Virtuosi, revolutionaries and pirates: a playlist for Women’s Day

Two Women’s Day greetings popped on What’sApp this morning. One was an extremely pink bowl of roses. The other, fringed by itty-bitty SA flags, showed a woman in traditional attire carrying an extremely heavy pot on her head. We’re flowers – or we do all the household work. Here’s a playlist for Women’s Day and the week that follows: music by and in one case for women that gives the finger to the stereotypes.


1) As homage to the roots, here are Lungiswa Plaatjies and Madosini with Solal’emaweni: referencing some of the most complex and inventive of South African traditional music – music from the women’s domain:

2) Building from those roots, nobody should need an introduction to Thandiswa Mazwai’s Nizalwa Ngobeni. The song will remain a classic for as long as we continue to forget our heroes (male and female) and their ethics and vision.

3) Throughout the centuries, women have fought for their own rights and those of their communities. In the early years of the Twentieth Century, this American song for the rights of women workers, Bread and Roses, drew on the ideas of German Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg. It’s sung here by Joan Baez.

Striking women textile workers: USA, 1912

4) Dolores Ibarruri -– ‘La Pasionaria’  – was a hero of the Spanish Civil War. This Spanish workers’ song was written for her. It’s played here by bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Antonio Forcione.

5) South Africa, too, had – and still has – its struggles against racism and fascism. Nants’Indoda was written by trade unionist Vuyisile Mini and sung as he was led to the gallows. For Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, singing it was one of the ways she alerted the world to the struggles and suffering of the South African majority.

6) A very young Dorothy Masuku was chased out of South Africa for questioning the laws of Dr Malan and asking in song who killed Patrice Lumumba. Then the Rhodesian Secret Service pursued her too, for writing songs like this, Bazuka

7) Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit was one of the earliest Black Lives Matter song. Scholar Dr Angela Davis says it “put the elements of protest and resistance back at the center of contemporary black musical culture.”

Clare Loveday

8) Then there are the struggles within music. Virtuoso playing and composition are so often stereotyped as the realm of men that we are not permitted to see the large numbers of women already achieving in these fields. Clare Loveday is a South African composer who has won multiple international commissions and collaborated with artists including Nandipha Mntambo. Here’s her work Shadow Lines, performed at the 2016 SAMRO Awards finals by winner Dylan Thabisher 

9) Here’s a concert of original, virtuoso solo flute from Nicole Mitchell in New York: astounding playing in terms of both vision and instrumental mastery

10) Finally, for anybody who’s ever worked in the service industries (I have occasionally been a waitress), Nina Simone sings Pirate Jenny. The song is from the Threepenny Opera by Berthold Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann, with music by Kurt Weill. Based on John Gay’s 18th century play, it became a satire on the fundamental immorality of capitalism in a 1930s Germany careering towards Hitlerism. Jenny appears to be a servant, but she has a far more satisfying career as a pirate. And Simone takes the song deep into the racist American South, giving it extra, chilling, resonance.







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