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BAN BAM: Talking Music

Ian Patterson By

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One strategy that Dorgan's team have employed when a festival's line-up is conspicuously short on female artists is to organize a music trail of female/female-led bands at the same time. "Our way of calling them out is putting on an all-female line-up to show in the media and to them that the talent actually is there and they're missing out."

Whilst the worlds of popular music and jazz share many of the same gender issues the pop music industry is arguably far better at championing its female artists. There are many more of them for a start. Should jazz festivals programme equal numbers of male/female bands? As an aim, absolutely, however long that takes. However, any band, regardless of genre should only be booked by festivals on merit. There's no place for tokenism, and besides, as Dorgan points out, if a band is not ready for such a large stage and the exposure it can bring then one poor performance can destroy its confidence.

Jazz still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality but there are definitely signs of a turning of the tide. Forty years ago, it would have been difficult to name a single jazz festival whose Artistic Director was a woman. Today that picture has changed, with many festivals, directed, programmed and managed by women: Atsuko Yashima (Tokyo Jazz Festival); Trude Storheim (Vossajazz); Jun Lin Yeoh (Borneo Jazz); Nadine Deventer (JazzFest Berlin); Lynette Irwin (Brisbane International Jazz Festival); Ros Rigby (The Sage Gateshead); Jill Rodger (Glasgow Jazz Festival); Anne Erm (Jazzkar); Sandra Lim Viray (The Philippine International Jazz & Arts Festival); Tina Heine (Jazz & The City); Indre Jucarte (Kaunas Jazz Festival); Anna Linka (Bohemia Jazz Fest); Ceyda Berk (Izmir European Jazz Festival); Michaela Mayer (International Jazz Festival Saalfelden)—this list is in all likelihood incomplete but serves as an indicator of how the jazz panorama has changed.

It doesn't necessarily follow, however, that having a woman holding the reins of a jazz festival automatically equates with gender balance in the programme, or for that matter, in the audience. Some jazz festivals seem to have a greater gender balance in their audiences than others, though the question as to why is not easy to answer. It's an area that would require proper research.

The audiences of jazz festivals that are proliferating throughout Asia often exhibit a striking gender balance, which may be because they don't feel the weight of jazz history—the predominantly male narrative of European and North American jazz. Jazz festivals in Asia are perhaps more relaxed and open environments.

For Ellen Cranitch, the old days in Dublin of predominantly middle-aged male jazz audiences are almost a thing of the past, with at least half the audience at the Galway Jazz Festival 2017 made up of women. "It was thrilling to see," says Cranitch. "There is a hunger for it in places where there might not have been complex, interesting, challenging music before. I think that weight of history is being lightened."

If indeed jazz is breathing a new, more enlightened air then Dorgan believes that women are the engine for change. "It's not that jazz needs to lose its history to attract women, it's women dragging it out of the weight of its history."

The media has an important role to play. "The juggernaut of male music comes down the road at you and it's very difficult to ignore it," says Cranitch. "With women's music it is out there and it's up to us to go and find it." Recently, Cranitch and her fellow presenters at Lyric FM quietly went about programming an entire day of music by exclusively female artists to see if anybody would notice. Nobody did, which was complete vindication of the content and quality of the music.

The general consensus of both panels is that there is no quick and easy solution to gender imbalance in music. The issue needs to be addressed from multiple angles. Societal change is required, and in light of the increasing numbers of male public figures being called out for abusive or inappropriate behaviour towards women maybe a sort of tipping point is being reached. Conversations on gender equality, misogyny, sexism and what constitutes normal behaviour are taking place everywhere.

"Probably the most frustrating thing when you talk about women in music is that it feels like it's unbreakable, until you then see the conversations happening recently and the collective consciousness," says Dorgan in reference to women coming out in the media to face down male abusers. "It's like the whole world went 'Erm, do you know that thing that's been going on for years? We're done with that, thanks.' Now is probably the most positive time this conversation could happen."


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