It’s been five years since we lost His Royal Badness and his birthday has unofficially been declared Prince Day by fans. Over here, we’ve turned that day into the Afrofuturism showcase. However, we’ll do things differently from now on. With the end of The Black Swan Collective, we don’t do a regular show anymore, so on days such as this, we’ll offer playlists celebrating BlackFemGenius, Black women music artists Prince would have appreciated or show that same flare for creativity on their own terms. And quite frankly just women I like. And to kick it off, today we have a supersize show of some of the women featured over the years. So please enjoy the music and celebrate these artists while they’re still here.
Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber
Cammie Gilbert just has one of those voices. It picks you up by the neck and shakes you. But gently. Heavy metal has its throat growlers and its melodic singers. (Of course, Alexis Brown does both quite well.) Cammie falls into the latter category. She has the type of voice that works in a number of genres, but she uses it to front heavy metal outfit Oceans of Slumber.
The addition of Cammie took this previously all-male group in a different direction and they benefited from it. Their first album Aetherial got them some notice, but it was not a breakout success in its 2013 release. They had a good group going, but nothing made it stand out in the world of heavy metal.
Enter Cammie Gilbert in 2015. The group releases an EP, Blue, consisting of several covers. Among them is a stunning 13+ minute version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” With the EP, Cammie helped the group create a unique identity and provide a more original focus in progressive heavy metal. Furthermore, Blue had been an indie release, but was picked up by a label once it gained traction.
They brought this traction to this year’s release Winter. This album was one of the most anticipated among heavy metal fans and it did not disappoint.
Winter appears the very definition of prog metal: deeply rooted in the drive that makes harder sounds but not afraid to put a soft touch on the grime. Cammie’s voice does much to lend that touch and it works out excellently.
The group released the title track “Winter” well ahead of the album’s release. This is when I first heard of the group. I checked out the track and dug the sound. I loved seeing Cammie fronting the band and hoped to find more as I awaited with other fans for the group to finally release the album. That was when I was disappointed with Aetherial but only because I realized Cammie was not yet the group’s vocalist.
Blue. I’ve gotten to like prog metal more over time, especially with industrial making its place in the late 90s through the likes of Nine Inch Nails. However, I don’t find too many women, particularly Black women, fronting prog metal bands. I don’t know if the group decided to change direction first or found Cammie and decided it was best to adapt to her voice, but this was a match made in metal.
Blue (and repeated playings of “Kashmir”) held me until Winter’s release and I’m happy to say a heavy metal album made it to some of my favorite music released this year. Cammie Gilbert is one of the vocalist I’ve been most ecstatic to discover this year. She shows that heavy metal need not always be rough in order to have an edge and melody can be just as progressive as the growl.
Kayla Phillips of Bleed the Pigs
I probably first heard of Bleed the Pigs through the blackrockandrollmusic Tumblr where I find many artists today. I know I downloaded almost all of their albums and EPs once they became available on Bandcamp. I also know I enjoyed the music.
I know I just praised Cammie Gilbert for her incredible voice, but sometimes good old metal screaming works just as well. And Kayla Phillips provides a great share of that metal rage through her vocals. She brings that rawness that metal is known for in her vocals and performance. She also brings a bare honesty and wisdom that adds to her charisma and strength off the stage.
Bleed the Pigs emerged in 2013 from Kayla’s Nashville home, coincidentally also home to Alexis Brown. Kayla shares Alexis’ death metal vocals but has more in common with old school metal growlers and is classified as grindcore. Admittedly, at times I often have no idea what Kayla’s saying in her vocals but get caught up in the raw energy she exudes in her performance. It’s what got me on tracks like “Stuck” from their Mortis Fatum EP from 2014. They also released the Overcompensation for Misery EP that same year. And an EP of two Nirvana covers. Yeah BTP was busy in 2014.
In 2015, the group continued to release their work. They began with an album they split with the group Thetan, meaning they did half the album and Thetan did the other half. They also contributed the track “Jeb for the Ruler of the (Formerly) Free World” on the album Spazzin’ to the Oldies: A Tribute to Spazz. In the middle of the year, Bleed the Pigs released the two-track EP Mind and Matter.
