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Thursday, September 17, 2:00pm - 3:00pm: SPOTLIGHT PANEL (Live Presentations)

Ladies of the Night: Resistant Youth Who Shaped Pop Culture & the Underground

  • Becoming Brujas: Latinx Youth Led by Ibeyi, Princess Nokia and La Bruja de Texcoco, Michelle Villegas Threadgould (writer) 
  • Sirens of Social Change: Black Female Musicians of the Resistance, Lynn Brown (writer)
  • My Band Was There: Young Women at the Forefront of the Post 9/11 Underground in NYC, Solvej Schou (writer, musician)  
  • Defiant Youth: Womanhood, Femininity and Gender Justice in Caribbean Pop Music, Meagan Sylvester (writer, scholar)

 Presentation Descriptions

Is it truly a movement if it isn’t shaped by young women from the underground? While young women at the forefront of resistant art movements have often been demonized, sidelined or forgotten, many of these innovators shaped, propelled and made room for the powerful and poetic sounds of feminist resistance today. In this panel, female journalists, poets and musicians will discuss: young Latinxs like Ibeyi and Princess Nokia reclaiming brujeria through electro-soul, hip-hop and son jarocho; and unsung indie bands such as the Hissyfits, One & Twenty and other female artists advocating for equality post 9/11 in New York City. We will also discuss the Black women musicians from Ma Rainey to Lizzo who have used music to address racial violence, cultivate Black joy, and form a sisterhood in the face of adversity; and the Afro-Trinidadian women confronting the male gaze and establishing gender justice in the music industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Our panelists will also bring these youth-led movements to life with live performances.

Our presentation themes are:

Title: Becoming Brujas: Latinx Youth Led by Ibeyi, Princess Nokia and La Bruja de Texcoco

Presenter: Michelle Villegas Threadgould

I grew up speaking to ghosts. So did millions of Latinas, in song. Whether it was the suicide prayer of Violeta Parra, or the interpretation of La Llorona by Chavela Vargas, the power of spells, manifestations and curses are powerful themes throughout Latinx music. Today, curanderas, brujas and Latinx musicians are reclaiming their voices and hexing the patriarchy through genres as different as electro-soul, hip-hop and son jarocho.

In this presentation, I will look at the young Latinx musicians who are the new faces of brujeria. I will investigate the modern bruja, the need for community, and what covens look like in the United States and Latin America. Whether it’s Ibeyi sampling the Buena Vista Social Club and speaking to the ghost of their father, Princess Nokia paying homage to Oshun and Santería, or artists like La Bruja de Texcoco performing spells and curanderismo, these young voices are uniting generations of brujxs to find healing and resistance through art.

Title: Sirens of Social Change: Black Female Musicians of the Resistance

Presenter: Lynn Brown

Black women have been on the front lines of social change since being trafficked to the U.S. hundreds of years ago and music has long been one of their main forms of resistance. From the spirituals that hid maps to freedom, to the protest music that narrated the fight for Civil Rights, black women’s artistry has been pushing us forward towards a better, more equitable world.

In this presentation I’ll take a look at the musical forms this resistance has taken: like Ma Rainey’s “Black Eye Blues,” which bears witness to issues of domestic violence; Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” which called attention to lynching and racial violence in the South; and Nina Simone’s “Backlash Blues,” which clapped back in response to the pushback experienced by African Americans in the years after the Civil Rights Movement. We’ll also explore how this tradition continues, as a new generation of black female musicians like Lizzo, Janelle Monae and others has us examining our relationship to our bodies, our sexuality and reveling in the cultivation of black joy and sisterhood in the face of adversity.

Title: My Band Was There: Young Women at the Forefront of the Post 9/11 Underground in NYC

Presenter: Solvej Schou

On Sept. 8, 2001, a week before my 23rd birthday, I stepped onto the stage at the Knitting Factory in New York City with my garage rock trio Racquet. All of us were dressed in punk tennis outfits to play the first-ever Ladyfest East festival with a bevy of other female bands and artists. Three days later, I watched from the rooftop of my apartment building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as the Twin Towers fell.

Fear, chaos, community and a mortality-fueled wild and libertine energy led to the electric indie scene in NYC after 9/11, propelled to notoriety by groups such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, Interpol and TV on the Radio. Yet this post-9/11 indie movement surged with hardworking young women promoting principles of feminism, equality, sexual independence and post-riot grrrl grit in their performances and music. Many of them, like Racquet, played 2001’s Ladyfest East, and continued to raise their voices after. I will dive into the experience and impact of young female musicians at that time such as pop-punk band the Hissyfits, co-founded by vocalist and guitarist Holly Jacobs (aka Princess); Telecaster-playing Carol Thomas, one of the main organizers of Ladyfest East, who fronted the rock group One & Twenty and describes herself “as much Radiohead as Nina Simone”; and raunchy electroclash duo Avenue D, who proclaims, on 2002’s “War Sux,” “We might all be dying, I don’t give a damn. Let’s at least go out with a bang.”

Title: Defiant Youth: Womanhood, Femininity and Gender Justice in Caribbean Pop Music

Presenter: Meagan Sylvester

This paper will focus on womanhood, femininity and gender justice particularly through the representations of young women in the music industry in Trinidad and Tobago. The optics of self-expression of identity “on stage” will be the main lens through which the concept of “the media” will be operationalized. Costuming and stage performance as interpreted by the performer will be critical areas of analysis together with the practice of gender injustice within the male dominated musical genres of Calypso, kaiso jazz and Soca, which are traditionally Afro-Trinidadian dominated artforms.

Theoretically, the foundation for this paper emerges out of two perspectives. First, Marquita Gammage (2016) opines that contemporary media effectively perpetuates, recycles and promotes the anti-Black woman agenda. Second, there’s W.E.B. Du Bois’s perspective on Black womanhood in Western societies. How then are young Black women musicians responding to the male gaze through feminist artistic expression? Critically assessing Du Bois’s view that the damnation of womanhood was tied to the devaluation of motherhood resulting from Western societies’ reductionist understanding of femininity, this work will interrogate the self-presentation of six young female music artists. It will explore the extent to which Afro-Trinidadian women have internalized notions of negative self-worth within Trinidadian society, and have in turn translated these perceptions in their presentation of self on stage and for the media.