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BAN BAM: Talking Music

Ian Patterson By

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The struggle to get gigs and exposure means that female role models in jazz are relatively small in number compared to male role models. As Hartman explains, however, not all female musicians are comfortable with the notion of being held up as a role model. "Women are already the 'other' in the room if you're in a jazz ensemble and they're often very reticent if you then want to put them on a pedestal."

When considering the line-up for BAN BAM Hartman encountered reluctance on the part of some female musicians to be associated with a festival about women in jazz. "They'd say 'It's hard enough to get a gig, people don't want to think you're a nag as well,' or words to that effect." Some of them, Hartman adds, were resistant to the idea of an all-female line-up, which they thought could be seen as tokenistic or gimmicky. Hartman's take on that position is thought-provoking: "I know lots of all-male line-ups who are really excellent and it never occurred to me that it's a gimmick."

As musicians, both Bottone and Barratt have experienced frustrations at the hands of the media. Bottone plays in the feminist queer trio Fierce Mild. "Every time we were interviewed after we released our EP there was always a question about the female music scene, which is not even a thing. What is the female music scene? So we were associated with other bands just because they were also all-female, even though we had nothing in common."

For some people, says Bottone, the all-female line-up of Fierce Mild is perceived as a strength, particularly for promoters putting together all-female or queer gigs. "It's just a shame that people associate a lot of other concepts with seeing all-women on a stage, because this doesn't happen with all-men and it needs to change. It's not just the women's job to change that, it's a cultural change that needs to come from different angles."

Barratt shares an example of a not uncommon experience with the media, relating to a press release she put out for her ten-piece band Interchange. The press release said nothing about the band being all-female, emphasizing simply that the band members were all award-winning musicians and composers. "Every single journalist took out the 'award-winning' and inserted 'women.'

Barratt explains that her decision to put together an all-female band of outstanding musicians in the first place was one born of frustration. "The world I work in will never invite them to be part of big bands and will never invite them to be featured," Barratt reflects. "They're all fronting their own ensembles so I had to be pro-active about making it happen because I would go for another thirty years and never have the opportunity to work with them."

Panel 2: Key Changes

The second panel, moderated by Aoife Concannon, presents Angela Dorgan (Director of First Music Contact and Hard Working Class Heroes), Ellen Cranitch (Musician, Lyric FM broadcaster and Galway Jazz Festival) and the author. Themes discussed centre on the impact and importance of media, presenters and musicians in addressing gender imbalance.

Concannon gets the ball rolling by raising the question of whether or not a fifty-fifty balance between male and female artists at a festival should be automatic or whether the process should develop naturally, and the dangers of token female representation.

Dorgan mentions that the Hard Working Class Heroes—an annual showcase festival of emerging Irish popular music bands, and an industry conference—had an equal 25-25 split between male and female bands at its fifteenth edition this September past. The bands are selected by a panel of international judges purely on merit and this is the first time in HWCH's history that there has been a gender balance in the line-up of bands.

A conscious policy of gender balance is, however, strictly adhered to for the conference side of the festival. "We always make sure our industry speakers are fifty-fifty. We also make sure we take women who are in leadership roles in the industry."

In recent times a number of major Irish pop festivals have come in for criticism for the imbalance in their programming policies, though Dorgan acknowledges that the situation has improved over the past half dozen years or so. "It's from people calling them out. They are repeatedly being called out in the media. We've been calling them out for years on the lack of Irish bands in their line-up and that's working and now we're calling them out on gender balance."

Immediately after HWCH's historic fifty-fifty split of male/female bands Dorgan went to every music promotor in Ireland to deliver the message: "There's no excuse. 'They're not out there' is no longer an excuse."

Actively highlighting the issues is the necessary first step but criticism, says Dorgan, is not sufficient. "I do believe you have to offer solutions."

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