In 2007, the musical powerhouse that is Beyoncé decided to do things differently for her first-ever world tour. For The Beyoncé Experience tour, the pop superstar, who is still at the height of her celebrity a decade later, put together an all-woman band dubbed The Suga Mamas, eventually hand selecting ten female musicians at the top of their game out of thousands of applicants. Beyoncé’s motivation behind The Suga Mamas was simple: “I had an idea to have a lot of women on stage playing instruments, so hopefully young girls can see that, and it inspires them to play instruments.”
During their tenure together, Beyoncé and The Suga Mamas played together on every continent save Antarctica and, besides selling out arenas worldwide, performed at monumental events like the Super Bowl Halftime Show and Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday party at the White House. Since then, the women of the Suga Mamas have scattered around the U.S., each continuing on with their own musical careers either as solo artists or with other ensembles.
For the Live For Live Music crowd, perhaps the most recognizable member of The Suga Mamas is drummer Nikki Glaspie, who elected to leave Dumpstaphunk to focus on her own group, The Nth Power, back in 2014. Glaspie is a force behind the kit and has become a staple of today’s funk scene, renowned for her emphatic performance style and technical mastery, which earned her a coveted spot on Beyoncé’s roster ten years ago. As a former member of the Suga Mamas, Glaspie is by no means an outlier; rather, she’s one of ten equally ambitious, talented, and hard-working female musicians who cut their teeth rigorously touring the globe with one of the largest names in music today.
Following a special Suga Mamas’ 10th anniversary performance at Berklee that brought the crew back together this past March, a number of the original members of The Suga Mamas decided to reunite, this time under the banner The OG’s. Thus far, The OG’s have a one-off performance scheduled this Saturday, July 29th, at New York City’s Highline Ballroom. Glaspie, along with Divinity Roxx (bass), Marcie Chapa (percussion), Katty Rodriguez (tenor sax), Tia Fuller (alto sax), Crystal Torres (trumpet), Brittani Washington (keys), and Rie Tsujiri (keys) are set to tear up the show, tapping into their roots as a tight-knit, powerful all-woman ensemble. However, this performance is potentially just the start for The OG’s.
“All of the emotions and excitement surrounding the [Berklee reunion show] inspired us to play together and put on more shows,” notes Divinity Roxx, bassist and former musical director for The Suga Mamas. Saxophonist Katty Rodriguez echoes this sentiment, “It was a magical thing. We knew we were supposed to do something together, and it just took that one moment to bring us together again.”
With their first performance, and potentially the start of a long-running project, just around the corner, the group is uniquely poised in time—simultaneously looking to the near and distant future while still deeply rooted in their origins as an ensemble that was serendipitously brought together a decade ago. In talking with Roxx and Rodriguez, despite what could be an easy tendency to reside outside the moment, the two tend to be grounded in the present, not quick to jump ahead of themselves or dwell on past successes.
When prompted about what the group’s plans for the future are, Roxx notes, “It starts here. It’s been ten years since we’ve been together on a consistent basis. We each have our own solo projects that we’re working on or are teaching full time. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge to see what we do. I really would like to see us complete a full project from start to finish, to tour it and release original music.”
Watch Divinity Roxx’s official music video for “We Are,” off her recently released solo album, ImPossible (available here)
Rodriguez confirms that fans can expect to see more from The OG’s in the future, though the band is taking this as they come, “We’re working on music. We’re writing music and putting together an album, and we’re getting a lot of opportunities to play together. Coming together as The Suga Mamas, it was the right moment, the right time, the right artist—it was just right. We know that our time is again approaching. Things are lining up, so why not?”
As detailed in an extensive interview piece in Elle, for many of the women in the group, joining Beyoncé’s touring ensemble, particularly an all-woman one, ten years ago seemed ludicrous, with many hesitating to audition for the gig in the first place. However, as they got to know one another, both musically and personally, they found that there was something different about this group of musicians. Rodriguez notes, “When we get together, it’s just magical. We play together so tight and we have this special thing on stage.”
However, their connection runs deeper than just skill alone, instead being a product of hours across weeks, months, and years of hard work as a unit. Roxx, thinking back to The Beyoncé Experience tour, recalls, “We worked really, really hard to bring those shows to fruition. Over the course of working so hard, we just became a really tight-knit unit.”