The music was not the only place where Kayla used the strength of her voice. She reminded metal audiences of the potential metal has as an outlet for Black female expression in a powerful essay she penned for Noisey magazine. She connected her experience in metal to an area that may have surprised a few fans: the Black Lives Matter movement. In her essay, Kayla explains the necessity of Black women’s rage in metal during this politically heavy climate. Essentially, she makes a similar case Laina Dawes makes in her work What Are You Doing Here? Heavy metal provides a much needed outlet for Black women to express their rage and disenchantment, particularly when we live in a state of fear and disillusionment in this current political climate.
Kayla also took to the pen to express a more personal matter that perhaps explains the slow down in the group’s creative output. In an open letter on Tumbler, she revealed the band’s guitarist David Hobbs had sexually assaulted her. The breach of trust not only involved this sexual assault but also David’s leaving the band, putting Kayla in both a creative and financial bind. However, she has vowed to regroup and continue Bleed the Pigs as soon as possible. In the meantime, hopefully Kayla has the support she needs to heal and carry on with her life.
Carla Harvey of Butcher Babies
I’m certain I first heard of Butcher Babies from Tumblr. I connect with many metalheads and others who look for Black acts in various subgenres of rock. So of course I noticed Carla Harvey looking very much like a metal vixen, the ones I used to see in music videos from the 80s. Along with Heidi Shepherd, she fronts Butcher Babies.
One of the things I like about them is that they do remind me of groups I would see on MTV’s Headbangers Ball on the few occasions I dared watch it. They self-released their self-titled EP in 2011. However, what I didn’t know is that they released the EP along with an indie comic book at Comic Con International in San Diego. Carla wrote the comic herself with illustrations by Anthony Winn. However, it makes sense considering the group often incorporates horror antics in their stage shows and visuals.
By 2013, the group had a record deal and released their first studio album Goliath. Their effort puts them in several subgenres of metal including thrash and groove metal. Their work also shows a clear punk influence. The lead single, “I Smell a Massacre,” puts them in a line of metal and hard rock artists such as Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. However, the band cites the Plasmatics as its primary influence, taking its name from the song “Butcher Baby.” Carla mentions her admiration for Wendy O. Williams and the fact that Black musicians were a part of the band.
In 2014, the group released a second EP Uncovered. This EP included a rather fun cover of the novelty classic “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!” Of course, their version has more of a death metal edge, turning the comedic classic from Napoleon XIV into a nightmarish vision that works well with their Butcher Baby image. However, that year they also announced plans for their second album.
Take It Like a Man was released in 2015. Of the album, Carla said, “We all come from different places and backgrounds, but every member of this band had to fight to be the person he or she is today. That’s the whole basis for the record. It’s not a gender thing. It’s the inner strength you have to find in order to pull your boots up and keep moving forward, whatever the situation may be.” Mid-year, they released the lead single “Monster’s Ball.” In August, they did a great piece of self-promotion that fits well in the social media Internet age. The group made an official album stream on YouTube. The stream features video of every track on the album. It’s all a performance, giving fans a glimpse of the group’s performance style without any horror antics, just the frontwoman charisma of Carla and Heidi.
Most of us did not see Black women in heavy metal in the 80s because MTV did not show them. We did not know Militia Vox or Sophia Ramos. Internet resources have allowed us to retrieve them. However, with Carla Harvey, we do get an idea of how they may have performed and the aesthetic they may have brought to the stage. With Carla, we get a continuation of the legacy they created.
This week I hope you forgive any sound issues with the show. You may need to turn down my spoken segments in case they are too loud. We feature music from Shinobi Ninja, Kehlani and Alsarah & the Nubatones. Also, our weekly throwback segment is a treat for 70s mellowness. We give you lots of smoothed out sounds again this week.
(Barely Audible) Music Under: “The Black Mother” by Georgia Anne Muldrow as Jyoti
You can find me on Twitter @IndasCorner, Tumblr at cornerstorepress.tumblr.com and my blog at cornerstorepress.wordpress.com. You can also check out the podcast I co-host with Didi (@dustdaughter) called Black Girl Squee (@blackgirlsquee) atblackgirlsquee.podomatic.com. You can support me and the show email@example.com or find me on Patreon at Inda Lauryn.
