by Tara Bursey
Sarah Beatty is one impressive lady—she’s a musician and an environmental scientist! Sarah is a Hamilton- based artist who grew up with two hometowns and many addresses on both sides of the border. In 2011, she recorded the first tracks of what would become her debut solo album, Black Gramophone, released in May of 2012.
In just a few short months, the live-off-the floor recording garnered support from local and international press and radio, national audiences, and generated an invite to audition for the Mariposa Folk Festival and a Roots Recording of the Year nomination from the Hamilton Music Awards in 2012. On top of her many musical accomplishments, she is expecting to get her Ph.D. later this year.
Young women are rarely encouraged to pick up a guitar. How did you first start playing one? Who were the earliest women singers/songwriters to inspire you?
Internal and external barriers are huge factors that affect when a woman will pick up an instrument and/or use their voice to express themselves and their views. I don’t know what all the drivers are, but I really like seeing more and more young women writing songs and making music – women hold court in really important cultural ways.
I didn’t start playing guitar till I was 20 or so, but I grew up listening to a wide breadth of female artists from Joni Mitchell and Ani Difranco, to Aretha Franklin…and the cool thing about the music is that the really rich music stays with you over time. Ani Difranco came into my awareness in my teens, and her music is so complex and multilayered. She’s funny, clever, challenging, compassionate – (she’s) a real, full human being who communicates so much through her guitar, voice, and lyricism. Her work has taught me so much about music, songwriting, the music business, and how messages can be both fundamental and elevated through music. Songs document and carry the cultural messages of their time with complexity and beauty.
Did you make an interesting discoveries in the process of learning a historic labour song to cover for our upcoming IWD Singalong Event? How can historic folk songs be related to contemporary struggles around labour and feminism?
It’s been an interesting exercise to really go back and explore labour songs written by women. Art really does imitate life. Up till the (second-wave feminist movements) of the 60s and 70s, you had lots of songs written by women that were about their dads and husbands. Lullabies were the main working songs of women. But then with the shift in social perspectives of the role of women in society and the mass movement of women working outside the home, the music shifted too. Instead of the women providing commentary on the work of others, more and more they were providing commentary on themselves and what they were experiencing ‘out there’.
Dolly Parton’s Working 9 to 5 is a great example of that, I think. If you take a look at the lyrics, it’s fundamentally a protest song. And so now, here I am now looking at my own working songs and asking the question: ‘how do I fit into that lineage of songwriting and social commentary, what is it that my perspective is documenting about the time in which I/we live today?’ Funnily enough, I’ve got songs about student debt, how we use the environment, and what it means to be a strong working woman in our society. What a neat thing to consciously explore as an artist. I’m super excited to have this opportunity and share what I’ve learned.