We recently caught up with Sohini Alam and Wiyaala about their their new project GRRRL. GRRRL is a project put together by In Place of War. It is a bespoke electronic music collaboration between independent, revolutionary women artists from around the world, coming together to tell their collective stories of life, conflict, inequality and change through music. Fusing together sounds of dark techno, ghetto bass, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, soul, folk, and electronica; GRRRL is packed with purpose and has a message to tell.
In a nutshell, In Place of War is a support system for community artistic, creative and cultural organisations in places of conflict, revolution and areas suffering the consequences of conflict.
What is it like to perform on stage with 7 such inspirational artists, with such diverse cultures?
Sohini Alam: My bands, Khiyo and Lokkhi Terra are very different from the music of GRRRL. While I have done electronic collaborations before, I have not worked with other vocalists on those collaborations. To be working alongside such talented women with such diverse backgrounds and musical styles has given me new insight on how varied vocal stylings can be brought together to create something new and exciting. Like the Voices of the Revolution project I did with IPOW last year, GRRRL has inspired me by demonstrating how the energy of each of these female musicians is magnified when we work together. It’s powerful and infectious.
Wiyaala: It’s a mind blowing, awe-inspiring experience to be part of so many dynamic influences. It’s a real melting pot of creative energy and we are feeding on the vibe from each other and giving it to the audience and they are giving it back. It’s crazy!
GRRRL are also leading panels and workshops about music, war and activism, could you tell us a bit about these?
Sohini Alam: One of the wonderful aspects of GRRRL is that, in addition to the music, the women involved have been able to talk about their work and lives in the context of feminism and activism during panel discussions at some of the festivals we have attended. Our audiences have been able to hear about the challenges women face living and making music in places like Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, etc. Examples include the male dominated worlds of sound engineering and rap/hip hop. People have then been able to hear our collective sound for themselves.
I’m sure that music has had a massive impact on each of your lives. Do you have any stories to share about how music has impacted your lives?
Sohini Alam: Music makes me feel ageless. I was born into a family of musicians, so I have never known a life without music. No matter how old I get, music makes me feel young at heart and life-positive. I think that shows in me.
Wiyaala: I grew up in the African village and have been entertaining since I was a very small girl. One day when I was about five, my singing and dancing antics in a local pitou bar prompted the local men to throw coins for me. Apparently, I swept them up, gave them to my mum and told her one day I would get enough money through singing to build her a house. And now thanks to music, it is happening!
What do you think can be done to improve things for women working in the music industry?
Sohini Alam: When music is in a language other than English, it is hard for someone to enter the music industry without highlighting the “exotic” aspects of the musician’s heritage. For the increased number of people who are of dual/multiple heritage, this can be a tricky space to navigate – even more so for female artists who are far outnumbered by their male counterparts. I think that government funding and support for the arts needs to be increased. It has been proven that the arts have a positive effect on our quality of life, and yet funding for the arts has actually decreased over time. Support for female musicians would be especially welcome.
Wiyaala: The way to do it is for women to learn every aspect of the music industry themselves. And that means besides making and performing music, you work with female producers, sound engineers, management and labels. When the public sees that females are not dependent on the “industry men” to build music careers, then our example can promote change.
You have played at various festivals over the summer, what kind of reaction are you getting from people?
Sohini Alam: I have been humbled and (slightly) surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to GRRRL. People have been saying they were blown away and had so much fun. It makes us feel good to have moved people.
Wiyaala: It seems like it is massive enthusiasm for what we are doing. The audiences are really listening and jumping at the same time.
Are there plans to record an album or is GRRRL purely a live collaboration?
Sohini Alam: We spent an intense day and a half at SARM and recorded several (but not all) of the tracks created for our live show during our couple of weeks together.
Where do you hope to take GRRRL in the future?
Sohini Alam: I hope GRRRL gets increased exposure as I feel it to be an inspiration for young people. I have met audience members who haven’t seen many female rap stars or perhaps female Bangladeshi musicians before. They can see that women can occupy non-traditional spaces in their own unique and interesting way. I hope that there are many more GRRRL shows in many places around the globe to show how women are filling the world with positive vibrations.
Wiyaala: To the top! I know GRRRL can take on the world! On a more serious note, I want GRRRL to give out a strong message of hope to girls from difficult continents and countries that there is a future for all females. In Place Of War has given us the chance to use our talents to deliver that message world wide. GRRRL must use that platform to show the way.
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