There’s a new native narrative, and queer indigenous rapper Dio Ganhdih is writing it.
“Is it you or I who’s the bigger freak,” raps Dio Ganhdih on her new track “Pussy Vortex”. The song is an anthem for everything that happens when freaks align between the sheets, including the sometimes-toxic entanglements that ensue. That’s the kind of upfront delivery that’s at the core of Dio’s style – “Imma say it real quick, Imma say it real rude” is how she starts her song “You Can’t G a G” – which feels like, real, but in a never-too-serious way. Which is a useful edge to have when you’re a queer indigenous lyricist trying to push cultural resiliency and resist settler-colonialism, while also day-jobbing in the tech industry. Dio says she delivers her rhymes “from deep within Mother Nature’s beauterus,” so her lyrics like “I heard that upstate pussy was gorgeous, damn girl, Imma get lost in the forest,” take on a whole new meaning when you see where she’s coming from.
Having just released the video for “Pussy Vortex”, Dio is teaming up with rapper Chhoti Maa for a west coast tour that stretches from Portland to Tijuana. She’s also got her first EP, Do It Ourselves, coming soon, plus another music video in the works. We caught up with Dio to find out more about the rapper’s roots, where she’s going, and what she’s eating on the way.
How did you get into rapping and making music?
I've been making music since I was little. I started playing trumpet at the awkward age of ten and kept playing for another eight years. I did everything – concert band, jazz band, marching band, pit orchestra. It wasn't until I moved to Brooklyn, at 22, that I began producing and composing music on my own, and for the first time without a trumpet. With rapping, I started writing as a preteen, using poetry and journaling to express my seemingly never ending stream of opinions. In college, we’d freestyle for fun, make li’l diddys. But then I took a class called Intro to Hip Hop: a Philosophical Discourse where we had to freestyle, battle, cypher. I got an A+. And that's when I matched my writing to rhythm and my poetry evolved into lyrics.
What's the “new native narrative” that you're trying to get across?
I've been in so many situations where I’ve been the only Native American or indigenous person in the space, maybe even ever. People have the wildest ideas of who contemporary Native Americans are since their perspective is largely based off of what they've “learned” from our portrayal in the media and the lies disseminated through history class. The narrative I want to re-write and gain control of is, one, we’re not extinct, and two, we exist in many forms. Through my lyricism and performance, my artistry creates a new story of what indigenous folk can be and do (which is anything!). My narrative decolonizes by celebrating my heritage while still proclaiming my individuality. But that's just my narrative, obviously I cannot speak for all natives.
The space-themed visuals from the “Pussy Vortex” video, and the sci-fi sounds of “Smashin,“ have this extraterrestrial feel that made me think of that Young Thug interview where he says "I’m not from here. You heard of the new earth that they found? It's a new earth, but it's like ten times bigger than this earth. I’m probably from there." Origins and place are obviously a big part of your music. Can you tell us a little bit about where you're from?
I'm fusho a time traveler but most certainly an earthling indigenous to Turtle Island. I was born on Haudenosaunee Territory, on what is now known as Upstate New York. Today’s colonized terms call it a reservation on the Onondaga Nation, which, along with the Mohawk Nation, is a part of the Iroquois Confederacy. But I’m not actually Onondaga, I’m Mohawk through my father and my mother is Cherokee and Armenian. Knowing where you come from is a privilege, especially for natives, who through forced removal and assimilation were stripped of their homelands and cultures. Being a queer indigenous person, I’ve been searching for a community that accepts and can hold my intersections. A large part of my identity felt validated once I left upstate NY. Like many, I found refuge in Brooklyn among QTPOC communities. But yeah, now I’m doing the bi-coastal life between Brooklyn and S. Berkeley in California. The East Bay is bae as fuck right now.
There’s a great sense of humor in your songs, like in “Guns or daughter (sarah palin sample)”. It’s funny and still danceable. How do you like to use humor in your music?
Humor is my survival tool. When people ask how I got my abs, I lie and tell them from laughing. But really, the only way I can move through the world is with comedic breaks. Humor is relatable and available, a necessary element in healing. It's a reprieve from all the processing, grieving, shedding of trauma, and bullshit that we carry. Plus, it stings a li’l less when realities are muddled with satire.
What have been some defining moments for you as an artist? How do you measure your success?
I mean, having my first music video, Pussy Vortex, premiere on The Fader was pretty dope. Performing at SoundCloud’s Summer Party in Berlin was also a highlight. A defining moment that really stands out is my one and a half hour sunrise set at Burning Man last year. That was the most cathartic set where I got to verbally push three people out of the space who were wearing headdresses. That was a moment when I realized the power I wielded, both with being on stage and having a mic in my hand. And shit, also being a native in that space because no one else says or does the shit I do. Who’s gonna ride for my natives (at Burning Man, in the tech industry, on the street in Brooklyn) if I don't? Success is measured personally by authenticity, how fearless I feel in performance and creation. It works out because the more real I get, the more people fuck with it (me).
You have a west coast tour coming up in June with Chhoti Maa. How did y’all connect? And what all can we expect from your tour?
I connected with Chhoti Ma at her show in Oakland that her collective, BrujaLyfe, hosted last year. Once I heard her spit, I knew we had to work together. She is the best out there, like actually. You can expect a fuck ton of indigenous pride, community building, decolonizing everything from sex to gender to food, sharing of medicines and a supreme collection of feminine energies. We will be doing radio shows, hosting workshops, as well as performing sets off each of our own upcoming albums. Lituation times two.
When you talk about “decolonizing our diets,” how does that play out for you personally, on the day-to-day?
You know, my research into decolonizing our diets stemmed from hearing POC call eating organic and non-processed foods, “eating like a white person.” And I was like “nahhhh, we can't let white people have vegetables.” Like, I know for a fact eating corn beans and squash was an agricultural technique mastered by the Iroquois that has nothin’ to do with white people. But the cost of healthy foods is the prohibiter, and organic foods are seen as a privilege accessible to white people. I drink mad water and make a fuck ton of medicinal tea, I eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, and have the privilege of living near Berkeley Bowl in California.
What else do you have coming up? Anything you want to shout out?
I’m dropping an EP with my producer Sim Seezy called Do It Ourselves. I'm also working on a music video with FOL Collective for my next single, “Smashin” featuring Sim Seezy. Otherwise, I’m starting diversity consulting business for the tech industry. I’ll be running unconscious bias workshops and diversity trainings. Mad soft skills. This is based off the work I did at SoundCloud, as an unconscious bias facilitator and champion for QTPOC inclusivity in tech.