Five years ago Kiddy Smile became involved in the Paris Ballroom Scene because of Lasseindra Ninja, the mother and pioneer of this movement. “She was a friend of mine when I was studying music and shooting videos”, began Kiddy Smile, “I’ve always been surrounded by dancers, so I had known about vogueing for a long time but I didn’t feel attracted to it. Lasseindra was my friend, and still around, so she came and danced in one of my music videos; I always loved to dance but I just felt that ‘vogueing’ wasn’t for me. Then I met Mother Steffie Mizrahi, she’s my mother because I’m in the House Mizrahi, and she made me realise that it’s much more than just a dance, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s culture. Vogueing is just a dance of this movement, but the movement is so much bigger than just a dance. You can be yourself and nobody is gonna judge you”.
Although Kiddy Smile thought it was just a dance, he saw people he couldn’t have spoken to if it wasn’t for ballroom. There was an intense roster of talent which had nowhere else to express itself, but here Kiddy Smile found a home. “I always wanted to dance”, he continued, “and I always wanted to be a performing artist but didn’t have the courage to be the centre of the art. I started dancing as a backing performer, and the ultimate thing that I wanted to do was to dance for Madonna. I went to a casting, got through every round, but wasn’t chosen. Nothing was said. I met the choreographer later that day and asked what I could do better”. Truth be told, there was nothing Kiddy Smile could have done better, he was perfect, but his “look” didn’t match what they wanted. “I thought, that’s OK, if people don’t want me to support them then I’ll support myself. Basically, I started creating music because Madonna didn’t want me”.
Seeking to spread love, the concept behind the “Let A Bitch Know” video is “just our lives. We all come from what they call ‘The Ghetto’”. [We] being the girls from the Ballroom. “I was tired of seeing this white fantasy about ballroom”, continues Kiddy Smile, “I was tired of it making us look like ‘Paris is Burning’, OK, we do this, but what you don’t know about why we do this, is it’s for you to come and recreate a moment. We have to go through a journey to get there. This is what’s important”.
Some people steal, and some people are sex workers; all to pay for the outfit they are going to wear at the ball. “So for those white people come and be oblivious to this, and just be like ‘Oh look at them, they’re just fantastic’, it’s hard. People suffer and they don’t even know why ballroom exists. Ballroom exists because it’s difficult to be a person of colour and from the edge of a community. [The concept for the video] was also because I was part of the ghetto. I wasn’t beating people up, but I was hiding drugs for my friends. I would steal, but because I’m gay, I can’t claim this ‘hoodness’ about me. This was my youth. The ghetto is very gay friendly when nobody’s looking so I thought ‘this is what I wanna do’. I’m not finished with it because I want to create another part, another video, but we got a lot of threats for the first video.
The people where we shot the first video were not happy with it, they threw stuff at us and insulted us. We were shooting there for two days, it was hard but we got what we needed. They know what a man in drag is, but they’re used to seeing these people when they’re paying for sex, not in their neighbourhoods. They thought that we were trying to portray the neighbourhood as a place full of gay people, and even if that were true, I wouldn’t see a problem with it. The mayor of the city is actually a gay man and he came on the set with his husband, and gave us the authorisations we needed”.
But the story runs deeper, and darker, “Let A Bitch Know” is about the type of people who befriend you because they don’t feel threatened by you. It’s about the people who thought you were going to be friends and they would be the star of the coupling, when you are in it to be friends, not to shine over somebody else. “Then you realise something… when you have success, your friend is not happy for you”, Kiddy Smile says, questioning friendships, “You’re like, if it’s happening to me, it’s also happening to you, you should be happy for me. But you can’t talk about it because it’s never in your face, it’s never ‘assumed’. Eventually these people, they find an excuse, an argument, to break the friendship. Or they try to stay around and try to demolish what you’ve built. They can’t stand the fact that you’re successful. In a way, because I’m talking about myself, I don’t think I’m successful to the point that I’m gonna call myself a successful person, but I’ve done things. I’m alive, I’m not homeless, I have a job that I love and I’m healthy. That’s success. But those people that you call ‘friends’? It’s jealousy. I think I’m a good friend, I would think of you before I think of me and share what I have with you”.
Talking about being signed to Defected, Kiddy Smile tells of working with different labels but with this EP “I really wanted to do it myself so I put my own money towards the studio… The song was playing in a club and Andy, their A&R, Shazamed it and found my name. He started following me on Twitter; I followed him back and sent a message to say ‘Hey’. He replied like ‘Dude, I just found out about you. I’m looking at your music, I’m looking at your videos, now, can we work together?’. I didn’t think my music was strong enough to be released on Defected but I met Andy, and it just happened. I’m happy that I’ve found a record label that’s not just a record label, but a family. They take care of their own. That’s what I was missing, because I was talking about making music by myself which is really hard when everybody is part of a clique, a crew.
But I have two EP’s that are coming out with Defected, and I’m gonna work with Headbanger as well. I’m working on the LP, which is going to take me a long time because I want to work with different producers, I’d love to work with MNEK, I don’t want to produce it myself. Maybe a live tour next? I want to be the Beyonce of house music, I think house music makes for an entertaining show and live act, and I think I can do that. I’ve been on tour and I have two types of gigs; I DJ mostly, as well as doing house music and vogueing events. I like to do the vogueing events even if there’s no money in them because I still want to support queer people of colour and their events because I know they need support. They don’t make a lot of money, but if nobody is supporting them then the world won’t have anything new to offer. Everything comes from that, and I come from that. I’m a product of the queer people of colour culture, and I want to support that”.
It might sound cliché, but you can’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t do. Only you can decide. At least that’s what Kiddy Smile, a Parisienne spirit, believes. “If I listen to other people all the time when they say ‘I don’t think you should go there’, ‘I don’t think you should do that’, ‘this is not good for you’, nothing would happen. If you feel it in your gut, just do it, even if your friends are not supporting you, even if your family is not supporting you. I never got support from my family for doing music, for doing anything art related. Never. My mum came to see me DJ this year for the first time after five years and she’s still asking when I’m going to get a real job”. But for the people that don’t truly understand? “I tell them to sit tight, and they’ll get it, soon enough. They’re narrow minded, that’s why they don’t understand it. I remember growing up in this very difficult neighbourhood, wearing skinny jeans, and being called names. They wouldn’t know better than to call me a faggot, but they would make fun of me for wearing all the fashion. Now they dress like I did six years ago. I don’t think they realise that they look like Queens, they look like gay men”.
Kiddy Smile’s latest single ‘Teardrops In The Box’ is out now via Defected Records
photographer DANNY KASIRYE
creative director and interviewer JOEL PALMER