Connie Constance x Amrita Hepi

FROM the moment they’re connected, Amrita Hepi and Connie Constance sound like long lost friends. While London-based Connie has since embraced a new and burgeoning career as a soul singer, she shares a background in dance with Amrita, an innovative and experimental Sydney-based choreographer with Ngapuhi (New Zealand) and Bundjulung (Australian) heritage.

The pair chatted at the tail end of 2017: Connie was planning a trip to Cambodia and had just released her EP Boring Connie’while Amrita had been working with the Pasefika Victoria Choir on a Māori folk song, ‘Po Atarau’, with a contested origin.

“It’s the dilemma of colonositation,” Amrita says. “There’s always two just blurred lines when it comes to reclamation of a thing, so it kind of explores that. But I think I just really wanted to work with a voice.”

And the voice is where this conversation begins.

Amrita: I have secret ambitions to sing and be a pop star. I’m just not a very good singer but I really find singing really fun. [Laughs]

Connie: That’s how it starts … One minute you’re just working away somewhere and then you just– the seed kicks in. You can’t fight it. You’re planning out your Gaga outfit in your bedroom after work. [Laughs]

Amrita: Like Gaga, the dance [movement]? Or Gaga the pop star?

Connie: Both. [Laughter]

Amrita: It’s funny. Well, I just find music has this place– and I was talking it a lot the other day but I wanted to ask you about it. I feel like contemporary dance and contemporary art is kind of devoid of sentimentality a lot of the time. It’s like we’re not allowed to be sentimental because we’re thinking critically. You know? But then music has this place where the more sentimental it is – obviously it can’t be too sentimental, it has to be to the point – the better it is.

Connie: The more connected it is.

Amrita: Right. If you were to get up and be, “I’m gonna do a dance about my ex!” It’d be like, “Oh, god.” Or maybe that’s just me because there are some dances that I’ve seen that are beautiful and lyrical dances, but there’s this kind of aversion to sentimentality with contemporary performance. But in music I’m just like, “Carole King, I love you. Tell it how it is.”

Connie: Yeah, it is weird actually. I guess it is in different ways. Because I find with contemporary dance if I go and watch something I hope to come out with an epiphany or with my mind to be opened in a different way rather than coming out and necessarily be emotionally connected. I’m not always looking for that. If that happens then cool.

Amrita: But it’s not the aim. But then I usually feel really emotionally connected to music and I feel like it’s usually better for it. With dance I feel emotionally connected in a different way. It’s almost like through technicality, or virtuosity [of the performance]. But I’m never watching a musician being, “Technically they’re brilliant.”

Connie: No, I can’t. [Laughs]. If I’m doing that then I’m zoning out. If I’m doing that then I’m thinking, “I’m not connecting so now I’m just gonna look for the skillset.”

Amrita: But then I think sometimes, with the best dancers I’m allowed to forget about the technicality and I’m just taken with it. Like when I’m watching Akram Khan.

Connie: Yeah, it doesn’t matter. There’s this line where it just gets all washed out and you kind of roll with that. I guess that’s the same thing, though, with music. There’s this certain thing. I don’t know whether it’s just a feeling but when you watch a dancer they don’t have to be the most technical but it might be something that they’re just giving out and you’re like, “What the fuck?” And the same with musicians. Sometimes they don’t hit all the right notes but there’s something that they’re giving and you’re just, like, “Whoa. This is hitting me.”

Amrita: Yeah, that’s so true. That’s so true. So then it’s kind of beyond technicality, beyond virtuosity. It’s a thing.

Connie: What is it?

Amrita: Let’s call it the sweet spot.

Connie: The sweet spot. [Laughs]

Amrita: Tell me what you’ve seen that’s good lately?

Connie: I haven’t seen dance in ages

Amrita: You haven’t?

Connie: No. The last thing I saw was my friend’s first professional show … He trained in Europe instead of London, and he came back. He did a new spin on Oliver Twist but it was contemporary dance. I was really cool … And that’s the last thing I saw. I do like stuff that’s already got a story so you don’t know how they’re gonna remake it, I guess.

