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She/Her was more than just a gig, it was an intimate exploration of marginalisation; a transient look into the world of those who aren’t under-represented, simply under-appreciated and overlooked. Each performance was a lesson in humility; they were raw, egoless, emotional and stood for more than just that moment. This was the first time in a long time that I felt struck to the core, and I hope it made leaps in changing dominant attitudes towards women in music, and most importantly the perception of the ways women can achieve success in the music industry.
The gig was conceived by THEO and FMK, who said, “She/Her was kicked into motion one night [when] all the artists we were listening to at the time were fucking amazing women… we became wedded to the idea of having an all female lineup.” This event undisputedly promoted women in music, and particularly recognised those who are making huge leaps in an industry which doesn’t cater as well to them as it does to men.
Yanyé played her first Wellington show, and opened with incredible beats, and an unbelievably soulful voice that left me feeling weightless but anchored. She played songs off of her upcoming EP Simple Pleasures which has been delayed due to a whisky related incident, but after hearing Yanyé live, I’m more than happy to wait. Her stage presence is mesmerising and draws you in with slow purposeful sways and gesticulations that compliment the music. Her set up was very casual, with her singing and Mali as DJ, but this arrangement strengthened the performance. She was the only person on the stage to look at, and no one could look away. Having played regularly with rap/hip-hop artists from Auckland including RaizaBiza, Melodownz, and Tom Scott (Average Rap Band / Home Brew), Yanyé was well versed in entertaining a crowd. Similar to a listening party, she stopped after each song to resounding applause, thanked the audience, and then explained a bit about her next song. My only critique was that I wish she’d have let some of the songs speak for themselves and left no gaps between some of them.
The second performer was Arcee Rapper, a Manchester born and Dunedin based hiptronic artist. She had just returned from gigs in Germany and Switzerland opening for American rap acts at various shows. In an interview before the gig began she said, “being a female rapper they don’t take you as seriously I guess.” This is just the beginning of a world that many musicians and people may never understand but it is so vital that is illustrated and amended. Arcee Rapper has cultivated her hiptronic style, but on the night she performed her piano rap act, illustrating that her musical ability extends beyond provocative lyricism. This was an emotional and powerful performance which left the crowd in unanimous applause after every single song of her set. On a currently (I believe) nameless song, she stressed the inherent one-sidedness of sexuality in rap, singing, “it’s no secret that sex sells / We got girls degrading themselves / and rap is where this shit excels / so I’m out here walking on eggshells.” What I took away from her performance is the unexplored world of lyrical material in rap when it comes to the experiences and problems faced by women on a daily basis. Arcee pointed out that one of her songs is about a friend who wanted to get plastic surgery, and she likes the challenge of targeting those issues and being part of a new era in rap; she said, “my mum doesn’t wear makeup [or] low cut tops, and take whatever you want from that but I see it as a blessing because I never grew up with a mum that had expectations of how I looked. It was never a conversation we had. [I was taught to] practice, work hard, and be nice to people.” Her music speaks to more than just gender though, as she also focuses on issues around the rap industry’s obsession with image. In her latest song “alg” she highlights the unhealthy obsession that many rap artists have with creating a brand and not necessarily about appearing as a real person who smiles, wears pyjamas that aren’t Versace when they sleep, and are just generally an ordinary human being. Arcee’s raps are very real and presented in a palatable format, particularly in this piano rap form.
Mahalia Simpson was the final performer of the night, and was reminiscent of artists such as Lauryn Hill and India Arie, both of whom she cites as inspiration. Fresh from the X-Factor Australia, where she finished fifth, I was concerned that she would still be stuck in the cookie cutter mould that most contestants appear to leave in, but Mahalia’s performance was nothing but genuine, humbling, and spell-binding. Her elegant control over her voice, as well as smooth guitar lines brought her ability as a musician and a performer to the forefront. She played songs I was unfamiliar with, but they all still felt like home. Mahalia has a certain aura around her personality and presence both onstage and off that just makes you feel like you’ve known her for years and the audience responded well to this, especially towards the end of her set when she told the crowd that the other songs she had were sad and she wanted to play happy songs, so she just strung some chords together and asked the audience for topics to sing about. The gig finished with the best possible conclusion, as Arcee and Yanyé returned to the stage and had an impromptu jam together—Mahalia played guitar, Arcee rapped, and Yanyé sung. It was amazing to watch the three of them interact, and the performance spoke volumes about the quality of New Zealand music and women in music.
This gig was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The cumulative effect of beautiful, powerful music, and taking a stand against an area in music that urgently needs amending, left this gig a lingering success in my mind, and certainly in the minds of many. I look forward to seeing each of these performers in future, as well as other creative concepts THEO and FMK may think up.