Rhea Ramjohn is a creative dynamo with a passionate, infectious, and human character to boot. In addition to leading a host of other meaningful projects, her podcast Tanti Table is a beautiful member of our Bear Radio family and a valuable resource to be reckoned with. We sat down with her to discuss her dedication to representation, Berlin, and the danger of labelling Tanti Table as ‘just another chat show’.
Hi Rhea! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Rhea Ramjohn and I am the creator and host of the podcast Tanti Table, a podcast where my co-hosts and I speak with incredible creatives, thinkers, writers, artists, and activists here in Berlin.
Have you always been interested in audio?
Yeah, I’ve been a fan of audio for as long as I can remember. I remember listening to NPR in the early 2000s and having this sense of wonder at the fact that I had this really great conversation just resting in my pocket. It has always just fascinated me.
So what was your first favorite podcast?
My absolute favourite back in the day was Two Dope Queens which sadly is no longer in action. The moment it concluded was actually quite seminal for me. I remember suddenly becoming very conscious of the space it left behind and how sparse it was. There were so few podcasts like it at the time, shows led by fem voices who sounded and looked like them. It was this gap in the market that inspired me to begin Tanti Table. I wanted to populate that sparse with my own dope friends, voices that weren’t CIS or white or heteronormative and had important things to say.
Tanti stands for thinkers, anecdotes, news, taboos, and intersectionality, however, the word also has connotations to female figures and unity. Tell us about the story behind the name of the podcast.
Well, I’m a poet at heart and a writer by profession so I’ve always been super fascinated by words. I love how they can be poetic, but I also enjoy hiring them out as these vehicles for other meanings, you know? I knew I wanted the title of the podcast to do both.
The first meaning of Tanti Table is rooted in my own Trinidadian culture where Tanti means aunty. The use of Tanti in this sense kind of paints us out to be these old tantis cackling and sharing over a kitchen table, which is hilarious to me, but also meaningful.
From there, I decided to use each of the letters in Tanti as an anagram to describe a topic that we would tackle on the show, so for example, we wanted to speak about the thinkers who inspire us. We wanted to share our anecdotes and the news. We also needed to discuss the taboos that were existing in the cultures of people sitting at our table and the intersectionality of it them too.
That word, intersectionality, is one of the most important ones of them all and was coined by Kimberly Grimshaw in the 80s. I wanted to have something in the title that demonstrates that this platform is more than just a chat show. It has meaning and importance and it matters. I mean sure, my co-hosts and I often talk about our days or joyful experiences, but we also share stories of how certain forms of discrimination affect these aspects of our lives and how we deal with that, channel it, and heal from it.
Absolutely. People are often quick to cast conversations driven by fems into a ballpark of being unimportant ‘chat show’ or ‘chick flick’ conversations. This belittling is present in all media including podcasting. Is it something that you often think about?
Yeah. I mean the number one podcaster in the world is Joe Rogan which is just absurd. There is nobody out there who is more mundane and more irr-fucking-relevant than that man. Sorry for swearing. It just frustrates me to see someone like him occupy such a public platform.
There are such dynamic people in this world who have so many more important stories to share than someone like him. Those people don’t get to have his platform nor do they get to be included in his conversations because of things like marginalization, and privilege, and that seems immensely unfair to me. I recognize that I have the privilege to work with Bear Radio and to feel encouraged by my community and create in the way that I do. I just wish more people had that opportunity.
In addition to Tanti Table, you’re also a co-founder of Black Brown Berlin, a platform that exists to empower communities of color in the city. Could you tell us about this initiative?
Of course. I started BBB with my co-founders Chanel Knight and Femi Oyewole in 2018. We basically began the initiative to create an online platform where black and brown people could find other black and brown people in Berlin. We created an open space for people to submit their events, share articles, and input their businesses on an interactive map so that users can locate specific services that are run by primarily Black or Brown owners. We also create cultural events and work with the anti-discrimination council branch of the German government.
There is often this misconception that Berlin isn’t diverse or multicultural, and that’s just not the case. Black and brown people have been here since the beginning of time. We need to show people that Berlin is more than just one thing. It’s more than just guys in college skateboarding, or edgy subway stations or parties, there are more communities here than anyone could fathom.
In addition to Tanti Table, you’re also the host of Hormonal, a podcast created by the menstrual health app, Clue. Tell us about this project.
Well, Clue was really smart to come out with this podcast and they were, of course, genius for choosing me to host it – I’m joking. The truth is that Clue has been bashing the pavements in support of reproductive rights for decades and this podcast, well, it’s something really special.
Clue understood from the beginning that people should have the right to information about their reproductive systems. They also understand that people’s reproductive data should never be sold and insist on using non-gendered language. These two stances really attracted me to Clue. Not everyone with reproductive systems can have periods. Not everyone with ovaries can have babies. Reproductive health is so much more complex than that and our awareness and acknowledgment of this complexity of that is a good thing. It means that we’re evolving. It shows that we’re learning.
Tell us then about the podcast, Hormonal.
Hormonal is a space where I meet with scientists, doctors, activists, and other voices to discuss our hormones and how they influence us. We speak about everything from the contraceptive pill to menopause and even just everyday health conditions like cysts and fibroids. Everybody knows someone with these conditions. You just don’t know that you know them. Hormones are a normal aspect of human life. It’s important that we’re informed about them, and feel empowered by them, rather than being in the dark.
Each of the projects I’ve mentioned seems to be charged with the intention of filling in a space left by mainstream media that has ignored essential truths and active contributors. Is using your voice to fill that space something you’re conscious of when selecting your projects?
I appreciate you recognizing that and yes, it’s definitely something that I have always been mindful of. I just feel that representation is so important. While it has been achieved to some extent in some larger, metropolitan spaces, it hasn’t been secured everywhere. Until I feel that it has been I don’t think it will stop being a reason I choose projects or make a conscious effort to serve my community. I want to see what my city actually looks like in films. I want to hear voices I recognize through audio and in advertising. I want to see a wheelchair ramp in front of every venue and building. Until then, I won’t stop fighting for representation and action.
And what voices do you feel inspire that feeling in you?
There are so many. I mean, Paul Keens-Douglas from Trinidad, Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lorde, Nina Simone. All these people have been a huge part of my healing, creative, and processing journeys.
To finish, what is your favorite sound?
Wow. That’s poetic. Ok, I am just going to say the three sounds that have popped into my head and then put them in a setting.
So, you’re on a beach and you hear a gentle set of waves slowly crashing in on the beach but you also hear some music in the distance. The music isn’t too loud, just loud enough for you to dance to, and oh, you also have a sandwich. Yes. You’re biting into a crunchy, really delicious sandwich, one with a nice crust and really great lettuce on the inside. Yummy now I’m also hungry.
interview by Alice O’Brien, for Bear Radio