“I’m standin’ in this world alone, out here on my own; tryin’ to keep from turning cold.”
These are the words sung by up-and-coming artist Allazae. A Philadelphia native, she’s been singing since age 5. At 16, she ran away from an abusive father and her music reflects the struggles she’s been able to survive and overcome.
PGN: You’re from Philadelphia; were you an only child? A: No, I have four siblings. I have an older brother who is in the Navy — he was just home for Christmas and then he went back to Iraq where he’s been deployed. I have a little brother who is 6, he’s the new addition; and I have two sisters who live in Alabama. They both went out there for college. The oldest got married and decided to stay, the other will graduate in May. She’s my twin.
PGN: Really? Fraternal or identical? A: We look similar, but we’re fraternal. Her name is Amber and we’re total opposites. I miss her so much.
PGN: Do you do any weird twin things? A: No, it’s funny. When we’re actually together, we don’t get along. We miss each other terribly and love each other to death for the first three days, then after the fourth day, it’s like, “OK, you need to go back home now.” She’s really deep into the church and I’m the evil spawn. I’m gay, I never finished college, I know the streets, I’m everything my family is against. I did go back and get my GED though. I didn’t even study, I just said, “I got this, just give me the test” and I aced it. I then went on to study accounting, and qualified to be a legal secretary. I’m also a certified nurse and now I have a CDL.
PGN: CDL? A: Commercial driver’s license. I drive a school bus. It’s funny, I was never into kids: Even after I had my son, I was like, “I love my son, but he’s the only one.” Now, I love the kids. Every last one of them. [Laughs.] Even the bad ones. I came to realize that if they’re really bad, you need to look at the parents. The kids are only reacting to what they’ve been shown. And I love my bus, “Big Boy.” Everyone tells me I’m too little to be driving a big bus, but I just tell ’em to hop on and ride with me and see.
PGN: So bus driver, what’s your favorite snack? A: I love nachos, but I have to have a thing of salsa on one side and cheese dip on the other and I dunk the chip in both. That’s the way to do it.
PGN: Do you have any pets? A: I have three cats. Kitty Moon is 20 years old. He’s an old cat — I’ve had him since I was 5. Then I have Ming Chu who’s about 10 or 11, but I’ve only had him for about four years. He’s a Siamese. They have a reputation for being mean, but he’s a sweetie. Then there’s Ashes. He’s so bad. He’s only about a year old, but he’s a big ball of trouble. People say animals don’t understand you, but I swear they know everything I’m saying. When I’m talking to them they look at me and I see it in their eyes. And when they meow back, it’s like they’re really communicating and we’re just too stupid to understand. I wish I knew what they were saying, especially the older one, ’cause he was in the house when my mother was my age. I’d love to know what he could tell me about her at that time!
PGN: She had him first? A: Yeah, I didn’t grow up with my mother. My parents divorced when me and my twin were 8 months old. My father got custody of us and we didn’t see our mother until we were about 4 or 5, when she got visitation rights restored. He was a Seventh-day Adventist and we grew up in the church. He was also very abusive. There are some things I respect him for, though: He was the one who got me into music. He was a teacher and he directed the choir. He taught me to play the clarinet, the piano and a little bit of organ. We had a singing group with all four of us children and we toured the different churches.
PGN: Coming out must have been difficult? A: Oh yeah, we were sent to a boarding school when we were young and that was really good. It was called Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, Pa. I got straight As and was valedictorian of my eighth-grade class. But I got kicked out for having a relationship with another girl. It’s a Christian school, Seventh-day Adventist. But I have good memories of the school. I think it was the values and confidence that they instilled in me that allowed me to survive on the streets. I’d think about sending my kids there.
PGN: How did you get caught? A: This girl and I had been messing around together. One day we were playing around with another girl. We were pretending to jump her and we didn’t realize that she had some problems and she freaked out when we pinned her. We all got into trouble and they separated us. When they were moving us, they looked through our stuff and found the diary that the girl I was messing with had written. They blew it out of proportion and I got most of the blame because I was older. She was the one who came on to me, but they didn’t care about that.
PGN: How did you end up on the street? A: It got real bad when I went back to my father, so I left. It was a shock. Between the church and school, I’d been a sheltered child; I had no idea how mean the streets and people could be. I had some really bad times and some guys who really did me dirty. I was miserable: On top of not being physically attracted to men, I’ve also had really bad experiences, starting with my father. He was my first encounter with a man and he beat me daily. It was crazy, but it is what it is. I don’t regret it because it’s made me who I am today. I lost my faith for a long time, though I just recently got back to it. I struggled for a long time, I never prayed, I never sought God, but now he’s in my life again and things are turned around.
PGN: Where did you go when you ran away? A: I didn’t want my dad to find me so I headed to New York. Eventually DHS said that if I came back, I could live with my mom, so I did. When I came back from running away, I stayed with my mother for a minute and then I moved out. I started to dance, which is a long story in itself. I still had guilt problems with being gay and so I was with men for a while, which is how I got my two children. It took me a long time to stop listening to what other people told me I should be. Then one day, I got myself into a situation that I shouldn’t have been in. It was a female dancer that rescued me and we ended up building a relationship. That was about five years ago. We didn’t stay together, but after that, I stayed in the Philly area. I lived with different friends or girlfriends. I eventually came back to my mother’s house, where I live now with my kids. My son Amir is 6 and my daughter Aaliyah is 4.
