Tag Archives: queer

A Protest Music Interview: Soya The Cow

What do you do when you want to fight for the animals and the planet? Petition? March? Make protest art? One Swiss artist, Daniel Hellman, found a way to mix his love for the performance arts, music and animals by creating an alter ego: Soya the Cow, “the gender and species bending drag cow”.

Through the powers of this artistic creature Daniel takes the stage at animal and human rights protest events, gives talks about consent, performs music, is part of the programming team of a sex-positive, feminist art festival and much more.

The creation, Soya the Cow, is wrapping up her first music album and after discovering her work via her fascinating Instagram profile I hit her up with a few questions about her activism and her upcoming album.


Halldór: First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Soya the Cow?

Soya the Cow: Soya is species and gender bending drag cow. She is a singer and songwriter, working on her first album that will be released in 2020. She was born to inspire, challenge the status quo and fight for the voiceless. She unites queer-feminist ideas with animal rights activism and poetry. Soya stands for love, social justice and climate justice for every being on this planet.

Halldór: Has your art always been political or made in protest?

Soya the Cow: Before becoming Soya, I have been making theater projects with political ambitions and topics, dealing with the rights of sexual minorities or refugees and also with animal rights. But I had the urge to do more, to reach more people and to speak more directly to people’s hearts. That’s why Soya the Cow was born. First only as an idea inspired by fierce drag artists and by my favourite animals. And with the help of amazing friends and collaborators, suddenly she was there – with a beautiful face, long lashes and udders!

Halldór: Your art flows, effortlessly it seems, between different disciplines such as fashion, activism and music. How and why did these different talents or outlets join together?

Soya the Cow: I grew up singing in a Boys’ Choir and since there were no girls in the choir, I used to play all the female characters in the theater nights that we organised in our rehearsal camps. It was just natural for me to put on heels and a wig. Later I became a professional singer, then a theater maker, then an activist. Somehow it seems that these different portions of my life, that seemed isolated in the past, are coming together now in Soya. It’s a very exciting feeling.

Halldór: The rights of animals is a large part of your art. When and why did you decide to fight for the rights of those who don’t have a voice in human society?

Soya the Cow: There are many important battles to engage in. But when I was researching for a theater-dance project about meat and death, it really shook me in all my being. It was an earthquake in my internal moral compass. I got exposed to what is actually going on behind the closed doors of factory farms, transport vehicles, laboratories and slaughterhouses, and also in the oceans and fish factories. I allowed it to touch me. I looked into the eyes of cows, pigs, chicken or fishes, and I learned to see them as individuals with personalities, as subjects. Not as mere objects who only exist to satisfy human interests or pleasures.

Once this shift had happened, I knew that I had to do my best to end or at least reduce this insane amount of unnecessary suffering. The brutality is so extreme and it’s happening every single day, it’s part of our daily lives to the point that most humans don’t even realise any more that we are part of such a violent system. I have gone through this myself and there is just no justification. That’s why I want to use my voice for ALL animals, for climate justice and the liberation of everybody.



Halldór: You are about to release your debut album. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how the process has been creating this piece of work?

Soya the Cow: I studied classical singing, but was bored with the stories told in the opera world. As a queer person of the 21st century, I needed to create work that made sense for me. For my album, I teamed up with the producer Phil Constantin. He has a background in jazz and electronic music and we share an openness towards many musical styles and forms.

For this album, I have been writing lyrics and songs that take the subjective experience of a dairy cow as a starting point to reflect on questions that reach far beyond the topic of animal rights – from the loss of a child to the threat of extinction. Drag has always been playing with imitation and appropriation, it is absolutely serious and hilariously exaggerated at the same time. We also have this element in our music. We visit different musical styles and make them our own. With lots of love, sadness and a good dose of humour .

Halldór: Some protest artists and musicians perform at very specific events with therefore a limited audience. How do you reach the people that most importantly need to hear your message?

Soya the Cow: That’s an important question. I have performed at the Animal Rights March in Berlin in front of a few thousand animal rights activists, that was of course wonderful! Similar when I was performing at street blockades of Extinction Rebellion. But I have also been singing in the context of contemporary art festivals, where killing animals for food is still the norm. Soya is a rebel and trouble maker at heart, and I’m open and willing to be exposed to audiences that might find Soya very disturbing. Maybe I can even sing at the Eurovision Song Contest one day!

Halldór: Are you following other contemporary protest artists? How do you feel about the scenes you work in (the drag scene, the visual arts scene or the music scene) in regards to protest and activism? Are people using their voices?

Soya the Cow: I see many artists doing incredible work. Powerful, political and challenging. In all fields. I do not make a big distinction between art and activism any more. The only thing that changes is the context. But it’s people with a vision and something to say and to share, who use their creativity to raise awareness, to give space for voices and ideas that are not listened to enough.

I also think, that art and activism are not sufficient. We can inspire or create a spark. But this spark needs to travel and spread. We need artists, activists, scientists, journalists, entrepreneurs, politicians, healers, teachers and much more… If we want to bring the transformation the world so desperately needs, all of these people are essential.

