Tag Archives: female songwriters

A Protest Music Interview: Saffron A

There are different ways to both react and deal with trauma. Saffron A is a young musician from Brantford, Ontario, who chooses to put her experiences into song. Sad songs are as common part of popular culture as anything, but there are deeper levels of personal experiences that are getting their taboo sticker torn off by a new and brave generation.

As Saffron explained to me via email it felt natural for her and impossible not to create songs about some of the traumatic events in her life. In addition to her ‘normal’ touring and connecting with her audience she participates with organisations, such as Take Back The Night, giving talks and singing her songs at various empowerment events.

Check out her latest EP’s, both out this year, on her Bandcamp page.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Saffron A?

I am a feminist solo artist, and I play the tenor guitar and octave mandolin. My music sits where emotion and intellect intersect, focusing on themes of sexual assault, mental health, trauma and empowerment!

Has your music always been political or made in protest?

My music hasn’t always had this focus, but it has developed through lived experience. My earlier work was more experimental and explores the facets of human relationships. I would argue that I still do those things in my current writing, but with more precision and social awareness.

“At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. “

Your recently released an EP, titled Resistance, which is a follow up to another EP, released earlier this year, called Resilience. You describe the first EP as “a collection of songs which focus on the initial response to experiencing sexual violence.” What made you decide to put these intimate feelings into song and how do you describe the process of both writing and then performing such songs?

It all started with the song Resilience. I wrote it after my assault as a way to process my experience, and released a demo of it to share with my friends and family. At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. Writing has always helped me understand myself more and process my life and feelings, so it was only natural to process this trauma through song. When I started performing Resilience, the response I received during the song and after the show was profound. I knew that there was more I had to say in connection to this piece, and I had to form a full picture of my experience. That’s when a lot of the writing for this project began.

What’s interesting is a number of songs on the Resilience EP were written previously, but they fit with the narrative so well. With the Resistance EP, I wrote all of those songs from a place of frustration and unrest. At the time of writing Resistance I was finishing my Justice Studies degree. Having personal experiences with facets of the Canadian justice system (the police, court) and being further traumatized when seeking help motivated me to dig in and write Loud and Clear, as well as Priceless Advice. Break and Enter, as well as Flashes speak more to my internal response to external trauma. The title track Resistance is my battle cry to keep fighting and continue to live despite the injustice. Performing these songs is unique every night and they feel like they have a life of their own.

How have people been receiving your music, especially when you play live?

I’ve been cutting my teeth touring this summer, and these shows have shown me how important my music is right now. A blanket statement is that people are challenged and moved by my work on a personal level, but it goes deeper than that. My shows have felt like a collective energy exchange of emotion, and afterwards folks thank me and share their own stories with me privately. I am honoured to be apart of these dialogues and inspire people to think critically about our society and how desperately things need to change.

Recently you both performed and gave a talk at two Take Back The Night events. How did that go and what other activist activities or events do you participate in?

It was amazing to get to speak and sing at the Take Back The Night rallies in Halton and Humber College. It is an honour to be a part of the community in this way and to connect with different populations in public spaces. I also have been a guest speaker at the Transforming Trauma Into Triumph conference by The Gatehouse, which took place at the Toronto Police College. That was an important accomplishment for me, and a great event to be a part of.

Can you tell us about your instruments of choice, the octave mandolin and tenor guitar, and how it came to be that you use them for writing your songs?

I started playing the mandolin, and I’ve stayed within the bounds of instruments that are tuned in fifths! My dad custom built me an electric tenor guitar which changed my whole sound, and then he crafted an electric octave mandolin which was another game changer. They are my signature pieces that set me apart.

You got a new single out, Priceless Advice, which readers can hear above. What can you tell us about it?

Priceless Advice is featured on the Resistance EP, and it deconstructs the messages people socialized as young women are given to keep themselves safe. These “helpful suggestions” come from parents, the police, friends, the media. Society puts the responsibility on women not to be violated instead of teaching men not to violate others.

Where you are from, do you feel there is a strong scene of artists like you that use their voice to spread either political, intimate or protest messages?

I’m from Brantford, Ontario, and there is a small but mighty activist scene. The music scene itself is not welcoming to bold women, but groups like Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent are cool to collaborate with. Another barrier is that there are few spaces for people to have concerts, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting anyone to see me play in those venues because I can’t ensure their safety. Brantford needs safe accessible art spaces, but there is a gap.

What are some of your musical inspirations? Do you follow other contemporary artists that also use their voice responsibly?

For me personally, Janis Ian is my favourite songwriter of all time. Her brutal honesty and vulnerability in her work is inspirational. I’m also influenced by the versatility of Jack White. More politically minded bands like The Clash, Hole, Nirvana and Bikini Kill push me to be blunt in some of my writing. 

Riot grrrl bands have been having a resurgence, so The Shiverettes and Peach Club are so needed. They’re bringing important messages to the forefront!  In the world of popular music, Lizzo is a gem, and her messages of self love and empowerment bring me to my feet.

Some of my friends in the Canadian music scene like The Lifers, Annie Sumi, Missy Bauman, Scott Cook and Piper & Carson are also important voices. They make noise and speak their minds, but also leave people feeling safe and cared for at the end of their sets. They share their own social commentary in a way that people listen and don’t feel alienated.

