. We all have that, but I don’t see that in the crew. I see everyone as who they are, definitely not their disability.”
The crew’s YouTube page showcases the many performances and videos they’ve recorded over the last decade. It’s not all gold chains and grills, but there’s definitely some serious swagger in the animal print suits, sunglasses, and the take-no-shit lyrics of “Superstar.”
The song isn’t just about fronting, though; it’s an assertion of boundaries, of self-worth, and of demands for a more inclusive world. “Get out of my space, who do you think you are? You don’t know even know me, I’m a superstar!” goes the point-blank chorus.
“All of us have our own song to perform,” MacDonough says. “Some of us have difficulty with writing, reading and stuff. I sometimes have to take it easy, talk slowly, don’t rush it. I know that Phil tells the crew ‘Don’t rush it, keep it clear!’ I always keep my raps clear because I’ve got a fair few in my book at home, my personal ones.”
MacDonough writes and raps about what matters to her: living with Down syndrome, growing up and living as a disabled woman in Australia, and advocating for inclusion in all aspects of society, not least the performing and entertainment world. She’s been a part of it since she began dancing in primary school; she continued with dance through high school, and has since joined a dance company that provides classes for children and young adults with Down syndrome.
“Back when I was younger I loved to dance, especially on stage, so that’s one of my passions,” she says. “I’m in a dance company called Emotion21 and I’m their ambassador alongside [singer and actor] Tim Campbell.”
Luckily, her passion and talent for dancing, rapping and MCing was not starved for an outlet during the pandemic. Despite lockdowns preventing access to their usual meetings, the crew met up via Zoom and worked with a wide range of Melbourne’s most eminent hip hop, dance and breakbeat talent as mentors, including Elf Tranzporter, Bricky B, and MC Yung Philly.
It was Yung Philly, together with Bengali rapper Cizzy, who came on board to help with a unique collaboration to celebrate the International Day Of People With Disabilities on December 3rd. The 13-strong Inkrewsive co-wrote and performed “Lockdown E Bondho” (“Because of the Lockdown”) with six intellectually disabled students from the Monovikas School in Kolkata, India. The track was formed as an ode to solidarity and perseverance in the face of suffering. Filmmakers in Melbourne and Kolkata worked with the artists to create a video that represented each of the crew and their performative strengths.
“I thought it was absolutely beautiful,” says Felicity Brown. “When Phil gave us the link to start off, it was a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity] to actually be with them even though we couldn’t go to India. Just being with them on Zoom made us feel like we were actually there. Also, we were mentoring them with the kind of stuff we do, teaching them what we were doing. And they would mentor us with what they were learning.”
MacDonough chimes in: “I got to learn how they lived. We mentored them, like Felicity said. They showed us how they dance and their Bengali language… we got to actually talk in Bengali along with our music video that we did. [Using] their language and our language – Bengali and English – we collaborated with them, and everyone around the world has a chance to be heard.”
When the video was launched, Brown says, “We were excited.”
MacDonough immediately exclaims, “More than excited!”
It wasn’t the only highlight of the year. On November 27th, they opened Ability Fest 2021, a music festival organised by Australian three-time Paralympian and gold-medalist Dylan Alcott in response to the lack of accessible, safe and inclusive live music opportunities for disabled Australians.
“At Ability Fest, we performed a few of our old songs. We felt it was a privilege to actually perform at the Ability Fest, and after we performed, we got to see [Dylan Alcott]. I was excited to actually get to meet him in person,” says MacDonough. “He said that we all killed it, and nailed it, smashed it. He said to me, after we had performed, that I was the best rapper he’d seen. I would say that everyone was the best, not just me. It was the whole crew that did it.”
MacDonough has grown up with Inkrewsive, and it’s evident in her confidence and compassion that she will be an invaluable mentor to younger and newer members of the crew well into the future. “I used to get teased quite a lot, but not anymore,” she admits. “Because I’ve got a disability, it doesn’t mean that I can’t talk, communicate to others, tell them how I feel.”
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