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Artist Kimmortal blends healing, activism, and immigrant experiences into new album "Shoebox"

Before rap and poetry, Kim Villagante’s heart belonged to dance. The Filipinx Canadian interdisciplinary artist, known as Kimmortal (they/them), began their journey as a queer and nonbinary multi-hyphenate artist and musician at the University of British Columbia, where they studied Visual Art and Art History and in 2012 performed with Stylophonics, a competitive dance crew based in Vancouver.

“Dance was my first love,” Kimmortal said.

But the world of competitive dance and choreography stifled Kimmortal, who felt the rules and demands for each dancer to look and perform the same silenced their expression. In search of inspiration, Kimmortal found their voice in a Women’s Studies and Literature course. It was a time of exploration and a space where they could practice the art of storytelling, poetry, and writing. Tasked to rewrite a fairytale story, Kimmortal used the classic television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to analyze the ways in which the show exoticized Black and brown people and made the antagonists women of color.

“I felt in the art of storytelling that I was fully seen by people and that I was really heard,” Kimmortal said.

Kimmortal describes their early storytelling experiences as a melding of two passions: Filipino activism and the creative arts.

“Being with the intergenerational Filipino community learning about fighting against racist policies impacting titas who are or were domestic workers, learning about the timeline of immigration waves into so-called ‘Canada’ with other Filipinos,” Kimmortal said. “My lyrics started reflecting what I was learning and I was encouraged to perform by Filipino activists in the community.”

After graduating, Kimmortal got their first job as a community archivist documenting the ways the arts were used by the Filipino community to organize and mobilize.

“It was my job to interview Filipino artists in the community and document the art they created to uplift the community. I learned about the political fashion shows the Philippine Women Center in Vancouver created where each dress told the story of a domestic worker in the organization. It was inspiring to learn of the ways young artists would interview titas in the community and together they would tell the story.”

They draw inspiration from artists like hip hop duo Blue Scholars, rapper Lauryn Hill, Tierra Whack and their poet and theatre peers who create other worlds.

“That’s so powerful in just seeing that another world exists.” Kimmortal said. “I think if I can offer a glimpse of what my world is to others, they can start imagining what their world is like too.”

Inspired by the world around them, Kimmortal crafts soul-activating lyrics that reflect their own lived experiences and tales of their loved ones. Their words and eclectic musical sound influenced by hip-hop, electronic, folk, and alternative styles encapsulate diverse emotions and speak to intersectional queer Filipinx issues. They describe the writing of their original song, “This Dyke,” as a playful transition between words and beats.

“'This dyke/ wanna go all night/ boom boom.' In my head, I heard ‘this dyke Wanna ride a bike? Vroom, vroom.’ I heard those lyrics because at the time I wanted to be a dyke on a bike. I wanted to write like an iconic local dyke song because the community in Vancouver has such a dope queer drag scene and it was my goal to have my music blasting in those spaces,” Kimmortal said.

In their song “Sad Femme Club,” Kimmortal writes about their loved one, a person of color having to fight against the bureaucracy in higher education, reflecting on a time when a white professor commented on their hair. Angered by these experiences, Kimmortal used their art to center femmes of color who have experienced similar incidents.

“Dear Goddess, give me patience/ Tired of trying to explain/ I’ve got zero tolerance/ When they fuck with my sacred space/Bar the trolls, hit the corners for escape / Build the platforms, take up space / Code the scripts to infiltrate/ ‘Cause you’re never not fighting/ A racist system that keeps powers in place/ And that fails to acknowledge the root of your pain/ Took it too personal, over-emotional/ Where are you from? Are you beauty or brains?/ If I lose my shit right now?/ Will I just be dismissed right now?”

Kimmortal is proud to be a queer Filipinx artist who inspires others within and outside of the queer community.

“Recently, someone came up to me and was like, ‘hey Kim, you really inspired me to be myself,’ And just seeing a spirit light up like that, while I’m discovering my own freedom inside is fucking cool,” Kimmortal said.

Fans have much to look forward to following the June release of Kimmortal’s latest single, “Blue and Orange” in celebration of Pride Month, including a U.S. West Coast tour slated for September 2023. Available on July 7, their next album, “Shoebox,” highlights the queer Filipinx community and includes a music video that features Filipina couple and activists in the Vancouver community: Tita Darla and Cecilia.

“I wrote the music video to Blue & Orange with my partner and it makes me cry. The song is about a long distance relationship between Tita Darla and Tita Cecilia and really speaks to the long distance relationships between queer Filipinos separated by borders. My album ‘Shoebox’ is my most personal album. It’s full of healing trauma, emotions and memories,” Kimmortal said. “When I release a body of work, I’m giving birth to something that literally grows legs and arms and runs.”

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