Tag Archives: women in music

Malta: A Scene Report From The Loud Women Crew

This article was originally posted on loudwomen.org and re-posted here with permission.


Janelle Borg (of Maltese punk band Cryptic Street) reports on the women at the forefront of the Maltese music scene, exclusively for LOUD WOMEN

I have been raised by the Maltese music scene. From when I started getting involved in bands and musical projects at the tender age of thirteen, my life involved gigs, rehearsals, studio sessions, organizing events, seeing venues in Malta open and close, hanging out in iconic bars and cafes popular with the local scene, and the like. For a country with a grand total of 475,700 inhabitants, Malta’s underground scene has flourished in spite of a lot of obstacles. Being a woman in this scene, it felt natural to continue this series by interviewing some game-changing players in my homeland’s underground scene, that are helping to break the glass-ceiling and promote women’s involvement in music.

Presenting:

Alison Galea – an alternative music pioneer and chameleon who, along the years, has been vital in establishing a couple of Malta’s most innovative musical projects

Leona Farrugia – a young artiste and arts apasionado experimenting in music and photography.

Beangrowers: Love, You Can Never Give Up

Yasmin Kuymizakis a.k.a Yews – An electronic musician, sound artist and sound designer. Additionally, she’s the co-founder of Malta Sound Women Network, which aims to connect, support, mentor, promote and educate women and girls in electronic music and sound.

1. >>Can you introduce yourself and your involvement in music?

Alison: My main roles in music are being a part of Beangrowers, formed in the 90s, The Shh, a duo side-project, and Etnika, Malta’s first and most-known Maltese “tripfolk” bands. Over the years I have also participated in other projects, including Phillip Boa and the Voodooclub (Germany) and French jazz band, Festen.

Etnika: Maddalena
Leona Farrugia – Photo by Jon Mo

Leona: Generally, I try not to label anything, so I don’t really categorize myself as a ‘musician’. I try to be creative every day, so for me personally, it’s more of a creative thing and a way how to express my thoughts, creating something thanks to these thoughts. I started out with Cryptic Street. Together with the original members, the band started in secondary school as a school project. The girls really believed in what I can offer, and I continued to work after that.

Cryptic Street: Let’s Go Suki

Yasmin: I have my one-woman electronic act called YEWS, plus I am one of the founders of the Malta Sound Women Networkwhich is an organisation affiliated with the Yorkshire Sound Women Network (UK). We aim to bring like-minded women together; to share knowledge and skills in music and sound technology, sonic arts, production, audio-electronics…and anything to do with using a kit to create sound.

Yews: Start Making Up Your Mind

2. >>How would you describe the Maltese music scene?

A: The Maltese music scene is very rich in genres and has grown so much in recent years, but it’s comparable to a goldfish in a bowl. It lacks the freedom to be more explorative because alternative artists are not really understood by most. It is also restrictive in terms of performance spaces and audiences.

Jess and Yasmin – founders of Malta Sound Women Network

Y: For a tiny island, we have a lot of talent. We have some good popular music from bands such as The New Victorians, but I’m more familiar and involved in the underground scene in which there’s a pretty good variety of music. For example, some hip hop from215 Collective, industrial techno from Llimbs, electro/house from Jupiter Jax, classical and experimental from Jess Rymer and Tricia Dawn Williams, quirky lo-fi hits from Bark Bark Discoand I can’t leave out Malta’s alternative gods: Brodu, Beangrowers and Brikkuni… just to mention a few!

L: It has a lot of potential, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Maltese and I’m in a band….but there aren’t a lot of people who try to go beyond Malta and break internationally. It is easy to get comfortable in Malta.  But seeing it from another perspective, Maltese people have a lot of things to offer and it’s such a shame that they just get too comfortable sometimes.

3. >>What is your most memorable music-related moment in Malta?

Alison Galea with Beangrowers – Photo by Oliver Degabriele

A: My most memorable music-related moment in Malta was when I got to perform “The Priest” with Beangrowers at the European Film Awardsparty to Wim Wenders. He danced and sang along to all the words. It was a proud moment for us as a band and for me as a lyricist, because he not only invited us to form part of his film’s soundtrack but he actually really knew and liked the song.

L:  I think, for me personally, it’s when I supported The Hives with my other band nosnow/noalps.I mean, meeting them backstage and eating pizza with them is quite a thing….definitely a highlight!

nosnow/noalps: Kaleidoscopes

Y: My most memorable moment must be performing at the yearly Xmas event Pudina in 2016. This party is organised by another extremely talented Maltese musician, Danjeli, and has been going strong for over ten years now. When Danjeliasked me to perform, I was nervous as my music was too mellow for a club setting. So I wrote and produced a completely new set specifically to suit the space. And wow! Did that go well! I got a lot of support and encouragement from that gig. It was a beautiful night.

