Monday music: redressing the balance

Followers of Monday Music may have noticed that most of my posts feature male musicians. The thing is, I have to confess, I prefer men’s voices. Always have. Perhaps it’s because my father used to sing. Or perhaps not, as I seem to remember always squirming with embarrassment whenever he burst into song. Whatever. I think this preference is related to the deeper sound of men’s voices, because I notice that the female singers I like mostly have lower voices. They also tend to have a feisty attitude. I do appreciate an ethereal soprano, but I don’t go out of my way to seek them out.

It’s time to redress the balance. This post is my way of getting it on record that I do like female vocalists, and as evidence of that, and to celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March) for the rest of March I’m only going to post female singers for Monday Music. Over the course of the month I’ll provide two or three videos per decade of my life, starting of course, with my childhood.

The 1960s

Before I started compiling this post, I had absolutely no recollection of anything she sang, but I remembered relating to Nana Mouskouri when I was a child because like me, she had long brown hair and glasses, and seemed to be a bit of a dag. No … wait … it’s coming back to me … pa rum pa pum pum … I think that’s a memory I’d repressed. I always found the song maudlin, and I can’t bring myself to include it in this post, you’ll have to leave if you want to hear it. Try this instead.

Unfortunately this video doesn’t show Nana in one of her famous kaftans, but the following video does not disappoint, in terms of fashion.

I used to love singing this song long before I realised that it was pivotal to the plot of Hitchcock’s Man who knew too much. I even used to sing it to my own son, when he was a baby.

Now for a change of pace.

I don’t have very clear memories of it, but it must have been in the 60s that I first heard African music. It would have of course, have been Miriam Makeba that I heard. Coincidentally, Makeba was born on 4 March, so this post can double as a big posthumous happy birthday to her.

I say, ‘of course’, but the other very famous African song that I remember from the 60s was ‘Wimoweh‘. This was sung by many different male vocalists as well as Makeba, and I have to confess, I don’t really know which song I heard first. Makeba’s version of Wimoweh is here.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of racism or apartheid, of any of the social justice issues that shaped Miriam Makeba’s life. I didn’t know that Miriam Makeba was exiled from her home country of South Africa not long after I was born. I knew nothing of the passion for justice that drove her throughout her life. I just liked the beat. I’ve always liked the beat.

The 70s

Suzi Quatro was essential to any party soundtrack when I was in my mid teens. Looking back, she seems pretty poppy, with the pre-punk synchronised footwork, but at the time, we all thought she was hard core.

Meanwhile, at home, I was listening to this English band that no-one else had heard of. They sang of witches turning men into worms, Kings in love with ghosts, and the Queen of Elfland kidnapping young men.

That’s the stirring voice of Maddy Pryor with her medieval folk rock group Steeleye Span. I discovered an audio cassette of their album A Parcel of Rogues in our local library when I was around 15. I was fascinated first by the cover, and then by the music, and I don’t think anyone else ever had a chance to borrow the tape. Still love it.

And then … I left home. At what now looks like the tender age of 16 and at the time felt like worldly-wise adulthood (ha!) I moved to the big smoke and in my big brother’s leftie pinko hippy student lounge room, I heard this:

The inimitable Billie Holiday.

Thus began my political education.

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