Last weekend I played in the closing concert of London’s Women of the World Festival, a Nordic-themed evening hosted by the inimitable Dane Sandi Toksvig. An all female orchestra conducted by the fantastic Jessica Cottis and played in by me me me we were joined on stage by a host of amazing female musicians from musical theatre star Anna-Jane Casey and Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Jazz Collective to vocalist Jumoké Fashola and world-famous opera singer Anne Sofie Von Otter It was such a lot of fun and it was also very silly - the real meat of the festival, changing the world for the better of all women, happened at the workshops and events and panel discussions held throughout the week. The final concert was a moment for celebration, laughter, and Swedish cow-calling.
There was some serious feminism too and let’s not forget it. Helen Pankhurst joined us on stage throughout, with a row of suffragettes sporting "Deeds Not Words" sashes sitting in the balcony above her to remind us of her genetic feminism credentials. One of my favourite moments was listening to Gudrun Jonsdottir voice crack as she recalled standing in a crowd of 20,000 in Reykjavik during the 1975 Icelandic Women’s Strike, a day when 90% of Iceland’s female population went on strike from all forms of labour with the resulting public dialogue about feminism resulting in Iceland’s current status as number one for gender equality in the world. We were reminded that the Women's Equality Party was a direct result of WoW 2 years ago, and we were informed that only 1.8% of the music performed publicly last year in the USA was by women - 0% by alive women! - so we played only music by women, and the only people playing it were women. (Apart from all the ABBA.)
We (quite rightly) didn’t get away without examining our consciences. Founder of WoW Jude Kelly held a socially and financially comfortable audience to account to listen to our marginalised peers, not to pretend that race, class and sexuality don’t complicate oppression, and remind us that feminism that is not intersectional is worthless. While we had a ball in an empowering and light-hearted evening of jokes and choonz she reminded us that conveners of WoW in other nations like Pakistan and Somaliland have faced threats of physical violence for simply daring to discuss women’s rights in a public forum. And Jo Cox’s image flashing up in a slideshow of women who we have lost in 2016 was a stark reminder that even in this country those who fight for equality and justice sometimes do it with their lives.
I enjoyed the event so much and got so much out of it - as a musician and as a woman. It really was unique playing on a stage where everyone was female (apart from Björn from ABBA), and I cannot wait to do it again next year.