Notorious for her perfectionism, Beyoncé demanded a lot from the Suga Mamas, with the ensemble practicing for eight or nine hours per day for weeks ahead of a gig. Moving forward, the musicians in the group ultimately learned a lot from the superstar about work ethic, with all of them sharing similar drives. Roxx continues, “My work ethic is through the roof after having toured with Beyoncé. If you were to ask each one of us individually, I think we’d all give you the same answer. Beyoncé is the hardest working woman in show business, and it shows. That’s how she’s been able to accomplish all the things she’s been able to accomplish. She’s going to outwork you, no matter what.”
Rodriguez works off that, “A lot of people want something, but they don’t want to put the work into it. Our work ethic is something that we learned, and we put that toward everything we do. For this upcoming show at the Highline Ballroom, we rehearse from 11 to 8, and we rehearse to put on the best show we can.”
Watch Katty Rodriguez’s official music video for “Phenomenal Woman”
This deeply held and overarching work ethic is a product of the members of The OG’s time with Beyoncé. However, to some degree, it’s also a residual side effect of being in an all-women ensemble—one that has been heavily criticized and doubted from the onset. Despite being excellent musicians in their own right, both as individual musicians and as a unit as The Suga Mamas, the women in The OG’s have faced levels of scrutiny, skepticism, and, at points, animosity that is out of the norm for other acts. However, rather than being defeated by such negativity, it compelled the group and its individual members to work harder and to ensure they proved naysayers wrong.
Roxx elaborates on this point, “As women in a male-dominated industry, there is a lot of discrimination that takes place. There’s this prevailing attitude within our society that women can’t do things that men can do—that we’re not as smart or as logical or as strong. When you’re playing an instrument, which is really physical—and especially for me playing the bass guitar, which is normally looked at as a male instrument—of course, there are men who say, ‘She can’t play’ or ‘She’s only getting her gigs because she’s a girl.’”
“Women aren’t given the same opportunities as men, and so we have to work extra hard. Not just that we have to play great, but we have to look good doing it. There’s a lot of pressure, and we knew that guys didn’t expect that we’d be able to play. They expected us to be props and to be cute in our heels,” notes Rodriguez. She offers an example, “We were on the Oprah Winfrey show, and Jaimie Foxx was also being interviewed during the segment. We were on a commercial break, and Jaimie Foxx says, ‘Those girls can’t play. They’re just for show.’ So, Kim Burse goes, ‘1, 2, 3, 4,’ and we were ready.”
Roxx continues off this, “[Foxx] just had to sit down and shut up. As women, that’s what we have to do. We don’t have to say, ‘I can play,’ or go out and wave our women’s flag and say, ‘You have to respect us.’ All we have to do is go out and do what we do, and other people—men or women—have no choice but to respect us as players and strong women in this industry. We just have to go hard, and no one can deny us our place in history or in this industry.”
There are obviously distinct challenges that all professional female musicians face, and Roxx and Rodriguez were not shy about sharing the sometimes-sexist encounters stumbled into during their time with the Suga Mamas. However, despite these difficulties, the two affirmed that the weight of any negative incidents paled in comparison to the joys brought on by their time with the all-women ensemble. In addition to counting off favorite moments from the road and noting accolades earned by the group, both women spoke of the benefits gleaned from the all-woman makeup of the Suga Mamas, which continues on with The OG’s.
“When you’re in a band with women, we listen to each other—we really do. We take each other’s criticisms and suggestions into account. We are willing to try things and see if they work, and if they don’t work, then we listen to each other on how to make it work or scrap it,” notes Roxx. Rodriguez continues, “We encourage each other. I think that a lot of people thought that because we are women, that we were going to be catty—but we weren’t. We really pushed each other in everything that we did. We’re definitely more into our feelings than men. [laughs] But I think that makes us more sensitive to music.”
Perhaps the biggest joy from the experience of being in the Suga Mamas was fulfilling Beyoncé’s original vision for the group and becoming a role model to millions of young girls who saw them perform on stage. Rodriguez, who is currently a full-time music teacher in addition to frequently touring, albeit in a more weekend-warrior fashion, noted the impact of being a role model, “It’s huge knowing that girls that are now 18 or 20 and pursuing a music career, that when they were 8 or 10, they looked on stage and we were there. We changed some people’s lives, and there are people around the world who look up to us and know us.”
“There are these young players now who know us and who saw us and began taking music seriously once they saw what we were doing was possible—that there was a place for young women in this world to make a living playing music. We, as a unit, have been role models for young female musicians, ones that we see that are up-and-coming, and it’s certainly an honor,” closes Roxx.
The OG’s hit the Highline Ballroom in New York City this Saturday, July 29th, 2017, at 8 PM. More information about the show is available here on the event’s Facebook page, while tickets can be purchased here. Make sure to stay dialed in for more information about The OG’s by checking out the group’s Facebook page here.