There are many ways you might spend International Women’s Day: going to work, staying at home, being a woman, or thanking a woman. This playlist is for all of these ways you’re observing the day, and more.
It matters what and who you listen to — all days, but especially today, a day that celebrates women while demanding more for them. These songs demand racial equality, elicit dancing or marching, insist on prayer and stumble into it. And all of these songs are written and performed by women.
Which, sadly, is not so common.
Women are widely underrepresented in popular music. Last year, only 22.3 percent of the 206 songs in the Top 40 were sung by women. Behind the scenes, the statistics grow bleaker: The top 40 singles of 2016 were written by 886 songwriters; only 96 (10.8 percent) of those writers were women.
Outlets that highlight music on and off the Billboard charts have better, if still-unbalanced, gender parity. Take NPR, for instance: Men performed nearly 60 percent of the songs on their top songs of 2016 list.
The numbers certainly don’t get better on the Billboard Christian charts: In 2016, women sang only 11 out of the top 50 songs. Zooming out to the start of this century, men performed 48 out of the top 50 Christian songs of the decade.
Examine your own music library today. Which voices do you listen to, sing to, and run to most often? If songs are stories or prayers made melodic, then it matters that we listen to women musicians as much as men. After all, these are the stories that get stuck in our heads.
The organizers of A Day Without A Woman — the ones who brought you the Women’s March in January — are now endorsing the #GrabYourWallet movement, which calls on people to divest from companies that perpetuate oppression and invest in companies that support gender equity. I’m calling on you to #GrabYourHeadphones. With a more balanced streaming queue, show that you care just as much about the voices of women as the voices of men.
Here’s a good place to start:
Rhiannon Giddens is a folk artist with classical opera training who first came to the spotlight as part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Her cover of Nina Simone’s “Tomorrow Is My Turn” kicks off the playlist.
On Freedom Highway, released this month, Giddens revisits old slave narratives and songs of the civil rights movement.
"Know thy history. Let it horrify you; let it inspire you,” Giddens says to introduce her album. “Let it show you how the future can look, for nothing in this world has not come around before.”
“Birmingham Sunday” is a Joan Baez song about the Birmingham church bombing that took the lives of four young African American girls. Giddens, like Baez, sings the names of each girl. Forty years later, we still #SayHerName. Forty years later, the choirs are still “singing of freedom.”
Now we turn to Joseph, the sister folk trio from Oregon, to speed things up. The song “White Flag” aims to silence the silencers and hype up those who want to speak truth to power. In the video, the sisters march defiantly through a creek. But this song can just as easily take you to the streets.
Jamila Woods is a Chicago-based spoken-word poet and musician gifting us with golden lines like this, in her song “Blk Girl Soldier:”
Look at what they did to my sisters
Last century last week
They make her hate her own skin
Treat her like a sin
Woods calls out the racist treatment of black people by the government and society, while simultaneously shouting out to all the black female freedom fighters — from Rosa to Sojourner — combating racism with black girl magic.
Lelyla McCalla is a classically trained Haitian American cellist. Her song “A Day for the Hunter A Day for the Prey” borrows the language of a Haitian proverb. When McCalla wrote the song, she had the Haitian boat people in mind — refugees braving harsh waters for a better life. Sound familiar? I’ll sing along until it doesn’t have to ring true anymore for anyone.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
American roots musician Alynda Segarra, performing as Hurray for the Riff Raff, focuses her latest album on what it feels like to endure and resist being forcibly uprooted. In her own words, Segarra has committed herself to “being an artist who stands for social justice, peace and equality."
She’s true to her word in her latest album, The Navigator. Her songs explore what it’s like to have your home taken away because you are a refugee, an unwanted lover, or the forgotten byproduct of urban development. In the title track, Segarra croons, “Where will all my people go? The navigator wants to know.” Lyrically and melodically, Segarra draws an analogy between Old Testament exodus times and present-day gentrification. Only this time, God’s people don’t want to be set free to start a new home — they want to be free to live in the homes where they grew up.
In “Rican Beach,” Hurray for the Riff Raff gets more specifically political, creating a fictitious land called Rican Beach — a place that is sounding more and more like our present-day reality. She sings: “Now all the politicians, they just squawk their mouths. They say ‘We’ll build a wall to block them out.’ And all the poets are dying of a silence disease, so it happened quite quickly and with great ease.” But Segarra is not one of those silent poets, and the wall’s not up yet.
This playlist ends with a lullaby from Lowland Hum, the married folk duo from North Carolina who do not shy away from prayer, harmony, or honesty. Lauren Goans’ voice is especially gentle and evocative. It’s easy to rest inside of. So listen up and rest up, ladies. We have more work to do tomorrow.