4. >>Do you think that women and non-binary folk are well-represented in Malta’s underground music scene?

A: I am happy to see more female musicians these days because they express a sense of freedom in the way they perform which is way better than a decade or more ago. However, there are still too few women making music out there than I would like to see/hear. Till now, Malta’s underground music scene still remains a very male-dominated scene. I want to see more Maltese women kicking ass on stage!

L:  Maybe? I think it’s a yes…but the thing is I really hate these labels. After all, we’re a bunch of musicians…a bunch of creatives. Personally, I support everyone, whoever you are, and whatever you label yourself as.

Malta Sound Women Network Board Meeting

Y: Malta’s underground music scene, like everywhere else, is very much male-dominated. In the past, I have noticed festival line-ups and events with not one single woman/non-binary on the bill. However, things are changing, slowly, but they definitely keep getting better. Organisations like Electronic Music Malta, for example, organise events that promote women in electronic music and are very supportive to the Malta Sound Women Network. Moreover, more women are joining the underground music scene and performing on a regular basis. I can mention bands like Fuzzhoneys and Cryptic Street, and electronic artists such as Hearts Beating in TimeSunta and Princess Wonderful.

5. Any future plans for you and your projects?

A: Working on releasing a new album with Beangrowers in 2019 and also hoping to release another video for one our new tracks. One day I would like to create my own solo project comprising of songs I have written in different phases of my life.

L: There’s definitely something cooking. With Cryptic Street we’ve just recorded some material. As a creative, I’m trying to involve myself in different projects. I’m also trying to get more into studying different disciplines in order to have more ‘solid’ work. I think that the job of an artist is not to focus on one specific, boring thing, but to constantly experiment and challenge yourself.

Y: As Yews, I am working on an EP at the moment. With MSWN, we are working on making things more official and becoming a Voluntary Organisation. We have plenty of ideas for workshops. On the 13th of February, we have an event in collaboration with EMM (Electronic Music Malta). We have a screening of the documentary ’Raw Chicks. Berlin’ with an introduction by Jess Rymer and I (founders of MSWN) and a performance by Juliane Wolf.

Yews performing at Pudina 2016


Feminist Radio Show 1st Friday Of Every Month

What: Monthly feminist online radio show

When: 10pm EST (United States)

Where: Online (Lucky Star Radio.com)

We caught up with Elysa who manages the Grrrl Power Hour on Lucky Star Radio. This online, feminist radio show has an ongoing open call for submissions from feminist and queer bands, musicians and artists.

Elysa has managed and produced the show since 2014 out of New York City although the Lucky Star Radio station is based out of California. We asked Elysa a few questions about how it all started for her and what she hopes to achieve with the show?

“One of the heads of the radio station and I have been friends since I was a teenager and when he started the station he asked if I’d want to have a spot once a month, and I had never done anything like it before but I had always been involved in music throughout my teens and 20s and I had the idea for what I wanted the show to be, so I thought it would be a great thing to try out, and I’ve been doing it monthly ever since.

The purpose of the show is to provide a platform for current, primarily independent, feminist and queer-identified musicians to get their music out there. The radio show airs through the internet, so anyone can access it. I try to play as many different songs and artists as I can each month and just do the little bit I can to give a signal boost to the bands that out there making really great music all over the world right now when a lot of other platforms still may not recognize them as frequently as they should. So by airing them on the show, plus sharing links to their music and promoting live shows and releases through the show’s social media I really hope to get a few extra people listening to their music.”

Any highlights from running the show you’d like to share with us?

“The coolest thing I’ve seen happen because of the show are different bands connecting with each other. Many of the musicians that I play on the show also listen to the show, and because of that some bands that are local to each other, or even others who aren’t as local, have connected and become fans of each other. There was a band from Texas that was coming to play in NYC and because of Grrrl Power Hour they knew of a few NYC bands they really wanted to play the show with them…I’ve heard a few stories like that of bands connecting to each other because of the show and it has been really amazing to witness and help build the community a bit.”

Submissions can be sent to GrrrlPowerHour@gmail.com.

Past episodes can be found at mixcloud.com


A Protest Music Interview: Laetitia A’zou

The impact of Joan Baez has long been known to reach far and deep. Her shining voice and lyrics of protest, whether those being her own or one of her perfect covers, have resonated with several generations by now.

One musician from Paris, France, felt that impact in an empowering manner. Laetitia A’zou used this power to create her own songs of protest. Two albums into her career and she is now slowly working on her third effort. She explained to me via email how this newest piece of work will out scale her previous efforts, production wise. As a side note she also explained how there is an often overlooked amount of protest in Disney songs.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Laetitia A’zou?

