In a world of hollow rhetoric and trendy "activism," FUPU is one of the rare "resistance bands" that actually have the gumption to take charge and call out the bullshit when they see it.
Formed in June 2016, the band—formerly known as Fuck U Pay Us—has come a long way since they started playing in the L.A. punk community. The initial project of Uhuru Moor and Jasmine Nyende—who were connected by their mutual friend Pierre Davis of No Sesso fame—FUPU was created as an all-Black femme band tackling subjects important to them. Eventually, after a few lineup switches, drummer Tianna Nicole and bassist Ayotunde Osareme came onboard.
It wasn’t long before they went viral, and soon FUPU could count the likes of Willow Smith as fans—for good reason. Unapologetically raw, extremely perceptive, and well-versed in intersectional ideology (obviously), FUPU is probably the group best equipped to push the conversation forward. So ahead of their August 26 set at this year’s Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, we spoke with Osareme and Moor about the beginnings of the band, the L.A. punk scene, demanding the respect they deserve, and more. Read our Q&A, below.
Tell me about how you all got together initially?
Uhuru Moor: I would start with before the band even started… I started out doing underground hip-hop in Leimert Park. And then I was in a rap crew called Snatches With Power—SWP—but then I was like, "I wanna play instruments and I want to contribute to Black people playing instruments." I feel like it's something that's a part of our culture, but we're denied it because of classism, so I wanted that aspect of music. I wanted to reclaim that for my ancestors, playing an instrument. I was like, "Dude, I just wanna, like, start a punk band." I love hip-hop, but also I'm really punk. You know what I'm mean?
Also, why can't you do both?
UM: Yeah, like I can do everything.
Some other things that were on my mind also were like being a punk in L.A.—because it's a super-non-Black scene, you know? I usually say white, but I don't wanna do that either because I don’t want to take away from the Latinx punk community of L.A. by whitewashing it with language. But it's a super-non-Black scene, and I was just like, "Damn, like, you know, n***as started punk music in the ‘70s, and it's not Black at all. The Black people are separated from each other.” So I just wanted to present that for the community—just the Black punk band. And just assessing the local punk community, the conclusion was, "We need a Black punk band up in here.”
That's one level of the band starting. The other level that I wanna speak to is No Sesso... Me and Jasmine were the two who were present when the band started, and [founder Pierre Davis] is our bridge. Jasmine was one of Pierre's models for No Sesso… Pierre had a fashion show, and Jasmine was modeling in it, and I was helping her throughout the day with the show. I hosted an after-party, and I was just like, "Whatever, we got a mic, and we got a speaker... We doing, like, Black karaoke." So everyone was doing a range of different songs. Like I performed like a Lil' Kim rap song and Jasmine did a punk song, and that's when I was like, "Oh shit, Jasmine does punk, too.”... [It's cool though, because] Jasmine has a background in folk music and plays the ukulele, and that's a whole fusion of music with just two members right there.
But we specifically wanted a Black band—we were like, "It should be for our people." We should be speaking about Black issues and presenting representation for Black people. And for femmes, it should be for femmes.
The first drummer that we had, we met through a Facebook post… I was like, "Do I have any Black femme drummers on this mug?" And then one person [joined, but] had a personal reasons why she couldn't be in the band anymore. My friend was like, "Oh, you know, Tianna's moving back to L.A." She's a drummer, and she's a Black femme… Tianna has way more musicianship experience than I would say me and Jasmine did, so it was an honor for her to join the band because we were like, "What? We just the beginners."
The band caught a lot of attention right away. We posted our first practice video, and it went viral on Facebook. It was like, "Whoa, this is unexpected attention,” when we were literally just like, "Hey homies, guess what? We started a new music project for the community." And then it's like, "Hey, 50,000 people are watching this on Facebook in a week."
Unbeknownst to us, the world needed a Black, femme, punk band… From there, my friend—another musician, she's a white femme [named] Amra Island, and I've done music with her—was like, "My friend Ayotunde is gonna be moving here, and she plays the [West African harp-lute] ngoni... but I think she can play regular bass."
You said that you didn't actually start out playing instruments though, right? I mean, that's very punk in itself.
UM: Just me. I was a rapper, so I was gonna do vocals. Me and Jasmine were both gonna be vocalists, which we are—that still did happen. But then, when we were practicing… Music is really just about what's right with the music—it's like a spirit thing. I was like, "Jasmine should be the lead vocalist." It was a move of natural humility. Like, I'm not gonna stand here taking up space where I shouldn't be.
And because I didn't play any instruments, I literally told my band, “Y’all, I guess, just invite me to some shows or something.” And they were like, “Are you kidding me? You can't leave the band, why don't you play the guitar? You said you always wanted to play guitar when you were little, why don't you just play the guitar?... You should try to play the guitar, we're a punk band.”
It was one of those "one shot, you get one shot! Step up or sit down, what you doing? You trying to be a musician or not? You wanna be in this band or not?"
