Some music festivals start off with kind of a whimper. That ain’t gonna be the case the weekend at Houston Whatever Fest, though. If you’re showing up early to get the full festival experience, do yourself a favor and pregame a little, because the first artist of the day plans to take you from zero to crunk right off the bat. His name is Vockah Redu, and you’re going to be awfully surprised at how fast he gets your ass shaking.
“I like that people be surprised, because I be surprised even myself, when I see videos of the show,” Vockah says with a smile. “I’ll be like, ‘Whaaaat, did I do that?’ I go into this trance of just pure party.”
It’s a trance he’d like to share with you as soon as possible. Don’t worry, he won’t be hard to find. Just show up at Whatever Fest and look for the tall, androgynous man blessed with the abs (and braids) of an NFL defensive back wearing clothes that must have been purchased in the ghetto on Neptune. When he steps onstage, it will appear as if he has been plugged into an electrical socket, and everyone around him — man or woman, black, white or medium-brownish — will be dancing.
“We’re going to have a party, and that’s it,” he says. “It’s Whatever!”
Vockah Redu is from New Orleans, the proud home of Bounce music, and the MC’s tunes are steeped in the stuff: the call-and-response rhymes, the outrageous dancing, the non-stop energy, all of it. Redu, who studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) as a youth, began trying out the native hip-hop style of his home town back in 1997. These days, he prefers to come up with his own labels for what he does. More freedom that way.
“My music, I call it Pop Rock Neo Vock, and that’s just simply a mixture of me doing what I want to do,” he says.
After building a name for himself in the scene there, Vockah left New Orleans in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He’s been in Houston ever since, and back on his music hustle since 2010. He’s worked with legends and he’s toured in Europe. Where Bounce music is revered, he’s a star — just not in his adopted city.
“In Houston, I’m like their secret, almost, because I play, like, little-little venues and people don’t really know I live here,” Redu says. “I live here, but people never know I’m here until I got to South By and say, ‘Oh, I’m right up the street in Houston!’ So, I get more bookings in Austin than I do here.
“Some people know me, but I don’t know,” Vockah sighs. “It’s like a networking kind of thing. I just have to get out more.”
When he does get out, he makes an impression. A couple of his recent local gigs have been opening for acts that have little to do with hip-hop: punk legend Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine at the Continental Club, and psych brood Indian Jewlery at Walters. It’s no exaggeration that those crowds’ jaws were dropped and their minds were blown by the twerk orgy instigated by Mr. Redu and his faithful backup dancers. The Cru, as they’re known, features a revolving cast of dudes whose butt-cheek athleticism will simply shame you.
“The Cru started out with me in 1997, and it was all female!”, Vockah says. “They started having babies and kids, so they couldn’t run with me like we normally do it. So, I had got guys. I chose them and gave them routines and knowledge on how I wanted background dancers to be.”
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With Vockah Redu and the Cru performing daring feats booty-popping for the duration of his set on Saturday, it’s almost impossible not to begin grooving your damn self. You think Jello Biafra’s fans showed up planning to dance? Ha! They did anyway. And if you show up early at Whatever Fest on Saturday, it’s a good bet that you’ll find yourself shaking it fast, too.
“The key to getting people moving is to show your freeness to them,” Vockah says. “I show people that it’s OK, and that there’s no right way or wrong way, when it comes to self. If you feel like you want to dance, wiggle your arm and call that a dance. That’s your dance. We’re not here to judge.
“When I’m up onstage, I know I’m being judged, but I show people that you don’t have to be that way,” he continues. “You’re free to do whatever, so this festival is going to be the perfect setting. Feel free to do Whatever!”
Vockah Redu performs at 1:10 p.m. on Houston Whatever Fest's Remax Innerloop/Ivy Lofts Stage.