While my love for female-based rock music is well-documented and longstanding, even a fangirl like me can easily admit that riot grrrl and the punk scene more generally have long been a largely homogeneous affair, with a lack of racial diversity and inclusion among its iconic musicians and those who loved them. Partially inspired by Black History Month and partially by Beyonce’s rendition of Alanis Morissette’s classic at the most recent Grammy’s (skip to 3:10 in the video), I wanted to showcase some women who defied narrow expectations and produced amazing music.
Of those included in this post, Grace Jones is possibly the most recognizable and iconic. Recording since 1977, Grace Jones has released ten studio albums and racked up Saturn Award, MTV Music Video Award, and Grammy nominations along the way. She moved from disco to New Wave to dub reggae to dance, all while collaborating with musicians from as many backgrounds as the genres she sampled. Her lengthy multi-media career is far more detailed and complicated than I can quickly describe here, but the least I can do is put her at the top of the list.
Poly Styrene is known best for making orthodontia punk rock in the mid- to late-70’s as she sang lead for X-Ray Spex. Their song “Oh Bondage Up Yours” has been retrospectively interpreted as a proto-riot grrrl anthem, but the band and their music on a whole focused more on anti-consumerist and anti-racist messages. Poly Styrene’s vocal style was as unique to the punk scene at the time as her hair bows and Day-Glo ensembles, lending to X-Ray Spex’s overall reputation as one of the more inventive bands of the punk era.
Kimya Dawson, a one-time Moldy Peaches member and a sometimes Bitch Benefit performer, has been charming fans for the last ten years. Already a seasoned performer, her contributions to the Juno soundtrack broadened the reach of her frequently silly but always touching songs. While dealing with topics like self-esteem, disenfranchisement, and a nomadic lifestyle, Kimya Dawson’s music is now rightfully reaching the ears of many due to the film’s popularity.
Adee Roberson & Osa Atoe (of New Bloods)
Since 2006, Adee and Osa have constituted two-thirds of the Portland-based queer post-punk band New Bloods (along with Cassia Gammill). With their use of the violin and call-and-respond vocals, they remind me of The Slits and The Raincoats in the best possible way. When not playing the drums, the violin, and the bass guitar, all the band members rotate singing duties, creating a sound that’s hard to believe is only coming from three people.
While more commercial than some of the previous musicians, Fefe Dobson nonetheless combated the same kind of racial bias when she broke out into the pop punk world previously dominated by female acts like Avril Lavigne. During the height of her popularity, Dobson was stereotyped as a contemporary R&B singer because of her race, despite her clear interest in rock music. Her self-titled album (2003) earned her two Juno nominations, as well as a hit single (“Take Me Away”).
Shingai Shoniwa (of Noisettes)
In preparing for this post, it was suggested by a friend and Bitch staff member to check out Shingai Shoniwa (along with Cocknbullkid below) and I am glad I did. Shingai fronts the Noisettes, a British band that switches between and blends together post-punk, blues revival, dance and rock. Noisettes have been around since 2003 and recently reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart.
As mentioned before, Cocknbullkid was another recommendation. As the writer and self-producer of her super dancey songs, I feel like I was already predisposed to liking this Londoner based on her moxie alone. In addition to creating excellent music, Cocknbullkid (aka Anita Blay) speaks out against media outlets attempting to fit her into a specific category due to her race. Additionally, according to this interview, she shaved half her head and put on weight deliberately to point to the beauty standard bias in the music industry.
Seeing as this post started off with Beyonce, it only made sense to end it with her sister. Solange Knowles might seem like an odd choice for a “women in rock” post (based on the R&B/pop sensibilities of her first two records). However, between her recent cover of the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” and her upcoming Of Montreal collaboration, Solange may be attempting to win the hearts of indie rock fans the world over. Let’s put her in the “only time will tell” pile and agree that this cover is awesome.
I hope that you enjoyed this round-up (and possibly found some new music to listen to!). This is by NO MEANS a complete list, so please let us know who you think is missing in the comments section below!