Hot Brown Honey: Hip hop, circus acts and feminism with sizzle comes back to Sydney

Almost a decade into their critically acclaimed, globe-trotting life, Hot Brown Honey continue to defy categorisation.

The common thread of the show, which spans striptease, hip-hop and circus acts, is a message of feminism and anti-colonialism that aims to send the audience out on an energised high.

Co-creator and choreograpaher Lisa Fa’alafi (second from right) with Hot Brown Honey.

“We still don’t sit perfectly in anything,” says the group’s Samoan Australian director, co-creator and choreographer, Lisa Fa’alafi.

“But it’s still resonating. People are still messaging us, saying it’s like coming to church. It’s a cathartic group release for a lot of stuff.”

Starring a collective of fierce, multi-talented First Nations women, Hot Brown Honey has been variously compared to a burlesque night, a cabaret revue and a protest rally. It’s all of those things and more. Most of all, it’s fun and funny.

Former youth worker Lisa Fa’alafi satirises the Polynesian dusky maiden stereotype.Credit: Damian Vincenzi

The newest iteration of the show, Hot Brown Honey: The Remix is set for another run at the Sydney Opera House. Many of the old favourite routines are back, with Fa’alafi reprising her dance satirising the Polynesian dusky maiden stereotypes of yore.

There are some new additions to the “hive” this time around; Singer Alinta McGrady will serenade audiences with a tribute to “badass mothers” everywhere, aerialist Mayu Muto will do acrobatic things on a rope, and Lilikoi Kaos will offer a contemporary spin on hula-hooping.

The show will also welcome back Ofa Fotu, a soul singer of Tongan heritage, for the most sombre of reasons; she’s stepping in for the group’s co-founder and “hive leader” Busty Beatz, who is battling breast cancer.

“We want to generate that feverish feeling of ‘Let’s dance out into the street and make a change together’,” Fa’alafi explains. “That seems naïve, but it could be the genesis of something bigger we could do together.”

Fa’alafi says the collective gravitated to cabaret and burlesque because they combine social commentary with showbiz. “They’re satirical (artforms), and they allow you to be political and pull apart what’s happening in the world.”

Hot Brown Honey in action.Credit: Damian Vincenzi

“They also give us the variety through our talents, bodies and skills to say whatever we want. We like the ‘no rules’ of it all.”

Before forming Hot Brown Honey, Fa’alafi and Busty Beatz worked extensively in the youth and community sector, bringing a message of empowerment to their charges. Fa’alafi sees Hot Brown Honey as carrying on this mission, albeit with highly-trained professionals from across a range of theatrical disciplines rather than local kids.

As with her youth work, Fa’alafi wants to bring about serious change through serious fun. “We didn’t want to play into that trauma theatre of most of the brown faces we could see (on stage). We wanted a space where we could celebrate the superhero versions of ourselves,” she said.

“Also, for us, we just want to have a good time. So, in a way, it’s very selfish, but in doing that we encourage our audience to have a good time. Underneath that, we know that when you’re laughing together, you’re more open to the stories coming at you.”

Hot Brown Honey aerialist Mayu Muto.Credit: Damian Vincenzi

In the time that they have been together, the group have seen seismic social movements like Black Lives Matter shift the discourse around race and inequality. Fa’alafi says it’s been noticeable how much audiences have shifted towards welcoming their message.

“We had some hostile audiences early on … but the more the dialogue keeps growing, the less we get those audiences with crossed arms.”

The group have long-term ambitions to bring their energetic chaos to a television project, but Fa’alafi jokes that the closest they’ve got so far is having one of their “Decolonise and moisturise” T-shirts pop up in Celeste Barber’s Wellmania. For now, they’re more than happy to be returning to the stage, hoping to get audiences out of their seats as they win hearts and minds.

“We’ve had people reach out to say it has been life-changing. That’s the beauty of social media; people can tell us what they think.

“We’ve also had some people who have felt confronted by some of the themes but have dug a bit further and said: ‘Thank you for showing me that perspective; I’ve never thought of it through that lens before’, and that’s why we do it, really.”

Hot Brown Honey: The Remix is on at Sydney Opera House from May 4-13.

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