Amrita: I think I like dancing when you can kind of see the rigour in it. I don’t really mind what it is. I like it all [Laughter], but the great thing about dance is that is doesn’t always necessarily need to have a story. I remember watching Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker talk about it. Her work was all about ideas around sacred geometry and mathematics.

Connie: Oh cool.

Amrita: It was all about this kind of precision … I know that she made Fase when she was 22 or something and I saw her perform it at the age of 60…

Connie: Woah.

Amrita: But she always talks about the idea that it doesn’t need to have this grand narrative.

Connie: Yeah. It’s true. When I was training contemporary, not musical theatre, they were always like, “Don’t do any movements that don’t mean anything.” So it was always this constant thing where you had to back up everything you’d done. You’d have to come [at it] from somewhere, which I thought was really cool … But then also it’s just dance and it’s just movement, and sometimes you just do it because you feel naturally you want to go there.

Amrita: Totally. And I think it’s good to have an impetus to move and it’s good to have intention because it helps us have a direction. But it’s also true that sometimes … we’re really caught up in the moment. There’s something just as alive in an impulse as there is in a thought. But, yeah. It’s a funny one. So tell me about what drives you more: your ambition to be a pop super star, your ambition to be a dancer, or both?

Connie: I was just always dancing so I never really kind of questioned my route in life in a sense. The only question I got was the fact that everyone was telling me, “You’re probably not gonna get into dance school ever.” I didn’t question what I wanted to do. You know what I mean?

Amrita: Yeah, yeah.

Connie: I was just like, “I want to go to dance school.” So I just continued working on dancing and then managed to get in, went and then I was there. And then in that time I was listening to a lot more jazz music and I was writing a lot more while at dance school because I got insomnia real bad, so I was up late nights just writing. I kinda just looked back and thought, “I’ve always written, I’ve always wanted to do this [music], but dancing was the wild card thing to be doing.” Do you know what I mean? Where I’m from you just don’t really do creative stuff.

Amrita: Where are you from?

Connie: I’m from Watford so it’s the outskirts of London. It’s kind of like a suburban place.

Amrita: What do people do in Watford?

Connie: I call them normal jobs, I guess.

Amrita: Like a real estate agent or an accountant?

Connie: Yeah, yeah. My grandma is in real estate [Laughs], my grandad works in electronics and my mum works in charity, which is awesome. And then my stepdad was a postman all his life. So everything’s really just normal kind of jobs that’s not anything like, “Oh, this person’s an artist.” Even working in those fields. I didn’t know about being a product manager or being an A&R.

Amrita: I still don’t know what people in music do. My best friend works in PR in a music label and she’s like, “Yeah, we signed this band today.” And I’m like, “Great, great. Give them money. And how does that work?” And she’s like, “Oh my god, I’ve explained it to you so many times.” And I still don’t get it. I still don’t get the point of a record label. They already have an album. [Laughter]

Connie: They just meet. They just have meetings. [Laughter] Since I released music I just feel like every time I’ve spoken to anyone that works in music that isn’t a musician, it’s just these meetings. It’s like, “Let’s go and have a meeting about this song.” And then you have a meeting about this video. Why do we need so many meetings? Let’s just do it, right?

Amrita: Send me an email.

Connie: There’s just so many, right?

Amrita: I just want to do it.

Connie: It’s, “Okay, we’ll have a meeting with you two”, and then it’s, “Let’s have a meeting with these people and those people” … They just have meetings all the time.

Amrita: Glad I don’t have your job.

Connie: Yeah. They chat. They just chat about stuff and you’re like, “Let’s just do it. I’m done chatting. Done.”

Amrita: They love a chat. Music people love a chat. [Laughter]

Connie: They do. And they love a good meal … So think with my career, I was just a bit like, “Oh, I’m here [dance school] and this is awesome but I’m not really enjoying this. I don’t care about dance in this way enough.” … If I ended dance school and I wasn’t good enough and was getting scraps of jobs here and there, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. I’m not passionate enough … These kind of thoughts made me go, “I need to have a proper think about this and just go for it like I went for dance.” So yeah, that’s it. New Gaga on the way. [Laughter]

Amrita: So tell me what you’re doing in the next few months? What’s popping for you?

