women in music

Poet Jah9 on womanhood, intuition and doing what you love

Back in August, Jamaican dub poet and vocalist Jah9 braved the relative cold of Kelmarsh to grace the main stage of Shambala Festival 2016. We caught up with her after the show to talk about her experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, the power of intuition and why doing what you love matters.

As a Jamaican woman and a Rasta, do you have any comments about being female in such a male-dominated, arguably hyper-masculine culture?

I think the world is pretty male-dominated. In Jamaica, as in most of the diaspora, there is a lot of male energy and dominance in the music as in all industries. But more and more I find that women are rising, stepping forward and getting into music.

There are women who've inspired me to step forward, like Etana, Queen Ifrica and so on. And then I've seen women who've been inspired by me step forward. They're educated women who now see that music is a viable option. You're not limited to simply being a backing singer or whatever any more. You can stand up do your own thing, you know?

I own my own publishing company, I'm a producer, I have a record label. I mean, this is the information age, it doesn't take that much to be a record executive. You can do your own thing, you can create. And it's important that women especially realise this because we have a significant role to play in creation. We are connected to life, to cycle, to earth.

How did you get into music in the first place? Did you follow in the footsteps of your family?

I didn't force my way into this industry, and I wouldn't have. I don't believe in forcing myself into any situation. It was really more of a pull factor for me.

No one in my family is a musician, I am an anomaly. I had a good job, I was making good money in corporate Jamaica but it wasn't the life I felt comfortable in, I wasn't getting the fulfilment I wanted. When I stepped away from all of that and started to just serve my genie, serve my spirit, you know? Doors just started to open.

So how did that come about? Were you singing on the side in the space around your day job?

My father is a pastor so there was a lot of hymns and scriptures and singing in the church. I was on every choir and I would learn all the parts. My voice was my instrument and I was always writing poetry. I'd never written music or songs but the singing and the writing were happening at the same time.

Later in my life I got introduced to roots music. Instrumental dub gave me so much space to put my words. As a poet it really inspired and drew words out of me. I started to share what I created.

Do you think women are forced to choose between family and career in a way that men are not? Is that a choice you've had to make?

I don't have children yet because I am carefully planning how I want to tread this earth. No disrespect to anyone who has done it another way but I want to be there for my youths. I want to set a good foundation for them, even in finding the person I'm going to have my youths with.

All of these are serious decisions and while I am working on those things I can do music and spread my message. But I intend to have both.

Do you have a final message for our readers?

We have to tune in to our feminine intuition and ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Strip away all of the expectations of society and family and man and whatever and just say, what do I love? What gives me life and makes me feel good? Then do it. It will feed you. You can't doubt it, just do it. I am evidence of that, you know?

Jah9's latest album, 9 - produced by Steam Chalice Records and released on VP Records - is out now.

First published on theworldislistening.co.uk

Amy Hydes on music and theatre (and blood and guts and gore)

This Thursday we're throwing back to Mayfest and the wonderful world of women in theatre.

Amy Hydes is a theatre-maker, music-lover, actor, comedian, clown and writer. She's got a lotta hats. We caught up with Amy to find out more about theatre, music and the benefits of collaboration.

You've studied drama, English and clowning in Bristol, London and Paris. Do you think you could have built your career with a less formal eduction?

I think it depends what theatre route you want to go down. Unfortunately, now, if you're from a low income family it's very difficult to be an actor in the traditional sense. Cuts in arts funding and the expense of training make it very hard.

There are some incredibly talented actors out there but if they can't afford to go to drama school they're not going to be put in front of the right people. That's not to say you can't be plucked from obscurity but there's a lot of nepotism.

You used to live in London but now you're back in Bristol. What called you back to the South West?

It's hard to be an artist and sustain yourself. There are many brilliant actors out there but they don't have time for castings because they're doing six different day jobs. That's where collaboration comes in.

Collaboration makes it much easier to build a career. And it's so much easier to collaborate in Bristol because people go on their instincts more, they take more risks. You don't need a piece of paper that says you've been to a particular place to get you in the door, you just need to be curious.

Tell us about one of your favourite collaborations.

I work with [fellow theatre-makers] Giulia Bianchini and Grace Swordy on an immersive theatre project called The House Party Collective.

Coming from my passion for music as well as theatre, I wanted to create something where the two went hand in hand. So I rang Giules and said I wanted to do something in a house where live music and musicians were a part of the piece.

Our first show was at my house in Easton. We had five different groups all attached to a character. Each group had to meet in a secret location bearing a gift for their hosts, who were throwing a celebration when their brother turned up to fight for ownership of the house.

It all ended in a showdown in the form of vegetable poker. There was a lot of tension but it was just ridiculous really, born of the idea that adults don't play enough. Live techno and violin played throughout as the story unfolded.

We did our second show at the Stag and Hounds at Christmas and we're now looking for a venue for our third.

So you set out to marry these two passions. What, if any, conclusions did you draw about the relationship between theatre and music?

I think they're shared experiences. Good theatre often makes you question things. You come away feeling like something is buzzing inside you and you definitely get that with music too. Both theatre and music are about stories and journeys. That's why they go so well together.