I’m a folk/opera/swing singer (Laetitia A’Zou, The Andrews Sisters Revival). I am inspired by all the great pop-folk artists from the 60’s to the 80’s. I perform American Music on stage, aiming to share feelings, emotions and music. 

When and how did you get into making music?

I started music at a very young age, entering the Conservatoire at 6, where I studied violin, music theory, choir singing and orchestra. What triggered it was my parent’s listening to a lot of classical music, and I fell in love with one of Mozart pieces, hearing the violin. It was the beginning of a great adventure. 

Folk music has always been there, my father listening to a lot of french ballads and american folk music (Joan Baez most of all). I started my folk career in 2010, playing covers during open mic’s, while starting composition and song writing. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger… were my main source of inspiration. 

Has your music always been political or protest driven?

Yes and no. My folk music is what I like to call mainly protest songs, my aim being to heighten awareness to subjects like poverty, social injustice, war, overworking… This being said, there is another side to my music : I also write ballads

I read that when you heard Joan Baez the wheels started turning for you. Can you tell me a bit more about the influence Baez had on you and your music making?

What I love about Joan Baez is how powerful her voice is, without needing much more instruments than her guitar. Her compositions are both simple when it comes to the melody of the voice, and incredible picking. All the songs she covered are perfectly chosen and very delicate. I love how she both sings ballads and protest songs, without going up to political driven. This is, for me, the perfect balance.

You’ve released two albums so far, your sophomore album being ‘Protest Songs’ (2015). Your second album sounds considerably more subtle, almost like a live version with a very close, personal sound to it. What was the main difference for you in creating these two albums? And do you have a new album in the making?

The first album, The Girl on the Bench, consists mainly in ballads, with only 4 protest songs. More than anything, I worked on the melodies, the lyrics, also writing about History, which is also a passion of mine. To do that, I invested a lot in production, hiring professional singers, percussions, violin and guitar players. In Protest Songs, however, I have decided to focus more on writing less poetic and more protest driven lyrics. Inspired by the work of Pete Seeger (called the pioneer of folk) who wrote very catchy and simple protest music. I thus decided to record mainly guitar/voice, but added a small choir (10 teens) to give it, indeed, a sound of live performance. At the time, music was often played during diners (people REALLY listened) and people used to sing in a good-natured atmosphere.

There is indeed a real difference between the two albums. I do have a new album in the making. I am taking my time for this one, which I also want a bit different from the first 2. I want to make it bigger, more orchestral, and twice as impactful as the other albums. Two songs have already been recorded.

How is the Paris protest music scene in your opinion? Are there many artists using their voice responsibly?

Unfortunately I am an old soul. I live by the music from the 50’s to the 80’s/90’s and am not quite aware of today’s protest scene. We used to have incredible protest singers, with George Brassens, Yves Montand, Maxime le Forestier, Léo Ferré… Today, the one great singer I can think of is Melissmel. She has an incredible power when she sings, and is political driven, with one of her most powerful song: “Aux Armes“. 

Photo by Taline Maras

What do you hope to achieve when you play your songs for people? How do you feel people are receiving songs of protest these days?

What I hope for is to people to listen and to think. We are all triggered by different subjects, especially today when everything is getting harder in almost every way. My protest songs are hard and really sad. The ones that usually get people stop and listen are The Village and the Prisoner’s song. Both are about destruction : war and death penalty. When people listen to something that triggers their interest, they start thinking and get more aware. And then they listen more when the subject comes around. I do not believe in politicians listening to us, but I do believe in the power of people coming together against injustice. 

Are you following other active, socially conscious musicians? What contemporary music inspires you?

Melissmel, whom I was referring to, is an artist I regularly listen to, and of course still Joan Baez. Paul McCartney has some very interesting protest songs worth listening. Other than that, I am today focusing on my opera career and listening to a lot of opera music. I am also very interested in the evolution of the themes of the songs in Disney music, a lot of them being about the status of women, loss, colonisation, songs too often overlooked because they are Disney songs. 

Do you partake in any activism outside the music?

It depends on what you call activism. I am completely into the respect of nature and ecology. I try as much as possible to help homeless people, whether it is by giving them a meal, or just talk. The french people has recently signed a petition (now 2 073 767 signatures) to sue the government and make it hold its promises for the climate. Other than that, I am not actively involved

If you could form a band with 4 people, living or dead, who would you choose?

I would go for those I consider as geniuses : Paul McCartney, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and John Moukarzel

What’s on the horizon for you?

To keep working on the album, on my opera singing and on my thesis in Egyptology. Keep it simple but powerful.

You can check follow Laetitia on Facebook and the previously mentioned Bandcamp page for the full sonic experience. Cover photo by Taline Maras