Music That Defined Womanhood in 2016

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Twenty sixteen might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but the music was great. We’ve rounded up the best; our favourites, a soundtrack to womanhood over the last 365 and a quarter days. Happy 2017!

Noname – Telefone

After many promising guest spots, including Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins, Noname channels her creativity into a rich and sombre album. The sound is, on the surface at least, of the feel-good variety, but beneath cheerful, skipping surface the lyrics address some heavy subjects. Telefone is underpinned with stories of black pain, specifically a black women’s pain. She raps of her granny’s spirit telling her “you know they whipped us niggas?” (‘Reality Check’) and in ‘Bye Bye Baby’ she discusses abortion with tender understanding. This is a touchingly intimate portrait of death, change and truth-telling. The album is misery laced with sunshine and its tone is defiant. “I know this is a song for the overcoming”, Noname mumbles on ‘Freedom’. She is staying afloat, so you can too.

Angel Olson – My Woman

To be a woman is a complex thing. Angel Olsen’s third full-length album, My Woman, is a lesson in self-possession. Her vocals are a kaleidoscope of softness and strength, with flashes of pop, rock and Motown. The upbeat A-side and more mellow B-side are woven together with a captivating web of heartbreak and humour. “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman,” Olsen challenges on ‘Sister’, the album’s powerful cri du coeur. My Woman shows that what makes a woman is sometimes too much to know.

Solange –  A Seat at the Table

“This is why many black people are uncomfortable being in predominantly white spaces”, wrote Solange on Saint Heron after her experience at a Kraftwerk gig in New Orleans. While dancing, she was reportedly told to “sit down” by a group of white women, who proceeded to pelt her with half-eaten limes. In her third album, A Seat at the Table, Solange carves out a space of her own. The empowering sentiment and anger of her Saint Heron post is felt throughout, with lyrics like “fall in your ways so you can wake up and rise” (Rise) and  “I’m weary of the ways of the world” (Weary). Stylistically, Solange remains true to her dreamy R&B and futuristic funk sound, but this album offers substance with style. Solange called the album a “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing” and I just can’t stop listening.

Beyoncé – Lemonade

While her sister showed us what to do when life gives you limes, Beyoncé gives us a stunning tale of what to do when life gives you lemons. Lemonade is much more than an album- it has become an iconographic story of black female strength and salvation. ‘Freedom’ celebrates women’s power (“I break chains all by myself/ Won’t let my freedom rot in hell”) and is strikingly paired with the visuals of the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. While Lemonade gives listeners a glimpse into private affairs, prompting reviews such as ‘furious glory of a woman scorned’, its power comes from its stories of female endurance, warmth and wit. It is a culturally imperative, a visual odyssey.

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

“If you ask me why representation is important

I will tell you that on the days I don’t feel pretty

I hear the sweet voice of Missy singing to me

pop that pop that, jiggle that fat

don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet

I will tell you that right now there are a million

black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them”- ‘For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem)’ by Ashlee Haze, sampled on Freetown Sound.

In a year characterised by men talking over women (*cough* Trump *cough*), this album bucks the trend. Overflowing with his signature mid-tempo percussion, synths and strings, Dev Hynes’s third album, Freetown Sound, puts women’s voices at the forefront. “I guess I just view women higher,” he recently said in an interview, “I don’t know what it is. I think women are so powerful. Not just in the fact that I genuinely prefer female voices—that is a big part of it—but there’s also a particular power that women can put across that men just can’t”. His 2011 Coastal Grooves was written largely from a female perspective and women were also prominent on 2013’s Cupid Deluxe. The extensive and impressive list of women featured on Freetown Sound, ranges from journalists to authors to R&B crooners. It is an album teeming with ideas about identity, but it is not simply a political album, it is most importantly a beautifully crafted work of art.

Princess Nokia – 1992

“DISMANTLING THE INTIMIDATING MASCULINITY OF THE RAP WORLD ONE RIOT GIRL AT A TIME”- Princess Nokia is fun, goofy and she means business. 1992 is an ode to New York grit, her Afro-Nuyorican roots and is firmly placed in a digital sound. Princess Nokia knows there is no one way to be a woman, and she embodies contradictions with confidence. She’s the vision of angelic beauty when she wants to be, or the self-declared bitch who brags about “my little titties and my fat belly”. She owns her sexuality and sticks a middle finger up to anyone who’s out to criticise. This mixtape is loaded with self-love, body positivity and should be on all your playlists.

Savages – Adore Life

This all-female punk band share their uncompromising sound in Adore Life. Vocals tremble, guitars reverberate and the sound is darkly melancholic. The perfect album for when you’ve just been mansplained to or shouted down. Turn it up and don’t be silenced.

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