So the bass player was like, "I'll let you use my guitar if you want to use it." And I just got in there—she taught me some stuff, and from there, it was just, like, sensing with my spirit. [I also got help] from other guitar-playing homies like Sunny War, an L.A. guitarist of 20-plus years. But it was a lot of like teaching myself along the way, and I'm definitely glad that I did.
I mean, you all are playing Afropunk now which feels like the end goal for your band.
UM: Yeah, for me, it's everything. But also longevity matters. Like, playing Afropunk forever—and all over the world forever. Reaching everybody. Playing in Africa. But definitely Afropunk, too... It's wild. It's insane. Not even insane, just wild! Divine.
In the two years since you all formed, how have you noticed things changing in terms of reception to your work?
UM: People have been receptive of our work, honestly. Like I told you, the very first time we were just practicing, you know? And I didn't play the guitar, so you can imagine how embarrassing that was for me.
And then, of course, that went viral.
UM: Yeah, you know what I'm saying? I was like, “What the fuck is going on? Why are they passing that video around? Why is everyone sharing that video? Please let me get my stuff together first.”
Ultimately, I would say it has been a very consistent upward into the multiverse journey. Being in FUPU, it is an experience that I know most bands don't experience, it's a very divine, bizarre experience.
You all have also spoken previously before about how polarizing your existence is as a band though—particularly in the punk scene. But despite that, you've also experienced a lot of success, objectively. Can you tell me a bit about that journey, and do you feel like it's at least gotten slightly better, again, in terms of reception?
UM: I would say that the world is binary. The world is always polarizing things, you know? And it's really unfortunate, because nothing is black and white. Not even Black and white people are black and white.
Ultimately, people are not Black and white, people are not male and female... I think the human race has an obsession with trying to make something one thing or the other, and often times nothing is. I think that's the same thing with our band. It's like, "Yeah, we are a Black, femme, punk with three queer folk, two genderqueer folk, and all femme-identifying people," but does that mean we're only that? Does that mean the music is only for those people? Does that mean that only those people should be able to relate to our message or connect to it?
Even just, like, racism… people love racism. I don't know why, but people love to discuss racism in the media. It sells. People love to participate in racism. They can't wait for a racist president to come around again so they can be racist again. Ultimately, it's, like, do you really have to be Black to believe that Black people of the diaspora deserve reparations for centuries of slavery and continued oppression? Is that really a "Black" issue or is that a human rights issue?
So, for me, that's what I'm gonna say as far as our band being polarizing… People are just like, “Oh, Black band, that's it. Put them in that category.” And I'm thankful that Afropunk does exist and has existed for 20 years to provide a platform of recognition for Black musicians because, really, that's what the harms and evils of white supremacy is. You have all these platforms for white people to present their work—their music on a world stage, and it be accessible to all—and then you have a complete invisibility of Black musicians without something like Afropunk.
On that note, what is some advice that you'd want to have heard as a young femme starting off in the scene?
Ayotunde Osareme: Be true to yourself, play the music that feels right in your heart. And just go from there, just focus on that. I think that's going to bring you inner fulfillment, which is the main goal. Just anyone who wants to break into a scene like the punk scene which is pretty exclusionary.
UM: The punk scene? I don't think the punk scene is exclusionary. I think the mainstream is exclusionary.
AO: One thing that I will say as one of the more quieter, reserved people in the band is that Uhuru and Jasmine demand respect, you know? So there's never been any sort of leeway for anybody to give us any sort of weirdness or anything like that.
So there's never been any space for us to be ignored or whatever, because it's just been demanded. I just think that's the way to go. If you don't accept anything less than that, that's all you're going to get. You're not going to be excluded if you don't accept that. That's just what I see from watching these two femmes and how they've been able to… I mean, sound guys have tried to give us shit, but that wasn't accepted.
UM: I was gonna say, we get shit about soundcheck in the mainstream. I really do love the punk community of L.A… to me punk is life, and everybody should feel welcome in a punk community.
In L.A., I've created an artist collective called #SNATCHPOWER, because I will say, the exclusion was in the form of misogyny—in wanting to acknowledge masculinity, not femininity. But FUPU, we reside in a largely Black, person of color, queer punk community. We are in that subcategory of the punk community in and of itself. We're not in white punk communities.
As one of my friends said, “It's not a scene, it's a community.” That's the first thing I would ask for people to know and respect, because when you live in a place like L.A., for example, you do have a lot of people who are seeking fame. They come to do art and seek fame. We have a real community. It's not about fame. It's not about Hollywood. It's a real punk community.
Number two is to “Break Out,” which is a FUPU song. It's break out of your shell, break out of your comfort zone, break out of your fears, break out of your doubts and self-hate or anything that would hold you back—break out of your excuses. I literally chose to have a guitar over having rent for one month. Now that guitar pays for rent.
FUPU play Saturday, August 26 at Afropunk Brooklyn.