Halldór: How about other musicians or artists, who are your influences or motivations?

Soya the Cow: There is a long list of artists who I admire deeply for their art and their capacity to touch us and to inspire whole movements. I think of eternal muses like Nina Simone or David Bowie, or today I’d love to mention Janaelle Monae. Equally important for me are anti-speciesist activists like Earthling Ed, who manages to reach hundred thousands of people with his speeches and his smart and always respectful conversations with meat-eaters. Or my friend, animal rights activist and writer, Virginia Markus, who runs a sanctuary where humans, cats, chicken, horses, pigs, cats, donkeys and goats live peacefully together as one big family. It’s a magical place that gives me hope.

Halldór: What other extra curricular activism activities do you partake in beside your music?

Soya the Cow: I’m part of Animal Rebellion. We are a branch of Extinction Rebellion, fighting the inaction of our governments in regard to the climate and ecosystem crisis. We demand climate justice for all animals, the end of animal agriculture and the fishing industries and the transition into a plant based food system.

I’m also working in the programming team for the sex-positive, feminist art festival La Fête du Slip in Lausanne (Switzerland). This is my contribution to a more diverse representation of genders and sexualities in the art world.

Halldór: Some people seem to believe that arts and activism should be separated. What do you feel about that?

Soya the Cow: I believe that nothing should be separated. We need more connection, more conversations. There are artists whose work is unpolitical and that’s ok with me. I might also enjoy looking at it or listening to it. It’s just not the type of work I want to dedicate my time for. What I find more important is that we stop harming others in the sake of art. Or fashion or food.

Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?

Soya the Cow: At the moment, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign, to finance the album and my first three music videos. I want to collaborate with a women’s video collective in Switzerland. And the album is due to be released in the spring. From there on, it’s an open journey and I’ll show up where my voice and message are needed.

Halldór: Thank you very much for participating and for your work! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Soya the Cow: Be kind with all animals, including yourself! And follow me on social media, if you want to stay tuned when my music comes out.

@soyathecow
On Facebook
www.soyathecow.com

3 Songs Supporting The LGBT Battle in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland people who love certain people have had a rough time so far and at this moment those people can not be blamed for finding the future looking a bit bleak in their country.

The two main parties are not exactly the best of friends and seeing how there was a civil war in the land ending only 20 years ago many wounds have not healed.

Currently same sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland despite decades of campaigning and the issue of abortion is still a fight.

For more information on related human rights issues and campaigns in Northern Ireland visit:

Rainbow Project
Belfast Pride
LGBT Northern Ireland
Cara Friend

Also check out Northern Ireland’s first LGBT radio station, JUICE 103.8 FM out of Belfast.

A Protest Music Interview: Evan Greer

“There is no such thing as a-political art. There is art that challenges the status quo, and art that doesn’t.”

– Evan Greer

This time we got somewhat of a legend here at Shouts. Evan Greer has been moving around both the music business and the activist world for quite some time now and she recently released a new album titled she/her/they/them .

Out of Make Shift Boston, a co-working space, she works as the deputy director of the nonprofit Fight for the Future, she is a friend and active supporter of Chelsea Manning as well as a hard working independent musician who has spent 300 plus days on tour in a year and more recently while parenting along the way.

It’s been 10 years since her last album and now, through Don Giovanni Records, a new piece has finally come to light. I contacted Evan to learn about her new album as well as her thoughts on music and activism and how the two are as she puts it “inextricably linked”.

10 years between albums is quite some time. Can you tell us why the long time between the albums and what you’ve been up to in that time?

I wish I could claim that I was just toiling away in the studio for all those years trying to nail the perfect guitar sound. But the truth is that I just got really busy! I’ve always balanced my music with my activist work, and for many years when I was working as a full time artist, I had to tour about 300 days a year to make ends meet.

Even after I had a kid I kept touring pretty relentlessly, but eventually I had to slow down a bit and so I put more focus into my activist work, becoming a campaigner at Fight for the Future, an activist group focused on Internet freedom and opposing government surveillance.

I’ve also been organizing a monthly queer dance party in Boston, providing a landing pad for other touring trans and queer artists. Getting into the studio and recording an album just never quite made it to the top of the list for years, but I’m so glad that I finally did.

In a recent interview you said that for you “music and activism have always been inextricably linked”. Many people believe the two should be separated, that the arts shouldn’t be political. Shouts is about exploring these two things just as well as the idea of journalism and activism being linked. What’s your take on all of this?

The whole “just stick to music” narrative is based in a false concept of “neutrality.” There is no such thing as a-political art. There is art that challenges the status quo, and art that doesn’t. We’re living in a deeply unjust world with ongoing and active state violence, growing white supremacy, and we’re on the verge of a climate catastrophe.

The choices we make about what type of art to make in this moment in history are political choices, whether we like it or not. That doesn’t mean that every single piece of art needs to be an overt form of protest — it just means that we shouldn’t pretend that art is somehow detached from society or our collective human experiences.