PGN: Who has been an influence on you? A: Actually, the singer Aaliyah. My daughter is named after her. She was the first secular music I ever heard. At home, we were only ever allowed to listen to classical, Christian or gospel music. I remember I heard her song “One in a Million” and it changed my life. I’m crazy about her. I have pictures of her on my walls to inspire me. I just finished a mural with her name in it.
PGN: What was a favorite moment when you were singing? A: When I was at school they had a touring group. I wanted to try out for it but everyone told me I was crazy because they only accepted upperclassmen. I was only a freshman, but I tried anyway and got picked. It was a mixed feeling because my twin didn’t make it, but it was a great honor. I was like, “Dag, I really got picked!” We performed at different churches, including my father’s church. I got to do a solo and I sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” My father taped it; he taped all of our performances. It was a proud moment to let the whole church know what I could do and for them to see how my voice had matured. I wish I could see some of those tapes now; it would be a riot to see what we looked like.
PGN: What does your music mean to you now? A: My debut album, “The Life,” is going to be released in the spring and I hope it touches people. It’s all about the struggle — “the life” is not only referring to my sexual orientation, but about the life on the street, the life as a survivor and the fight I still have to wage every day. Even with all my accomplishments, I’m still looked down on by members of my family. But I’m like, what does me loving women have to do with me as a person? I have a good job, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m gay. But that’s all right, it helps fuel me. I’ve been through so much, I want to reach out to other people who are fighting their own fights.
PGN: Worst clothing disaster? A: Oh, man! When I was with my old manager, they kept trying to change me. They didn’t want me to talk about being gay and tried to give me this sexy image. I had one show and they made me dress up in these thigh-high boots. I hated it. Even people who saw the show came up afterward and said, “That’s not you, is it? You looked really uncomfortable.” Don’t get me wrong, I will switch up! I don’t mind dressing up and being feminine, but not when I’m forced to. I’ll do it on my own clock. You need to accept me as I am and if not, holla, that’s on you.
PGN: Three sounds that disturb you? A: I hate when people are snorting and clearing their throats while they’re sleeping, or when someone is eating and they’re chewing with their mouth open. I can’t stand to hear that smacking sound. It irks me; there’s no reason for it. A third? Lately my son has been making ambulance sounds. I love him, but it goes on forever. [Laughs.] It drives me nuts but what can you do?
PGN: People often mistake me for ... A: A fool! I try to help people. I could be broke as hell and if someone needed money, I’d give it to them. I wanted to help people so bad, I gave away everything I had. I didn’t care, it made me feel good. But I’ve learned to stop that. Some people got mad at me and acted like I was being a mean person, but I’ve learned to say, “I’m a good person, but too many people took advantage, so the shop is now closed.” I’m growing.
PGN: What’s a quality you admire in a woman? A: Independence. And honesty. I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime, but this past year was the first time I met a woman who was honest with me. She told me all about myself, everything that was wrong with me. I was shocked. It was like “wow,” but deep down I knew she was right. It was embarrassing, but I loved her for it. It helped me learn to take ownership of myself and change.
PGN: If you could change one (physical) thing about yourself, what would it be? A: My body. I’m pretty happy with my face, but I need some curves!
PGN: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal? A: I was always a tomboy: Don’t give me a jump rope, I always wanted a basketball. I always wanted to be out playing with the boys. I never hung with females. But I did have a stuffed panda that I loved. My father made me throw it out, though, which made me really mad. Oh, my goodness, my Kermit! I almost forgot. I had a Kermit the Frog that I loved. I took it everywhere. I got into an argument with my twin and she threw it out the window. I was heartbroken because my dad wouldn’t let me go outside to get it.
PGN: Favorite author? A: Right now I’m reading an inspirational book called “Messages to Young People” by Ellen G. White. My father gave it to me when I was little, but I wasn’t interested in it then. Recently, I felt like I was going through a battle for my soul. I picked it up out of the blue and read it and it was amazing how it mirrored what I was feeling. It helped me get back on track and back to God.
PGN: Something you’d do if you weren’t afraid? A: I’d bungee jump. I’m afraid of heights, so it’s not happening. Although I do have the nerve to ride roller coasters. I got on the Kingda Ka at Great Adventure and thought I was going to die, but I loved it. Don’t put me on a plane, though.
PGN: Something you’d like to learn how to do? A: Get under the hood of a car. I’m so tired of being ripped off because I don’t know anything about cars. I was going to enroll at autotech school next semester but now that the music thing is jumping off, I have to put it on hold. I’m going to do it, though; no more taking my money at the car lot. I’m going to open my own garage.
PGN: So what’s in store for the future? A: As I said, I have my debut CD coming out. I’ve been performing a lot. I’ve been at the Clef Club-Speak To Me showcase (where I’ll be again on the 16th for an MLK tribute), the Club Polaris Fashion Show, the Bridge Theater, Dowlings Palace, World Cafe Live, etc. I really want to share my story and use my lyrics to help soothe the pain of others who have had similar experiences. I have a new manager and label, Who’s Next Entertainment, and they are really positive. They’re letting me do the music I want and letting me be who I am. In fact, I’m booked to perform at the LGBT expo in New York in the spring. Right now, I’m participating in a Power 99 new artists contest. If you log on to www.power99.com/new2/artists/Allazae and listen to my song, it pushes my name to the top of the list. So I hope all my LGBT brothers and sisters out there log on and support me. I’m looking forward to 2009.
Check out Allazae’s music on MySpace at www.myspace.com/allazae39.