Friday, January 19, 2018

Interview w/ Willa Rae of Girls Rock Detroit on The Women's March One Year Later & Looking Forward

Michiganders are uniting again, one year later, at the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing at 2 pm. This is a day, a weekend, a moment, when the last year's progress can be measured and celebrated, but then lead into plans that look further into the future.

The Women's March on Sunday is a free event / open to the public.

This is a midterm election year, so there is a focus on women gaining more representation in state legislatures. (Women hold less than 25% of the seats here in Michigan). Whether it's for school boards, city councils, community posts, and from any/all political stripe, this March is meant to push for strides toward greater equality.

The March movement states that it is intentionally focused on intersectionality, meaning that it is meant to recognize that class, race, sexual orientation and gender are not separate, but are interwoven experiences, characteristics and viewpoints that have to establish an understanding and a unity in order to work against lasting forms of oppression.

But since this is a music blog, I couldn't help considering the perspective of local artists.

I got in touch with Willa Rae Adamo, co-founder of Girls Rock Detroit, singer/songwriter of Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana, and member of #MuteRKellyDetroit. I wanted to ask her what the Women's March of 2017 meant to her, what it showed her..., and she responded:

Adamo: The Women's March was an awesome, inspiring thing that happened. And this year was full of strides to make the world safer for women, both locally and nationally. Momentum was gained this year, but we still need to keep riding on that momentum, keep moving forward. Conversations need to turn into action, and we need to constantly look at who is being left out of the conversation. Safety, justice, and empowerment need to be sought out for indigenous women, trans women, queer women, women of color, women living in poverty, incarcerated women, differently abled women, sex workers : these are the voices that need to be heard in 2018! 

Girls Rock Detroit is a nonprofit music education program that culminates with summer camps for girls ages 8-15. Instrument instructors, band coaches, and counselors are all female-identifying volunteers, many of whom are involved in the Detroit area music scene. The goal is to provide girls who have no formal musical experience an opportunity to receive instruction, write their own songs, and form bands in a safe, positive space filled with supportive role models.

I went on to ask Adamo whether any of the proceeding events of the year that followed the first Women's March inform her own music or her approach to performing/songwriting in any way?

Adamo: When you have a marginalized identity, you don't ever get a break or a day off. Being a woman impacts all of my life experiences. I look inward when I'm making music, and these experiences, fears and desires are magnified times a million, and is reflected in my songs.

My Minor Arcana project is centered around themes of darkness, sexuality and the esoteric. The songwriting process is cathartic for me in that I'm confronting those parts of myself, and an empowering experience to take ownership of them. But when it turns into performance that is watched by a crowd or a recording for someone else's listening ears, it no longer exists inside of the vacuum of myself, it exists in larger patriarchal society that sexualizes women's bodies and sexualizes violence against women. The message can be misconstrued by those who are consuming it. But I choose to continue on regardless, in hopes that at least one femme in the audience walks away realizing that you do not have to be perfect or powerful to have a voice that deserves to be heard, and your body does not have to look a certain way to be sexy or deserving of love. 

Adamo is currently working on a new project that she's hoping to release in 2018. She has a new batch of songs that explore themes like rape culture, women trusting women, and women continuing to survive. Said Adamo: "It's in the air, you can't get away from it. But it's always been that way for women, everyone else is just paying attention now."

I asked her for her perspective on how different times are today, compared to a decade ago, or more...

Adamo: The voices of women are getting heard more than ever in mainstream music. But still, it's mostly white, skinny, cis-gendered women. We gotta do better. 

And finally, I asked...after the last year's worth of shows, lineups and various album releases, or at other events like music festivals here in Detroit, have any positive changes materialized--? Is there merits to the Detroit scene's cultural shift in this regard, or are there areas where its still uniquely lagging behind?

Adamo: I'm seeing more diverse lineups but I am so often approached by promoters who will explicitly state that they are wanting to add a woman to the lineup. I don't want to be the token girl. "Women" is not a genre of music. 

In the past year, some incredibly brave folks in the Detroit scene have begun to call out men that everyone had known were dangerous and who have repeatedly perpetrated violence against others. 

The question becomes, again, how do we move forward?

Adamo: If you cast someone out of your community, they will just continue to behave in the same way in someone else's community. The myth of the stranger danger rapist in a white van and dark alley is bullshit. We exist in a culture that teaches everyone the wrong way to have sex. How do we hold each other accountable in loving ways, while still honoring the anger and sadness that so many women are carrying around? What kind of language can you use to call out a friend for doing something shitty? How can I make sure that folks are safe when they come to see my band play? 

The Women's March is this Sunday in Lansing. There is also a gathering TODAY, Saturday, at the Diag of the U-M campus in Ann Arbor. 

Meanwhile, this Thurs., Jan 25, #MuteRKellyDetroit is holding a demonstration to protest his upcoming Feb 21 appearance here in Detroit

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