Contributing Author: Alex Powers
Laganja Estranja is arguably one of the busiest queens from the cast of Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Between drag engagements, fashion shows in Brazil, makeup and jewelry lines, clothing designs, and a brand new single and video – ‘Gold Grill BBQ’, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping this fierce and ambitious queen. I was able to meet Ganja in Panama City Beach, FL for her July 5th appearance at the well known southern gay hotspot, Splash Bar.
Laganja worked the small performance space with fierce energy and charisma. With polished poise she dropped, kicked, spun, and grinded over every inch of the floor. The audience got a special treat when she premiered ‘Gold Grill BBQ.’ The catchy, upbeat rap song – which she describes as a ‘Ratchet-chic singalong song that is fun for barbecuing, being outdoors and being with your buddies’ – was eaten up by the enthusiastic crowd, who cheered and danced as Laganja burned down the house, twerking and busting out upside-down straddle splits for days.
Laganja also had no shortage of confidence at the mic – cracking crude jokes, throwing good-humored shade at other RuGirls, and shouting ‘YES GAWD,’ before commanding the crowd to get ‘Sickennninngggg!’ Every bit of the high-pitched, death-dropping, weed smoking, tagline-happy character we got to know on Drag Race was there, and the crowd was gagging for her. In person there is nothing “annoying” about Laganja’s drag character – she is simply a professionally trained performer whose boisterous drag persona is perfectly suited for a club setting.
[quote]“Working in gay clubs is a very specific genre of performance…people are coming to see the character they saw on TV and online. It’s easy to say ‘Oh, the death dropping is old or whatever’ but to me that’s like Mickey Mouse showing up without his ears.”[/quote]
My actual interview with Laganja took place a few hours before her Splash Bar performances. After being greeted with a hug and invited to sit on her hotel balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, my pre-interview anxiety dissipated entirely. She was friendly, professional, and casual – dressed down, out of drag, in a tank top and shorts. There were no tongue pops, exclamations of “yes gawd” and she did not once address me as “mama.”
Thousands know Laganja for her dramatic appearance on Drag Race and her endorsement and use of marijuana. There is far more to this queen, however, than drugs, crying and death drops. She began participating in theater performances at age 6, eventually developing her skills as a dancer over time before earning a BFA in dance and choreography.
“I don’t think that college is for everyone… I know plenty of people in this field who haven’t been to college and are just as successful. You have to follow your own path, for me school and education were crucial to the development of my artistry,” she said.
In college, she was able to study Missy Elliot, an artist whose style, music, and message still inspires her to this day. She explained:
‘I was able to analyze her music, how she transformed the black female body and how she opened doors for rappers at the time and for females, particularly black females. There’s a lot more to her than just ass-shaking, but I love that it comes in a gorgeous, glossy, gold-wrapped, ass-shaking package.’
After the start of Laganja’s drag career, she went on to audition as a backup dancer for Christina Aguilera’s 2012 AMA performance. The performance, which focused on expressing individuality and coming together to “Let there be Love,” called for diverse and unique performers. Knowing this, Laganja showed up for the audition in drag, but learned that they were actually casting contortionists. One thing led to another, and Laganja (as her boy persona, Jay) was cast as the only male contortionist. Though it was not necessarily her drag that got her the job, this marked Laganja’s first time showcasing her drag outside of a gay club.
‘It was one of those defining moments where I thought ‘wow this is great! But now I want to see if I can take it further,’ she explained.
She did indeed take it further, literally. Not only to RuPauls Drag Race Season 6, but onto another continent after that! This past June the San Francisco-based fashion company Mèlange took Laganja to Brazil to star in their World Cup fashion show and expose. Laganja, who was the only U.S. drag performer in the show, calls this opportunity a “mind opening” experience. The Mèlange show promoted uniqueness and self-acceptance through fashion, dance, and performance. This topic is close to Laganja’s heart and she hopes to use her drag in similar performances here in the U.S.:
[quote]“That’s something I’d really like to see that I don’t feel we have in America…there needs to be more blending and more appreciation of all the arts. In Brazil I feel like they got that idea, pulling from every genre and creating a bigger project that involves different people and collaboration.”[/quote]
In September, Mèlange will hold a U.S. fashion show with a few choice designers from Brazil – and Laganja Estranja.
A fan of the Andy Warhol creative technique, Ganja employs several professionals in fashion, music, and design as part of her creative team. She has two clothing collections as well as jewelry and makeup lines available on her website.
‘It’s one of those things that doesn’t just happen overnight, it’s a process and I’m just really lucky to be able to work with the people in those specific fields and collaborate with them. It’s just a matter of putting your art out to the right people and creating a business structure that can grow across different places,’ she explained.
Future creative plans include a second jewelry collection, which she hopes to see on sale at New York’s Patricia Field store. Laganja is currently marketing her makeup line on both internet cosmetic blogs and local L.A. stores and boutiques. In addition to all of this, she plans on someday expanding on her fashion brand, even designing pieces that are not necessarily Laganja-related.
Laganja, however, still stays true to her dance roots. As a House of Edwards queen, she hopes that she and her fabulous comrades will someday work together in the style of DWV, touring with a focus on dance. She told us:
‘It would be an incredible thing. I feel it would really change the scene and show that drag queens can do more than just lip sync. It’s just a matter of getting us crazy people down and figuring out a schedule. ”
From all of this this, it is easy to see why appearing on Drag Race All Stars 2 (which, according to Michelle Visage, is not happening this year anyway) is not necessarily a top priority right now. Despite encouragement and accolades by fans and Michelle, Laganja’s experience has taught her that her strengths are best suited for live performance and creative work.
[quote]’Michelle and I have had an incredible relationship, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs but she’s been there for me through the whole experience, which I really appreciate. Live performance is where I strive and where my light is shining the brightest. I don’t really feel I need to be on All Stars 2 to prove myself, I believe I am proving myself every day. If you follow me and look at my Instagram and look at the things I’m doing – while they might not be as well-publicized as some of the other queens – I know I’m working hard, and so do the people around me. I’m so thankful that people want me to be on it, it’s just not what I’m looking for at the moment.
‘My dreams are validated every morning when I wake up and get to do whatever I want with my life. Being able to sit here on the beach and have an interview is crazy and amazing, but I also know that I created that and I worked for it. Of course I want to be “there” and I want to be a superstar with mass appeal, but just because I’m not there yet doesn’t mean that my dreams aren’t happening every day. To get to wake up and have a roof over my head, friends that love me, a family that takes care of me, and a career I believe in, I think that’s enough validation.'[/quote]
Related story – Watch: Laganja Estranja’s ‘Gold Grill BBQ’ Music Video
Shop for Laganja’s sickening original and vintage clothing, makeup and jewelry at her online store.