Malvinas Bring Rebel Girls To Hamilton

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malvinas posterMalvinas is an art/rock/noise/punk/riot grrrl/jamboree/feminist band from Syracuse, NY. They are based in the work of Malvina Reynolds (b. 1900, USA), a folk singer/songwriter whose intersectional approach to social, political, and environmental justice continues to provide wisdom and inspiration.

Malvinas will be playing a free concert Saturday, August 22nd from 1 – 4pm at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre at 51 Stuart St. as part of Radiodress‘ summer-long exhibition, Mysterium Tremendum.

Check out the Facebook event – https://www.facebook.com/events/847644862021729/

R: What was the inspiration behind the band, and why was it important for you to participate/contribute/co-create?

LexMal: Initially, I thought connecting to Malvina Reynolds would be a way for people with various music abilities to create together. Malvina Reynolds was wicked smart and funny; her lyrics are great, she connected so many social justice issues. From our first rehearsal we’ve had an energy and collaboration that is better than almost any other creative thing I’ve done. So the group is very important to me. As an artist, I work on how art is related to political change, and I’ve found our band, and music has a stronger connection to audience and politics than I usually experience in visual arts.

DrumMal: I was initially wary about joining a group based in “folk” music as that isn’t really my deal, but I WAS interested in joining, as it was pitched, a “DIY feminist band” and getting to play my drums more often. I knew VoxMal the most, but still only a bit. However, I knew if she was involved, it was a worthy pursuit. In such a short time, the Mals have become a second family tribe. Perhaps because we all feel safe and empowered in the messages we create with each other.

LuluMal: While there were many reasons to initially join the band – simply being part of a band itself was pretty empowering and something I never thought I’d do. Beyond that, it’s fulfilling  to work within the context of talking about the issues of social, economic, labour and gender rights. Also, being a younger member of the band, I get a lot out of listening to and being around people who have seen and lived more than I have.

UkeMal: When Joanna asked me if I would like to be involved in forming a band and playing Malvina Reynolds songs, I had a vague notion of who she was. After I did some research and started playing her music, I have found Malvina Reynolds to be an inspiration for my creative life and in general. I am in my late forties which is when she started writing and singing songs. I really identify with a lot of the things she said about how women are perceived at each stage of our lives and her resistance to being defined by society. This band is a way to use my voice and be in collaboration with others who want to raise up their voices to confront injustice and to support people’s right to self-determination and creative freedom. I also come from a long line of agitators and union organizers. I grew up with union stories about my grandfathers and father. My mother was a community organizer and I have done a lot of work myself in different communities. I grew up with the folk music from my mother and the punk music of generation X, so it is natural that I would find a musical and artistic home with the Malvinas.

BassMal:I am a folkie from early in my life.  I was raised listening to and singing folk music, but also punk, which is very similar in a lot of ways.  I like to say the difference between bluegrass and speed metal is electricity.  So I was familiar with Malvina’s songs and her story.  As I grew older I became increasingly interested in labor struggles, which she participated in partly because she was married to William “Bud” Reynolds, a well-known carpenter and labor organizer but also because she just couldn’t stand injustice and there was a lot of that around.

In my twenties, I started to see what punk and protest folk share:  Dissatisfaction and anger at the state of the world and a need to change it through music.  The music also tends to be simple, catchy, and easy to learn and to play, meaning there is less of a disconnect between musician and audience and more of a possibility for the audience to join in, to cross the line at the foot of the stage, to join the struggle by picking up an instrument or raising their voice.

The punk DIY scene and the folk practice of using simple or home made instruments are another parallel and one that resonates deeply with me.  We make the instruments and we make the music.  So who makes change?  Who makes justice?  Are they, as Utah Phillips said “benevolent gifts from an enlightened ruling class?”

No.

Of course not.

We make change.  We make justice.  All of us.  By joining together to raise our voices and our fists and our lives.

So that’s why Malvina.

VoxMal: Malvina is really amazing for so many reasons, such an inspiration: she’s a lifelong learner invested in Social Justice and people. She also came to music later in her life during a time not very many women–let alone older women– were visible. She was most active as a musician in the 1960s and 1970s, having been born in 1900. Personally, I also identified with her as part of my lineage as a young Jewish girl that came to folk music as a tool for connecting people through social justice, language, and music in a kind of spiritual sense, which was a very meaningful lineage having grown up in the Columbia, South Carolina. Malvina brings an intersectional approach to the civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, socialism, education, workers rights, and social justice work– which is a wisdom we have a lot to learn from. She’s an important role model in what it means to be an ally, to use your voice and resources to amplify the stories and voices of those with less power and visibility.