As well as a theatre-maker, you're an actor, a writer, a stand-up comedian and clown. What are your experiences of being a feminist and a woman in many a man's world?

I think women in comedy especially are massively unrepresented. But it is getting better. When I first started doing gigs I'd be the only female on the bill. I remember one performance where the audience had to vote for who was best and they chose me. The MC came on to announce the winner and said, “Who knew the winner could be a female? Very strange, but here she is...”

What a dick.

Yeah, it was horrible. Some of the men on that bill had really sexist, politically misinformed material but I never see female comedians off the mark like that and I think that's because we have to work harder on our material.

That's definitely the case in theatre too. Women feel they have to prove themselves more. If you're entering a room full of men, even if it's only subconscious, you're automatically on the back foot.

What can be done about that?

With theatre the root definitely lies in more writing for women. We need to champion more female playwrights right from the grass roots. This is happening at places like Soho Theatre where they have a really good literary department and women are coming through, it's just taking a little bit longer.

But it isn't just gender inequality is it? The bias from boardroom to stage leans towards white, middle-class men. Having studied in Bristol, London and Paris, what's your take on diversity in the theatre?

Theatre is a middle class game now but that's just one strand of it. There's a lot more diverse and interesting art to be found outside the four walls of a theatre. The silver lining in the cloud of scarce funding is that artists are pushed to find alternative spaces, which can lead to far more exciting, sensory work.

Diversity also means talking about difficult things, like the refugee crisis. My friends run a community called Now We Make Tomorrow, a collection of artist's responses to the crisis. There are no rules about form, the work could be a painting or a poem, but they're gathering art to create a diverse picture of what's going on around us.

And it's about the bits in life that aren't pretty. The blood and the guts and the gore and the fear. The fear we all have bubbling up and down inside us all the time. Feeling the fear and seeing the fear and admitting that we all have it, we all feel it and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

What advice would you give to a young female performer at the start of her career?

Follow your instincts and be open. Everything’s more liberated now. You don't need to be married or own a house or have a kid by this or that time, or ever. You don't need to feel guilty for not achieving someone else's version of success. You don't have to pigeon-hole yourself socially or artistically. Just be adventurous. Do what makes you happy.

Hear, hear.

If you missed us the first time round, throwback to the The World is Listening on Mayfest Radio:

First published on theworldislistening.co.uk

What's in a voice?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of delivering a workshop for Saffron Records, Bristol's first female-only record label, for young women aged 16 – 24.

Just before its launch in July 2015, I worked closely with Saffron's Creative Director, Laura Lewis-Paul, to develop the label's tone of voice. Over a year down the line, it's great to look back at all Laura has achieved, and see how established that voice has now become.

Just the two of us

Laura and I were the only two people in the room when we first got together for a tone of voice workshop. 12 or so months on and Saffron has recruited two fantastic apprentices (A&R and digital marketing) and signed three talented young artists.

The vision, values and personality that inform, as well as its tone of voice, everything the label is and does, have really taken root and become a culture. It's an absolute joy to see.

That said, when Laura asked me to do a voice workshop with Saffron's artists I was, initially, a little stumped.

What's in a voice?

Tone of voice guidelines are there to support people communicating on an organisation's behalf. While Saffron's artists are representing their label, they're not really communicating on its behalf in quite the same way as, for example, its digital marketing apprentice.

As artists they're largely in the business of communicating self-expression. With this in mind I asked myself what, for an artist as opposed to an organisation, is voice really made of?

Voice as art (vulnerability)

As Julia Cameron, best-selling author of The Artist's Way and The Right to Write so succinctly puts it, ‘True art requires true honesty, which means that for our art's sake, as much as our own, we must learn the skill of vulnerability.’

To be human is to be vulnerable. An uncomfortable truth, which is probably why vulnerability isn't so easy to sit with.

We often want to skip past it to a place where we feel less exposed, more secure. But acknowledging and drawing from vulnerability can bring real strength, particularly for artists who trade in communicating emotion.

Voice as womanhood (courage)

It may be 2016 but the playing field still isn’t level. That's why Saffron exists.

To be a woman in a male-dominated industry can take courage which, in her excellent TED talk on the power of vulnerability, researcher Brené Brown describes as ‘telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.’

Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart, you have to be vulnerable. One hand feeds the other.

Standing on a stage sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings, you're inevitably demonstrating both. And (perhaps) for women raised in a society that accepts their right to feel and express vulnerability in a way it (sadly) does not for men, womanhood and courage have a notable dynamic.

Voice as story (connection)

Stories cut to the core of who we are. They connect us to ourselves and each other.

Singers and songwriters are, of course, storytellers, connectors. They connect with themselves to connect with their audience.

This storyteller / listener relationship is old as hills and a cornerstone of the human experience. Any consideration of the artist's voice must surely take story and connection into account.

Voice for communication

We all have values and vulnerabilities, stories and beliefs. The more we understand them the better we communicate.

I love working on tone of voice with people and their businesses, understanding and helping them share their passions with the world.

If you're interested in tone of voice and would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch.