Happy International Women’s Day!
To contribute to the yearly celebration of inspirational women all over the planet, we invited nine music industry trailblazers to discuss albums which have inspired them personally and professionally. We have also compiled a Spotify playlist of tracks from their chosen records to soundtrack #IWD17.
SIAN ANDERSON (DJ, Broadcaster)Ms. Dynamite: A Little Deeper
I can’t remember when I first heard A Little Deeper, it’s one of those things that I’ve always known, like it’s in my DNA conceptually that growing up, Ms Dynamite was goals. I’m 26 now so I must have been in school when it came out.
“It takes more” was the blueprint for me and I don’t just mean when it came to relationships, after that tune – just in general – I was never going to accept anything less than greatness or be impressed by anything that didn’t have substance and wasn’t morally correct in life. I’d never experienced an artist I could relate too, talking real talk like that. Obviously there had been others but Dynamite was the first for me.
There’s multiple messages in that album but the thing I’ve always hung onto is that as a woman you can exist in the music industry with your hair slicked down on your forehead, in your tracksuit and trainers and speak in your slang, in your accent, and as long as you’re good at what you do, no-one can tell you anything negative about it. That’s always been refreshing to me.
JANE FITZ (DJ, Promoter of Night Moves)Alison Moyet: Alf
I was 12 when this came out. I’d already been into Alf when she was the singer in Yazoo, but this was the big solo rebranding, going under her own name, exploring the more soul-y edge that those big lungs hinted at on Upstairs At Eric’s… Alison just got everything right – she was from Essex (like me), she had a big, white-girl soul voice, she wasn’t afraid of being emotional, she was hilarious on TV quiz shows like Pop Quiz, and she was, at this point, super plus-size and yet still looked cool in a massive overcoat. She was so resolutely herself and, even at 12, I could see that she was thinking, ‘I don’t fit in to the mould I’m supposed and neither do I give a fuck’. Go on Alison! And have you listened to All Cried Out, or Invisible, or Love Resurrection, or Honey For The Bees recently? No? Do yourself a favour, put them on, grab a hairbrush and sing into the mirror.
JENNA KNIGHT (Director, Bristol Women In Music)Sade: Diamond Life
It was released the year I was born; 1984 and I have memories of it being something my mum would listen to when we were growing up, it would be on in our kitchen. It comes with lots of happy memories of being a kid and spending time with my parents. Her music has stayed with me ever since. To make music that is able to transcend generations is a skill very few artists are born with; to be able to withstand that test of time. I love her vocals, and just how sophisticated the songs sound – her vocal has this velvet, luxurious feel to it and it just makes me feel calm.
She is a bit of an enigma in the way that she has refuses to compromise on her sound or adapt too much to the influences around her – yet still continues to do things on her own terms and carry on making great music. She’s one of the least public artists; hardly ever in the limelight and famously quite reclusive but is one of the most successful selling solo artists to come out of the UK. So actually, you can just do things the way you want, you can be independent, you can go against the grain a little bit and that’s alright. You don’t always need to shout about it either. I saw her live in Germany a few years ago and that reinforced it for me; the staging was so simple, just her and her musicians on this massive stage with a mixture of beautiful visuals as backdrops. The way she commanded the room was so powerful. You don’t need extra noise and distraction around you if what you are doing is brilliant on it’s own.
ASHES57 (Visual Artist and Manager of Teklife)Roxanne Shanté: Roxanne’s Revenge
I had a old tape of Roxanne Shanté that I think my cousin left it in my house one day and I never gave it back. The tape was from 1984 but I found it few years later in a K7 box near my dad’s turntables. I was really young and I don’t think I knew what hip-hop was exactly but I thought her voice and the rapping was very innovative. There was scratching and the beat was very catchy. I used to play the tape in my K7 player and it made me want to listen to more music like this which was pretty hard to find. This tape gave me the taste for underground music.
CAROLINE SM (A&R Manager for XL Recordings, New Gen)Destiny’s Child: Survivor
It’s weird because the album came out in 2001, I was 6. I have no clue how a tape of it ended up in my possession or even why I was so obsessed with it.
I guess as a young kid a lot of deeper things said in ‘mature’ music can go over your head a bit, and that was definitely the case with this album listening back now. With that said, I think Survivor has a deep underlying message that even a young girl could grasp; you can be successful, strong and independent as a woman in the 21st century. There is a constant assurance that you can look up to this powerful, beautiful trio who get their own money and don’t need men to provide for them – a contrasting message to society’s norms, shown to young girls in the likes of Disney films. Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle were bosses… they seemed defiant, uplifting, empathetic and empowering, all at the same time. I was just in awe.
I think the media in general applies so much pressure on young girls to look, think and act a certain type of way. By the time I’m grown up and have children of my own I’m sure it will be even worse. I guess the most important thing for me personally is to be a good role model as a young woman within the entertainment industry, to make young girls feel confident that they can be successful and clean-hearted without abiding by societies so called ‘norms’.
FRANKIE HUTCHINSON (Booking Agent, Co-Founder of DiscwomanMary J. Blige: My Life
I first heard My Life probably aged 8 or 9. Mary reveals so much vulnerability on this album. My mum was similarly vulnerable in our own home situation. They mirrored each other. When I didn’t want to cry in front of my mum I’d listen to this album and cry. Even though thematically this album was years ahead of my age, her honesty translated regardless and taught me it’s chill to cry. Being open about your vulnerability is powerful and men fucking suck.
VICKY GROUT (Photographer)Kelela: Cut 4 Me
I first heard of Kelela when Bok Bok released Melba’s Call which features her on it, but I never listened to her album until I heard Keep it Cool on Elijah and Skilliam’s Fabriclive mix and fell in love. I think it was the fact that her choice of collaborators/producers for the album are so different from what you’d normally expect from a soul/RnB singer. I’ve fucked with Night Slugs heavily for a few years now so the fact that she was working with people like Bok Bok and Jam City made me love her music instantly.
I think the fact that Kelela is doing something so different makes me want to be different myself, to defy expectations of what women are ‘supposed’ to be or do.
ANTONIA ODUNLAMI (Music Editor, gal-dem)Erykah Badu: Baduizm
I remember taking the CD from my older sister’s room when I was 11 or 12. I was probably way more interested in Spice Girls when it first came out! I opened up my sister’s library and came across Baduizm. I really liked hip-hop and I really liked RnB but I didn’t really know what neo-soul was. It felt like I was learning so much, it was like opening a book. There were ideas my parents had told me about but presented in a way more palatable way – it opened my eyes to relationships and love and that kind of stuff. I think I still hold on to that idea of the strength of women. The stories she tells about her relationship with her mum, her grandma, men. I can listen to it at different stages of my life and still bring something relevant away.
When you look at the cover, she’s wearing her head wrap. To be African and to be seen as African was never cool so – just visually – she’s unapologetically black. On another level, she started out in hip-hop with a lot of men but she was still Erykah Badu in her own right. She was never Erykah Badu who went out with Common or Andre 3000. She’s always been her own person. To be prominent in that scene you have to fight a lot of curveballs which are thrown your way, her stance and her presence as a woman is political. And amazing.
JOCELYN COOPER (Co-Founder, AFROPUNK)Alana Davis: Blame It on Me
If I were alone on a desert island and could only take one record, it would be Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder and one song, my favourite As. Which brings me to the question that you have posed.
Before I started working with AFROPUNK, for many years, I worked at a record company and before that in music publishing. I am passionate about brilliant songwriting and as a publisher met with many aspiring young writers. I heard a demo from a writer named Alana Davis and fell in love with every song on her cassette tape (yes…. a long time ago). We talked on the phone about her process and her favourite songwriters. We both agreed that Stevie was the greatest and of course As was the best song ever. Needless to say, I wanted to meet this kindred spirit who titled her songs 32 Flavors and Turtles. She was looking for a record deal and came to see me. She played her album Blame It on Me, and I was blown away!
There were love songs of course, but her work went deeper, it spoke to issues like identity and life’s complexities (not big themes at that time). Alana signed a deal but had a difficult time cutting through because of her out-of-the-box thinking and, frankly, her skin colour. Thinking back, meeting her changed me and lit a fire in me, and her struggle inspired my work today. AFROPUNK is a platform for the underserved and unseen, for those artists who “don’t always fit in” and want to push the boundaries. I wish AFROPUNK had been around for her then as a lot more people would have heard this amazing record!