Interview: Sahira Q is ready to return to Peterborough’s stages

“What a drag queen is is combining multiple things into this performance piece. Sure, the final effect is a three-minute performance, let’s say, but the layers that have been put into it are all different artistic aspects.”

You’d be forgiven if you believed that Sahira Q was the first drag queen in Peterborough with how quickly the local drag scene has grown in popularity, following their lead.

“I’m definitely not the first queen in this city,” they said, “but I’m definitely one of the first to get the ball rolling in terms of performances, I would say.”

Sahira Q is Said Jiddawy’s drag persona. They are Peterborough drag royalty, donning outfits in every colour of the rainbow and graphic eye makeup that would make a TikTok influencer envious. A “mother” or mentor to a growing “drag house” of performers, Sahira Q is a queen of all trades: they dance, lipsync, DJ, and still have time to get some dark comedy into a show, too.

“I love making the Peterborough audience uncomfortable in terms of race, because it’s so easy for me,” they said, having emigrated from Tanzania to Canada over a decade ago. “And of course, I do it in a socially aware way, where it might be jokingly said, but it’s also based in truth.”

The end of winter COVID measures are upon Ontario and Sahira Q’s spring months are already booking up quickly, including a sold-out show with Canada’s Drag Race season two winner Icesis Couture at the Gordon Best Theatre. Ahead of the show, Peterborough Currents sat down with the performer to talk about their artistic practices and how they got into drag.

Sahira Q wears a pink clownlike look with a pink latex foolscap.
Peterborough drag queen Sahira Q loves to play with geometric and cartoonish looks in their performances. (Photo: Sahira Q)

Peterborough Currents: First things first: how are you two years into the current pandemic?

Sahira Q: I’m okay. I think I’ve just been using this time to grow what I want my artistic vision to be, and grow my collection of wardrobes. I’ve just been sewing, mostly, because I don’t really have anything else to do.

PC: What’s the biggest thing that you miss about performing?

SQ: This is kind of a hard question for me! The biggest thing I miss about performing is coming up with new concepts and jokes to share with folks. I like to think that I’m a funny and creative person, and I enjoy sharing my ideas with others to bring them joy. Like any performer, I enjoy sharing the performance with others.

PC: How did you find yourself in the Peterborough arts scene? What keeps you here?

SQ: I was doing a lot of schooling in Ottawa, and then in Toronto for graphic design. After I finished my degree, I was floating – being a little loner, trying to find a place to call home, basically. And a friend of mine who lived in Peterborough at the time, said, “You should come back to Peterborough.” And I was like, “You know what, it’s a great idea. I will.” And I did. And I just never left since then. The community is like family.

PC: Tell me a bit more about how you got into drag.

SQ: This is such a fun story: Eve 6000, who is my official drag mother. She’s also on Canada’s Drag Race season two. She put me in drag for the very first time after we met on a hookup app, Grindr! I went over and I saw she had a bunch of drag stuff laying around. I was like, “Oh my God, you do drag?” And she said, “Yes, I do.” And instead of hooking up, she put me in drag.

PC: And you’re a drag mother to a few people in town as well, right?

SQ: Yeah, I have a litter of my own. There’s Betty Baker; Just Janis; and then not officially my children, but they’re offspring: Banshee Waylon and Madeleine.

PC: Tell me a bit more about the Peterborough drag scene. Is it growing? How does it compare and contrast with the drag culture(s) we see in pop culture representations?

SQ: I’m honestly excited to see Peterborough drag grow and flourish. I’m proud to see my children do so many things, and on their own too – without my direction or anything like that. I would say it just boils down to like the family, the community. I feel like if I went to a gig out in Toronto on two consecutive nights, it will be two different crowds, whereas if it’s in Peterborough two consecutive nights, it will be the same audience – which is really reassuring when you go out to perform and you see the same friendly face the following night.

PC: I see drag performance as part of the local arts scene, though I imagine not everyone will agree with me about this, instead seeing drag as sort of non-arts performance entertainment. Do you agree? What do you think qualifies a performance or practice to be artistic?

SQ: Well, that’s like, do you categorize dancing as art? Do you categorize singing as art? Do you categorize makeup artistry as art? What layer do you want to look at and be like, “This part of it is art”? Because what a drag queen is is combining multiple things into this performance piece. Sure, the final effect is a three-minute performance, let’s say, but the layers that have been put into it are all different artistic aspects. If you look at it individually, you find, “Oh, this is this art form, this is this art form, and this is this art form.” It’s multi-faceted.

Sahira Q performs in Peterborough, Ontario on August 28, 2021. (Video: courtesy of Sahira Q)

PC: Speaking of which, you’re also a graphic designer and a visual artist. How do those expressions work into your artistic presence as a drag queen?

SQ: For me, I draw a lot of my inspiration from cartoons and 2D animation, and I try to translate that into my drag by using really graphic elements on my face, and by painting using different colors. I love to experiment with colors.

PC: Is there anything that you think the local art scene is missing or needs to highlight?

SQ: I feel like we just all need to support one another. I feel like there is very little bleedover; people stay within their lanes. And I feel like you’re not gonna do anything fun or learn anything new if you just stay in your lane. Just step out of your box a little bit.

PC: How might Peterborough-Nogojiwanong and the surrounding areas better support performance artists like yourself, and artistry more broadly?

SQ: Oh, by just coming out to the gig. Obviously!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Catch Sahira Q at a show in the Peterborough area soon:

Hot as El: Drag Brunch / The El P / Sunday March 13 / 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. shows

Heels & Hooves 2 / Farmhill Weddings / Sunday March 20 / 11 a.m.

Mother Knows Best / Gordon Best Theatre / Saturday April 2 / 7 p.m.

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