I also kinda really wanted to be the lead singer of a riot grrl band as a result of a small cover song I did for a friend’s film, and was having a hard time re-adjusting to life in Syracuse after moving back following grad school in NYC. Joanna and I are lovers and life partners, and at some point we were talking and she was like, “Why not make a riot grrrl band after Malvina and call it Malvinas?” And there was so much potential there, so of course we put out a call to a small group of people that we knew were artists, feminists, and had a least a little bit of experience with an instrument and/or performance. Zeke (BassMal), Jen (UkeMal), and Sarah (LuLuMal) were in the Syrauke group with Joanna (LexMal); Andrea (KeyMal) and Joanna taught in the same department at Syracuse University; and Stefanie (DrumMal) and I (VoxMal) worked together on a film when she was in grad school and I was in undergrad in 2007-2008. They said yes, and it turned out to be the most easeful, fruitful, and longest lasting collaboration many of us have known. We took the names of our primary roles in the band (though we all do other stuff too), and have formed a beautiful community of support. In the year and a half we’ve been together, many of our lives have transformed. Every single one of us is in a new chapter of life– and it’s a very beautiful thing. For me, this is a wonderful living example of what it means to be a feminist band of people; constantly negotiating what it means to create together and support one another in the face of changing circumstances of complex lives.

 R: How does the music you make contribute to, expose, resist and create conversation about rape culture?

LexMal: We are feminists; many of our songs draw from feminist history, from “Bread and Roses” (from 1912), to “Secretary” (written by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band in 1973), to our mash up of Joe Hill’s “The Rebel Girl” and Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” Malvina Reynold’s songs are full of strong women demanding their own power, intelligence, and feelings. Rape culture is about violence towards women, of devaluing women. We’re presenting a history of women’s empowerment, and we are also living it as a group who cares for one another, and cares about the world.

DrumMal: We are a band that is largely women, creating music with powerful messages and we all try to embody those messages in our roles in the band and in our daily lives. Yes, there is a man in our band and even though we joke about it a bit, I think it’s important to show that women’s empowerment doesn’t happen in a vacuum and male allies are vital. I also appreciate that I can personally present the image of a woman in the still more male-dominated role of drummer. We can be loud and powerful.

LuluMal: Malvinas is a group of like minded people as well as a band. Being around this group has opened my views and has helped formed my opinion about the world. When we get together, we create a space to talk about things women face in our day to day life. As a group, it normalizes opening up issues that are taboo, yet important to talk about. For example, we rewrote a Malvina Reynolds song about a man who got off scott free from the law after raping a woman to reflect our current and local status of sexual assault. Surprisingly and unsurprisingly, the issues we face today are not all that different than those of 50 and 60 years ago. Malvinas gives us, and me, a space to talk about, share and in some cases make whole issues we face and see on a regular basis.

UkeMal: I think the songs that we sing push against what society expects of women. I think that it is important to challenge our dominant culture because the way that we define women and their roles is what forms the basis of rape culture. We are singing songs that were written in the 60s and the issues that they were talking about are still creating injustice and unsafe situations for women today. When we sing about these things we are saying that we are paying attention and we aren’t going to let this pass. It makes some people uncomfortable and energizes other people. That tells me we are part of this resistance to rape culture and I think we have a commitment to be part of the conversation and the fight.

BassMal: I feel strongly that I should not be the person who comments at all on rape culture:  I am the problem.  I can only say that I hope that my small part in this project supports the work that the rest of the band is doing.

VoxMal:Our other main inspiration is the Riot Grrl movement, which is all about women doing it for themselves with the resources they have in order to create community, content, and voice in societal contexts which offers fews resources and systemically limits voice, power, and possibility of and for women.

One of my favorite memories was at one of our shows, and one of our fans yelled “Women to the front!,” which is what Kathleen Hanna implemented at Bikini Kill concerts to make safe space at punk shows. We were performing a mash up of Joe Hill and Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” The audience was all already mostly women, with a few feminist men; and I was so deeply moved that these women felt empowered to claim the space of our show for themselves. It was very humbling that they got what we were doing in becoming the work that was actually just life.

We’re a very visible example of strong feminists that support one another within a lineage of activists, artists, and feminists that have done the same. We are mothers, fathers, children, and childless; we are and have been married and coupled, divorced and separated; we are over and underemployed;  we are men and women; we are veterans and war protesters; we are queer, straight, and fluid; we have many pets; we have diverse bodies (from very juicy and voluptuous to svelte and athletic) which we embody with confidence through injury, trauma, acceptance, and ability; we are lovers, friends, and strangers; and we are survivors of physical, cultural, emotional and other forms violence.

We have one song that directly address rape culture in an explicit way, but I also think that in by being who we are in the way that we are– we can make a little more space for people like us to breathe and be who they are, and in turn they will do the same.  I don’t think we’ll eradicate rape culture in my lifetime (I’m 29), but we can weaken its power by claiming more for ourselves by just being who we are together: transparent, strong, and resilient.

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