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Women in Music: A celebration of greatness and call for respect

The Scottish Feminist Collective, a foundation created in September by feminist societies in universities across Scotland, have recently fronted an empowering campaign celebrating and supporting women in the music industry. It is unfortunately no secret that the music industry is a largely male-dominated environment in which people of marginalised groups face many hurdles when attempting to make their mark, but with foundations like the Scottish Feminist Collective, we can make steps towards change for the better and look forward to a brighter and more equal future.

Talking to Frances Roberts, president of the Feminist Society here in Edinburgh, and co-founder of The Scottish Feminist Collective, she describes the ethos behind establishing the foundation, “We co-founded the Scottish Feminist Collective two months ago as a collaboration between university feminist societies across Scotland, aiming to establish connections of support and activism to amplify the work of women.”

This series called Women in Music is the first of many projects headed by the community and through live Q&As and performances, it celebrated women musicians from across the UK. The need for such support is clear to Roberts who knows that despite improvements being made, there is still a long way to go for women musicians to get the recognition they deserve. For Roberts, this sentiment was made especially clear during lockdown, as the inability to record in studios gave artists greater freedom to express themselves. “The musicians recorded their songs at home which, while necessary for Covid restrictions, gave them the opportunity to express their raw talent. So often in the industry, women musicians’ voices are overproduced and tampered with.”

“The hypersexualisation of women in music videos is indicative of the continued prominence of the male gaze in modern society and the sheer lack of admiration for their creativity is deeply disturbing. We wanted to give the performers a platform to portray their authentic selves and perform songs that they wanted to share rather than the perception of what other people want to hear.”

It is no surprise that being involved in such an important project is especially inspiring and rewarding for Roberts who shared, “It’s extremely empowering to see women artists thrive in a landscape which is frequently exclusionary towards those that don’t fit the tight patriarchal mould. “It’s been truly wonderful to see people discovering these incredible artists and appreciating them for the authentic talent that they represent.” Roberts was involved in many facets of this project, not only fronting the project on an organisational basis but helping to film and edit the performances. “It was such an incredible experience!” She recalls, “A lot of work but an immense sense of satisfaction seeing it all come together.”

For many, lockdown has been an opportunity for reflection, both on ourselves and on society, and if there is any silver lining to the disaster that has been 2020, it is the birth of foundations like The Scottish Feminist Collective, established to work towards solutions for the problems that existed in the “old normal”.

“The absence of live music at venues and festivals across the world this year has made many of us miss the experience and atmosphere of going to see our favourite bands and artists. However this void has also allowed us time to think and reflect on the negative aspects of gigs for women as extremely man- dominated environments. Sexual assault is endemic in an unregulated gig culture and they are increasingly unsafe places for women to be. Festivals have also come under scrutiny in recent years for failing to promote diverse and inclusive headline acts, with a familiar pattern of man bands year after year.”

Furthermore, as the government cuts funding for the arts, Roberts fears private sponsors will favour the artists who fit the patriarchal mould, a safe bet for making profit. All the more reason to support women musicians during this time. “These kinds of discourses were a primary motivation for our live Q&A sessions with the artists. We sought to unpack the intersection of the personal and political to uncover the kind of music industry we want to build in a post-Covid world.”

Live Q&A sessions gave musicians a chance to share their experiences and air their concerns. This came accompanied with recorded performances from artists living across Scotland, showcasing a range of talent and instruments. Nineteen year old North London gal Jeea opens her set with her own song ‘Overdrive’. She delivers strong yet lighthearted lyrics, a rare addition for the pianist, on love, healing and growth in a rich smooth timber that contrasts with the jaunty and playful piano accompaniment. The musician has been playing the piano since she was young and her skill is evident in her confidence and self-assured playing style. Next she treated us to a selection of her own classical pieces, the second of these is ‘The Lockdown Waltz’. Jeea harnesses her unquestionable classical talent to not only create work that is contemporary in sound and style like ‘Overdrive’, but also as a young woman, reshapes the mould of what a classical composer should be.

Jessie Irvn Rose blesses us with strikingly beautiful performances of her songs ‘Sunday’, ‘Light’ and finally ‘Nutmeg’. She is filmed sitting in the stairwell of what looks like university accommodation and the low-key setting and stripped down acoustic guitar truly let her flawless vocals take centre stage. Choosing the stairwell was a stroke of genius as the acoustics feel akin to the vaulted ceiling of a church and her voice rings out in crystal clear brilliance. Jessie fills the stark space with her voice and clearly enjoying the echo her setting brings, she strings together ethereal vocal progressions.

Finally in contrast to the long practiced talent of Jessie and Jeea we hear the exciting beginnings of creative achievement in eighteen year old Sofia, who picked up the guitar just two weeks prior to filming after moving from Argentina to Edinburgh for study. Already fluent on the piano and a dab hand at writing and singing, her first song on the guitar celebrates autumn in Edinburgh, something she had not experienced until moving here. The imagery of falling leaves and blushing autumnal colours intertwine with the emotional themes of love and loss. The carefully sculpted lyrics create a moving storyline enhanced by the artist’s delicate delivery.

All the musicians included in the project – which aren’t just women but also include non-binary artists – are truly a documentation of the talent we have to offer, and further proof, if more is needed, that women musicians should be celebrated.

Image: Eve Miller