Connie: So music aside, I’m going to Cambodia next week. I’m really excited for that. I found a super cheap flight for 300 pounds return … But as soon as I get back I’m going to Cambridge to work on my album. It’s gonna be fun. I basically worked on this song two or three weeks ago with this guy called Jim Abbiss who I’ve been wanting to work with. So for six months I was like, “Please, please. Can we make this happen please, please, please?”

Amrita: Can we please have a meeting?

Connie: A hundred meetings.

Amrita: Right?

Connie: Yeah. A hundred. Not with the guy that I’m working with, but with everyone else. “Well, should we do this song? Maybe the song would turn out like this if…” I’m like, “We won’t know until we just get in the studio. Just let me…” [Laughter] So finally I’ve actually got some bass down. We had a little session and I’m really happy with the outcome. So we’re just gonna finish the rest of the songs and hopefully have an EP, an album out of it, which would be great.

Amrita: So exciting … When are you gonna come to Australia?

Connie: I want to come ASAP. I’m like this person that’s just raring to go 24/7. I have to be slowed down all the time … But definitely when the album comes out, which is either the end of the year coming [2018] or the start of the next year coming [2019], which seems ages away … So yeah, that’s the plan: a couple of things always at the start of the year and then I’m gonna go to LA and hopefully work with a couple of people and do some meetings, which will be fun. [Laughter]

Amrita: Another meeting.

Connie: I haven’t been to LA before.

Amrita: Oh, LA is fun … People always talk about New York and I used to live in New York and I much prefer LA … I hope that there’s no New Yorkers that read this that probably will be really into you. They’ll be like [puts on New York accent], “What do you mean?”

Connie: You said you loved us! [Laughter]

Amrita: But I like LA. There’s something about it. I like the pace. I like the landscape. I feel like it can go one of two ways: you can either find people from LA completely contrived and get really frustrated by it, or you can find them completely contrived and think it’s really hilarious. Like, “You’re hilarious. You can’t eat anything?” [Laughter] I don’t know. I like it. You’re gonna have a good time. It’ll be fun.

Connie: Anything to get some nice, hot weather.

Amrita: So, yeah, god. That’s the one thing about London. I was there earlier in the year and it’s funny because I’m Aboriginal and Maori and Australian, whatever that means. But I have this whole aversion to that. I was like, “Oh, you know, the colonised and the coloniser and the colony.” And I was like, “This’ll be interesting.” But you know, walking around the streets in London, it looks way more diverse than Australia.

Connie: I haven’t been to Australia but I do notice [that] even my friendship group, my acquaintances and as far as people I’ve just met, everyone is just really lots of different colours…

My close circle, we’re all pretty much mixed race. So even that’s quite interesting because we’ve all connected yet we’re all from different places. Some of us are Asian. I’m Nigerian. My flatmate is from Trinidad and he’s even a bit Chinese, and it does feel like we unite under this Britishness. But then, at the same time we’re all a bit unsure whether we want to have this Britishness? We’re like, “We love these places and these are our places that we’re from”, but at the same time … [But] I do have my own love for British personalities and stuff like that.

My ex-boyfriend, who I’m still good friends with now, has got this super cockney accent. And I like just jumping into that world of England for a bit. And being like, “Whoa. This is your world of Britain.” Then go back home to my world of Britain…

Amrita: So what’s next for your dance career? Or will you just keep working it with music.

Connie: More recently, with electronic artists, I’d love to choreograph or even dance on one of their music videos. Do something where I separate myself from music and to be involved in someone else’s music.

Amrita: And be a vessel.

Connie: Yeah. I’d quite like to do something like that.

Amrita: I’ll come choreograph for you. [Laughs]

Connie: Yeah. I’d quite like to do something like that … I feel like you’d have to train me five hours twice a week.

Amrita: We’ll just find the musicians.

Connie: And then be like, “You! Come here.”

Amrita: “You need us. We will save you with dance.”

Connie: Save them with dance. [Laughter]

Amrita: Exactly. That’s exactly what’s gonna happen. And that’s exactly how I’m going to recruit you.

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