A few weeks ago I gave my own reflections about learning to fall in love with new music again as a response to Questlove’s short essay. His title was misleading as he actually talked about how difficult it is to respond to music the same way as we did when we had to work for it through vinyl and cassettes. But he made some good points as I often found myself struggling to get into new music because I don’t access it the same way as I used to.
However, I recently found myself inundating myself with a slew of new artists brought to my attention via social media, mostly Tumblr through a pretty awesome blog @ blackrockandrollmusic. I mostly perk up when I find music by black women. This happened when I listened to a few songs by Kimya Dawson, who is often featured on the blog. I’m sure the song was “Tree Hugger” and I was captured by the quirky, carefree tone. This is the type of music I want to hear more black women making.
It also made me think of music for indie films. I found out later that this actually was included on the Juno soundtrack, but I’d only seen the film once and paid no attention to the soundtrack. Still, I got inspired. I wanted to make my own songtrack for a black girl indie film, something that captured our quirkiness as much as our messiness. I wanted to answer Wyatt Cenac’s Micah in one of my favorite indie films Medicine for Melancholy. He plainly states, “Everything tied to indie is tied to not being black.” I wanted to tie indie back to black.
So I set out to work on A Black Girl’s Indie Film Songtrack, music for a film never made. (Yes, there will be sequels because I got a lot of music 😉 I turned to that aforementioned Tumblr blog because I knew it had exposed me to some great stuff. I re-found Peter and Kerry and reminded myself that Johnnyswim is too adorable for words. I remembered the haunting quality of Cold Specks on my own and turned my attention to Fitz & the Tantrums. I spent days searching Tumblr for audio files to listen to these artists and see how well they fit with my songtrack.
I then went back to a few artists I had already known or found through other spaces such as AfroPunk like Marian Mereba. Of course, Imani Coppola is the first on that list since I’ve been a fan of hers for nearly 20 years. Then I remembered Georgia Anne Muldrew from her beautiful animated video for “Runaway” and fell in love with her whole vibe. Martina Topley-Bird came to my attention again and I have yet another musical shero. And don’t get me started on PHOX.
I eventually began to put the playlist together. It was much harder than I thought because I wanted to include so many awesome artists. I needed just the right V.V. Brown song; I had to include denitia odigie; it’s okay to include Remy Shand; Straight Line Stitch’s acoustic work is just fine for the mood. I had to narrow down which Santigold song I would use since both her albums already sound like the songtrack to my life… I decided eclectic was okay since it matches the mood of my indie film: all over the place in a way that makes sense only to me.
While I had fun with the list, I also got another unexpected benefit while deciding what to include. I revisited some artists I’d downloaded from sites like Bandcamp but didn’t properly get to know. For instance, I had to relisten to Estère to figure out if she had anything that went well with the list. I found a place for TV on the Radio and finally had an excuse to include new favorites like Greighwolfe. Even Ben L’Oncle Soul’s francophone soul seems to fit even though I’m almost certain he’s performing a romantic ballad.
In short, I realized I was falling in love with new music again. But I still needed to get to know it. I think I found the key last week…
For some reason, my MP3 player shifted around some songs and took them out of their regular alphabetical order. At first I thought they’d disappeared, but they were simply shifted to the end of the rotation. I found myself paying attention more to these songs since I didn’t expect them out of their regular rotation. That was when I decided I needed to give some of the newer music in my collection a chance by loading it on the MP3, the one place I intimately get to know my music when I’m out for a walk or in transport for one reason or another.
But this would lead me to some hard decisions. I don’t have an iPod or another device that holds thousands of audio files. I knew I would have to get rid of some of the songs already on the device to make room for the new artists. I had all of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog, some Minnie Riperton, Donny Hathaway, Sly & the Family Stone, The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire that I had to sacrifice out of rotation. Then again, I know all those songs and albums forward and backward, so I can just put them on when I’m in the mood. I’m sure these artists understand that I need to give this new music a chance to endear itself to me.
For now, Martina Topley-Bird, PHOX, Kimya Dawson, Peter and Kerry, Johnnyswim, Fitz & the Tantrums, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Cold Specks are more than worth it. I’m looking forward to getting to know their work better and making songtracks to the sequels of my nonexistent black girl indie films. I’m so glad to have found a way to fall in love with new music again, especially with so many black girls taking back music outside the bounds of R&B.