Six Strings is very straight forward, deeply honest and uncomfortably sad. Do you play this song live and if so what kind of emotions does it bring out on stage? 

“Uncomfortably sad,” is the review I was looking for with this tune 😉 I do occasionally play it live. When I do I actually introduce it as a bit of a comedic song. It’s a snapshot of one of those moments when you just feel so, so down, when everything feels pointless and you can’t see your way out of the hole.

I don’t feel that way most of the time, so it’s kind of neat as a songwriter to have been able to create this piece of art that captures how I felt in one of those moments. It’s a good way to remind myself and others that when we get to that place, it will pass. In some ways it’s a song about resilience, because in the end, we move past it.

The song also made me think of the guitar as a living creature – do you have a special guitar, the one you’d bring out of a burning house and if so, why that one?

I have a trusty Taylor that I’ve dragged all over the world, played at hundreds of shows, and that I’ve had to rescue from teargas filled streets at a protest at least once. I love that guitar, but honestly I’m pretty utilitarian about musical instruments.

I’ve never really been a gear head. I’ve done a lot of touring in both the US and Europe by bus and train, and I often don’t bring my own guitar with me — I’ll work with the show organizer to borrow a guitar in each city, playing a different one every night. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re pretty beat up. I kind of like the challenge of finding each guitar’s voice.

For me the focus at a show is always about the connection with the audience, not about creating the exact same sound every night. 

Children’s Song is a humorous, yet very powerful song, and it could just as well have been called ACAB. Why do you think there is such a problem with the police state today in your country?

Modern policing in the United States is an extension of hundreds of years of structural white supremacy dating back to slavery. The primary role that the prison system and police violence plays in our society isn’t public safety, it’s social control. I try to teach my kid that this is not about individual police or whether they’re good people or bad people, it’s about the system itself, which is designed to uphold unjust power structures.

Going back a bit, your tour diary from 2015 is an absolutely brilliant read and hugely inspiring. How important was it to tour Europe with your friends and kids? Is this the new standard for future tours?

Parenting is punk rock. There are lots of musicians out there raising kids. But often this isn’t really visible. Our pop culture conception of touring artists is that they’re all in their 20s and party hard after every show. Touring with our kids, and documenting it so other parents can see, was a cool way to push for more visibility.

Can you tell me how the creative process was different while making/recording this album from 2009’s Never Surrender? What did Taina Asili and Gaetano Vaccaro bring to the process?

I’m totally not a studio musician and I never really have been. But when I write songs I hear them with full instrumentation and studio polish. My live versions are my best attempts to approximate that with just myself and a guitar. Going into the studio has always been stressful for me — something about the permanence of recording music makes me feel like I’m never going to get it good enough to match that thing that I heard in my head when I first wrote the song.

But Taina and Gaetano’s expertise helped so much. They’re brilliant musicians and amazing friends. Sometimes the role they played was very concrete: adding harmony vocals, electric guitars, and bass.

Other times it was more like therapy — helping me figure out what I wanted when even I wasn’t sure. In the end, the album is special because it’s different from what I heard in my head when I wrote the songs. It’s a living breathing project that evolved over the course of a few years, with help from an awesome array of guest artists that shaped the sound.

A question I often ask political rappers is how they balance between the message and the flow. Do you ever experience a conflict between the words you want to use and how they fit into the song?

Yes this can happen. One thing that’s been helpful for me is to realize that not everything I want to express politically needs to be a song. I’ve started writing a lot more opinion pieces for outlets like The Guardian or Washington Post, or scripts for short videos, or infographics and other types of creative projects.

If you could have any artist, living or dead, featured on your next album who’d be your top 3 picks?

Hah. Tough one. Honestly it was a huge deal for me having Chris #2 from Anti-Flag and legendary riot-grrrrl cellist Bonfire Madigan play on she/her/they/them. Let’s go with: guest feature from Janelle Monae, guitar shredding from Sister Loretta Tharpe, and Keith Moon on the drums.

When you need someone else’s music to inspire your fighting spirit, what do you listen to? Any active, contemporary protest musicians, or not, that you want to throw a shout out?

Too many to name. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of indie pop punk stuff like Worriers, Potty Mouth, Sad13, Aye Nako, etc. I’ll also never stop loving stuff like Rilo Kiley and Sleater Kinney. When I need political inspiration I’m all about Ana Tijoux, Shadia Mansour, Calle 13, La Santa Cecilia, Chumbawamba, Saul Williams. I’ve also been loving the other artists on my label, Don Giovanni Records, like Mal Blum, Screaming Females, Bad Moves, and Waxahatchee. And then I just listen to a ton of radical artists from my broader community like Taina Asili, Climbing Poetree, bells roar, Sihasin, and Anjimile.

What is on the horizon for you?

The future is always unwritten. For the foreseeable future I’ll likely continue to balance my music with full time activist work, so I’ll probably still put out new songs here and there and do some occasional shows and short tours, but I’m not likely to be back on the road 300+ days a year anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

For me music has always been an outlet for work that I wanted to do. The longer I make music and do the work, the more I see how the pieces fit together.