Arts Interview: By Many Means

The Depth And Power Of Linqua Franqa

Maggie Grimason
5 min read
Linqua Franqa
Linqua Franqa is the project of performer, poet, politico, activist Mariah Parker. (Stacey Piotrowska)
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Georgia’s Mariah Parker, AKA Linqua Franqa is a powerhouse. You could describe her work through many channels—she is a hip-hop artist, a poet, a writer, a linguist (holding a master’s, currently working on a PhD) and a legislator as the Athens-Clarke County District 2 County Commissioner (she was sworn in not on the Quran or Bible, but a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X). Her convictions are powerful, and translate to her work in each and every field.

On Saturday, Sept. 29 she brings her wisdom, energy and words to The Tannex (1417 Fourth Street SW) at 7:45pm supported by a troupe of talented locals ($10). Ahead of that event, she exchanged a few e-mails with us.

Alibi: Have you always been a creative? Do you have any distinct first memories of discovering the joy of creation?

Linqua Franqa: I have written and wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I wrote poems, stories, plays, played journalist—you name it, I was running around writing it or writing about it from the moment I learned to write. It’s not a memory of the joy of creation so much as a memory of discovering the power of language and the beginning of my relationship with it. But my mom would take me to Barnes & Noble just to run around and look at the books as a kid, and I vividly recall getting so overwhelmed by the possibilities of language by browsing all the different kinds of information and the infinite ways of presenting it—that I’d become nauseous and dizzy and upset and sit, staring in catatonic wonderment for the whole drive home and sometimes for what felt like hours afterward.

Why did you choose the name Linqua Franqa?

A lingua franca is a language used to communicate across cultural boundaries. English is a lingua franca, thanks to imperialism and the internet. I think hip-hop is a lingua franca, too—and I hope my particular brand of hip-hop [can] be a lingua franca of a different kind, communicating across worlds of music to also reach the indie pop sad kids and white liberal resistance moms and the like. Lingua franca also means “frank language” or “frank tongue” in Spanish and Portuguese. Given the ubiquity of the phrase in linguistics, anthropology and various romance languages, I also wanted to adopt the two q’s to differentiate myself. I want my music to be a lingua franca, but it’s also my music.

Do you think of yourself first and foremost as a writer or a musician?

To this day I think of myself more as a writer than anything else. Put me in the room with [performance series] Apartment Sessions or in the studio with Joel Hatstat and I’m pretty instantly slump-shouldered, profusely apologizing that I can’t make a song work, that I can’t really sing, that I don’t really know what I’m trying to make happen sonically ’cause I’m not really a musician.

How does your study of linguistics inform your music?

I think having studied the stress patterns of English—that we preSENT a PRESent, obJECT to OBjects, perMIT a PERmit—as well as the combinability of affixes—how to turn horizon into horizontal into horizontality—as well as sociophonetics. For example, that a lot of times black folks collapse the distinction between aye and ah in our pronunciation, which enables us to rhyme rhymin with ramen—I think studying all this for me has been like practicing scales and arpeggios on the piano. Once you control the basics, it’s crazy what you can do with them.

You were sworn in as commissioner on a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Are there other texts that have been foundational for your life and work?

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Aesop Rock’s Skelethon, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

Do you see your work as commissioner and as an artist as different means to the same end? Or do they function differently in your life?

It’s all to the same end. Performance is more transgressive—just purely to poke holes in the system as it is—while politics is more hegemonic—deliberately and thoughtfully and strategically trying to break down that system entirely and put something new and better in its place—but it’s all to the same end.

What is your highest aspiration for what someone might walk away from one of your shows experiencing?

The anger you feel about all that constricts you—be it racial or gender microaggression, police violence in the news, your shitty job, your access to healthcare—that anger is power and the world needs you to channel it.
Linqua Franqa

Linqua Franqa heads to The Tannex on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Stacey Piotrowska

Linqua Franqa

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