Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Modern Sirens

Abstract Random's seductive songs attract more than sailors

Francesca Nocera, Jamilah Malika and Ayo Leilani are the modern Sirens of Abstract Random.

Abstract Random is as hard to pin down as the band’s name suggests. While these three female musicians bills themselves as an electro-experimental dub-hop group, they’re also part of the larger art/music collective 88 Days of Fortune. Its roster of about 20 hip-hop artists performs at bimonthly parties throughout Toronto.

As a band within a band, Jamilah Malika, Francesca Nocera and Ayo Leilani’s political rhymes, sweet harmonies and outlandish costumes and stage projections deliver the ethos of Rage Against the Machine with the style of Morcheeba.

“I always come in with the beat first,” says Nocera, “and we’ll jam for a while.”

A lot of Malika’s dub poetry, she says, “is about investigating, trying to find out just what is going on with the world.” The group’s lyrics tackle issues like homophobic dancehall music, North America’s growing income inequality and the G20 debacle.

Putting politics into music, says Leilani, “is a hard path, but if there’s that spark of potential and you believe in what you’re doing and so do the people around you, something will come out with hard work.”

After creating an album and five music videos, the band received a $6,500 grant from the Ontario Arts Council, which enabled them to put out their recently released album, Siren Songs.

Other bands may not be so lucky, says a frustrated Leilani: “Now we have this mayor who doesn’t care — not just about arts and funding but even human rights.

“Art is what makes this city come alive,” she says, “and it’s what makes people want to come here.”

Nocera grew up in Toronto, while Malika moved here from Vancouver; Leilani immigrated from Kenya with her family when she was four. They met in 2009 at a Queen West performance space co-owned by Nocera, who performed there with theatre-trained dub poet Malika.

When Leilani came looking for a venue for 88 Days of Fortune, she was impressed by the space — and by Nocera.

“We started dating and making music together,” Leilani says. “We wrote and recorded an EP called Bonjour in just seven days . . . I started coming to the [Abstract Random] rehearsals, and Jamilah would say, ‘Why don’t you sing this bit?’”

If there’s any awkwardness around having a couple in the trio, it’s all part of the group’s juggling act.

“We definitely have moments of ‘Oh my God, I hate you!’ but every family has that,” laughs Nocera.

In one of many side projects, Nocera spins as DJ Luke Perry, a name she says the others hate. “It’s a great name,” she insists. “He’s a teen icon.”

Nocera is 31 but has a “boi” button pinned to her hoodie, which is printed with Pac-Man mazes. “I get carded everywhere,” she laughs. “My spirit bounces back and forth between a boy and a girl.”

Fluidity, she insists, is what the band is all about. “We’re trying to bridge communities,” Nocera says. “Even within the lesbian community, there’s so much segregation.” Being part of 88 Days of Fortune has allowed them to connect with many groups, especially straight hip-hop artists.

“There was one person who started with us who had a mixtape with the word ‘faggot’ in it,” says Leilani. “We asked him to take it out and he totally understood.”

In October, Leilani wanted to host a party and feature only female hip-hop artists, assuming it would be educational for their audience. Instead, she was surprised when the turnout was almost all women. It proved to the trio that there is indeed a hunger for more women in hip hop.

In 2012, the band hopes to tour Germany and Japan, spreading their beats and politics worldwide.

“Changing the world isn’t realistic,” Leilani says, “but we hope our songs might change a person’s mind. You only have to reach one person and start a chain reaction.”