What is on the horizon for you?

In short, more music, more touring, more adventures! I’m excited to share what I’ve been writing and I look forward to bringing my songs to new places and spaces.

Lastly, thank you very much for participating and for your music. Is there anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you for giving me a platform to share. Consent is everything! Support your local music scene and empower marginalized voices! If you like any of my songs, please share them with a friend and follow my journey on social media!

Check out more about Saffron A’s work on her Webpage ı Spotify ı Facebook ı YouTube ı Instagram

A Protest Music Interview: Nehedar

9 albums released since 2007 is quite the feat, let alone for only one person. That is what Emilia Cataldo has done (among other things – such as bringing life into this world).

Nowadays Emilia performs with a couple of musicians as a trio and as such can be heard on Bandcamp through her latest release, Escaping Zion, a wonderfully crafted political pop album that touches upon a wide variety of societal aspects such as gun violence and the lack of empathy for migrating people.

First of all, for those not too familiar with your work, who is or are Nehedar?

Hi, thank you for this interview! I’m Emilia Cataldo, and I’ve been performing as Nehedar since roughly 2003 in NYC. Live I play acoustic guitar and sing. Currently Nehedar performs as a trio, (Elyse Maister on Cello, Brad Reiss Drums) I recorded all my albums with Craig Levy (Little Pioneer) plus guest musicians. My most recent one Escaping Zion features Elyse on all songs. Brad hadn’t joined the band yet.

How important is it to you to use your music for good, change or activism?

I do like the idea that the music could be used for good. I would love if a gun control organization wanted to use my song “Thoughts and Prayers“or if Bernie Sanders or another good progressive wanted to use “Best in Show” which I wrote before the US 2016 Democratic primary. I’d donate my song “Safe” to a refugee aid organization. There’s an aspect of my music that’s devotional, and I’d be more than happy to donate it to worthy causes. 

Do you consider yourselves protest musicians?

Just speaking for myself, I am not strictly a protest musician, but I make protest music. Some songs will be 100% protest songs, while others may be less so or not even at all. 

I’ve written many songs that directly criticize aspects of society (such as On Killing, Debtor’s Lament, Thoughts and Prayers, Subway Ratt, Biblical Bulletproof, Dino, Is It Annoying) and a number of other songs that cryptically and sarcastically lampoon capitalism, cynicism, mind control and greed (Sign, The Story, Self Fulfilling Prophecy, Catacomb, A Dollar’s Fine, Dissent,  etc) Really so many songs could be included in that second category. 

You have been steadily releasing albums since 2007, 9 of them as a matter of fact. Has your music always been politically driven or has it changed in that sense since your first album?

My first album, Pick Your Battles was openly political. Never Let You Go contains the lyric “I turned to the left, the left was lacking, I turned to the right, the right was wrong, I looked to my shoes, they held no answers but onward they point the path I choose.” That lyric is infinitely more meaningful to me now than it was at the time. Even the album cover and name Pick Your Battles were politically charged to me.  Not every song was political, but quite a few were. My live set was also very political in the early days (post 9/11 NYC) when I primarily performed as a duo with guitarist David Keesey.

At this time in your life, what do you care most about and try to communicate with your music?

I believe I’m witnessing cults transform into fascism in front of my eyes. I have a new song only on Soundcloud called “Bad Faith” which explains ideological thinking that doesn’t stand up to reason. I’m sort of studying this phenomenon online. I have a new unrecorded song, called Song For Sale which deals with clickbait journalism and the commercializing of art, the commercializing of everything in the US including health care.  I’m primarily interested in the concept of mental colonization versus mental independence and the way people in the US and beyond are dividing themselves into opposing teams as if to prepare for a fight. I’d like to frustrate that effort if I can, I am a pacifist.

Are you following or listening to any contemporary protest musicians or socially conscious artists that you’d like to give a shout out to?

I’d like to give a shout out to my soul sister Aliza Hava

Photo by Chris Aldridge

What is your experience with protest music in New York? Do you feel the acceptance of politically driven music has increased in the past years or has it always been the same?

I think NYC appreciates protest music, but I also think New York has become a place where most artists in general can’t afford to live.  Protest music is usually anti-capitalist, and NYC is so saturated in the capitalist agenda, I think it’s a mismatch.  Everyone in NYC has to hustle so much if they’re not independently wealthy. 

What about outside the music, do you partake in activism or any projects that you would like to share with us?

I donate money when I can, and hold and perform at benefit concerts when I can, but practically, at this time, I mainly pour it into my songwriting.

Photo by Chris Aldridge

Are we living in a simulation and/or is this the end?

I don’t know but even if we totally screwed up and ruined the planet for humans, life would continue. The work we made, and the data we stored might even endure and be found. I think at the very least we exist as energy, and energy never dies.  

As a mom, I really want a healthy world and I’m very worried.

If you could form a new trio with 2 people – living or dead – musicians or not, who’d you choose?

I’m gonna have to give it up for Elyse Maister and Brad Reiss for being the best. I’d love to share a bill with other people, or add to the band, but as a core trio to showcase and perform my songs, they are the ideal! 

Thank you very much for participating and for the music you make! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you so very much for the work you are doing and for this generous opportunity!