On a blustery evening in Hamburg’s harbor, Zebra Katz is in the newly opened Elbphilharmonie, the city’s acoustically-blessed concert hall on the edge of the Elbe river. Inside the glassy superstructure, he hypnotizes his audience, luring them into a sweeping club night of dance and sweat. The Jamaican-American singer’s stage persona is meant to evoke the sleek, razzle-dazzle pelt of the animal from which he borrows his name, and is a mix of his club beats, spoken word, and ballroom voguing chants.
The man behind the stage persona is Ojay Morgan, whose roots in performance art gave rise to his alter ego. In 2012 he released a breakout hit “Ima Read” and was cast as part of a new wave of queer hip-hop artists emerging onto the scene. And though he broke out in tandem with gender-fluid artists such as Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz resists the easy categorization as another queer artist calling back to the Harlem ballroom culture. More than the sum of his gender, he is vocal about critics pigeonholing him by his sexuality. In the five years since his debut, the singer has proven he has the range and his work avoids simple stereotypes—racking up an impressive list of collaborations, from Rick Owens, to Busta Rhymes, and most recently, Gorillaz.
Before the show, Eva Kelley sat down with Zebra Katz in his dressing room to talk about the politics of stereotyping, moving to Germany, and falling in love.
Interview: Eva Kelley
Photography: Jonas Lindstroem