The man behind the mask

Tony in his studio. Picture: Issie Soudy
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His songs have racked up millions of plays across the internet, but Tony Jeffery still faces constant censorship of his alter ego, Tonetta. Issie Soudy reports.

There is a naked man on the computer screen in a tiny apartment, dancing provocatively and lip-synching to music. He’s dressed in nothing but a wig, a mask decorated as a woman’s face and g-string.

A wall of shower curtains serve as the backdrop. “I press record and BAM, Tonetta appears again!”

The man behind the mask of his eccentric and colourful YouTube life is Tony Jeffery, a 72-year-old retired upholsterer and Canadian native who is better known to his global underworld of fans as his female alter ego “Tonetta”. 

Following the anguish of a divorce and a mental breakdown in the early 1980s, Tonetta’s interest and talent for music thrived.

“I lost the kids, I lost the house, I lost everything. Someone said so you have to go through great pain in order to let everything out of you and I think that’s what happened to me,” he says.

Tonetta perfoms.

He began to write and record music with cheap equipment bought from a pawnshop and would “give away” his songs on cassette and VHS tapes to people in downtown Toronto. 

He explained his method. “You know how there is tape left at the end of a VHS? I would put a song on so it would be a surprise for people.”

Tonetta was inspired by LGBT queer culture – he has fond memories of attending the Pride March annually. 

“I’ll just never know how people put the gays down. They’re very good people,” he says. “They’re soft-hearted, they have feelings and gave me the idea of lip-syncing. I’m doing the same thing but I’m using my own voice and my own words.”

Fast forward to the introduction of YouTube and the age of social media, Tonetta recalls hearing about the video-sharing website, but could not type and did not have access to the internet.

“I got someone to help me open an account. A guy downtown helped me, you know, people on the street help you. Ten bucks an upload he charged.” Tonetta’s music spread like wildfire, gaining fans from all corners of the globe.

Long battle with censorship

He fought against YouTube censorship policies when his content was regularly taken down under the claim of nudity violations – which he says were false. It was financially strenuous. 

“I had very little money and had to pay rent. They (YouTube) have shut me down 50 times!” he says.

What they don’t like is me dressing up as Tonetta. They sent me a message saying that I’m never allowed to open up an account again, so the very next day I opened up another account.

He now has hundreds of songs spread across multiple social media platforms, with themes from sexuality and drugs to everyday life and inanimate objects. 

Some of his most popular songs are Drugs, Drugs, Drugs, 81 Inch Prime Ass, and Pressure Zone which have gained millions of views collectively. 

Victorian College of The Arts student Braedyn Dyer has been following Tonetta’s social media presence for eight years, after being introduced to his work by a friend in high school.

“I was immediately disturbed and intrigued by what I had just viewed. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer strangeness. A senior man dancing to these sexually provocative songs in a thong! I grew to love his music. The man is immensely talented and unique artist.” 

Dyer still regularly keeps up with Tonetta’s latest music on social media.

Tonetta is still in a constant battle with social media censorship. He sells his art on his Facebook account and continues to upload his music YouTube almost daily. 

“My music is out there and it’s free. I’m on an old age pension. I don’t need the money. I want ALL people to enjoy it.”