Ani DiFranco

IT’S the one of the great ‘unmentionables’ of music journalism – with a few exceptions, most musicians, presumably because they spend their lives perfecting their music and image, actually have very little to say about politics and the wider world.


The US singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco is an exception. Backstage, before her gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London last month, DiFranco spoke eloquently and knowledgeably to the Star about a variety of subjects, including the forthcoming US presidential elections, the Iraq war, feminism and the climate chaos that the earth is currently facing.  For DiFranco, underpinning all these issues is patriarchy – ‘the fundamental structure of our society.’


Since her 1990 self-titled debut album, the Buffalo-born folksinger has consistently highlighted progressive causes on her 19 official albums, selling a total of four million records, while touring relentlessly.


It is this prodigious work ethic that recently gained her a place in a CMJ list of the 25 most influential artists of the last 25 years – alongside bands such as U2 and Nirvana – and led to her being honoured with the National Organisation of Women’s ‘Women of Courage Award,’ presented annually to an individual for their contributions to the feminist movement.


Impressively, DiFranco has achieved these accolades without corporate backing, instead choosing to release her music on her own independent label, Righteous Babe Records.  ‘It’s a very long, unglamorous road to go independently. You have to go 10 years to build an audience that a major marketing blitz can do in two months.’


DiFranco believes that ‘it is a bit of a compromise if you are trying to change the system to work within it.’  Wasn’t it difficult to resist signing with a major label?  ‘Ten years ago, when I was struggling, it crossed my mind every day,’ she remembers.  ‘I would often see other young songwriters opening up my show one day in a bar and then, six months later, they would be on the cover of every magazine and have a single on the radio and they’ve got a record deal. I saw this happen many times and I’d be in the same bar.’


Today, though, she is an established artist, who, after giving birth to a baby daughter earlier this year, took time off to compile and release a two-disc ‘best of’ album and a book of her poetry and lyrics.  Her beliefs, though, are as radical as ever. Talking about the US presidential elections, she complains that the media ‘have turned politics into a beauty contest, completely devoid of content.’


Will she vote for the likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton? ‘I’m not into Hillary at all, except as a door opener,’ she says.  ‘In that, if she becomes president, it will be shown that it is possible to have a female president and this will open the door in the future for truly progressive women.’  She notes that Clinton ‘is very much a politician. The best I could hope for out of her is not too much damage is done.’


Although her political allegiances lie with her friend and fellow progressive, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, she notes that she is a ‘practical voter’ and will vote for whoever becomes the Democratic candidate ‘in order to vote against the Republican.


‘I’m going to drink a lot of champagne when the Democrats take control again,’ she quips.  ‘When you are hitting your head against a hyper-conservative system, you can’t get anything done. I think, in terms of the progressive momentum in the United States, (a Democratic administration) will mean we can get more done.’


The gulf between DiFranco and women working in the mainstream was underlined a few days after the interview when Spice Girl Geri Halliwell told the Guardian that feminism, for her, was ‘bra-burning lesbianism.’  Contrastingly, DiFranco has previously written: ‘Either you are a feminist or you are a sexist/misogynist.  There is no box marked ‘other’.’  DiFranco explains: ‘Feminist, if you look it up in the dictionary, means ‘people who believe women should have rights and opportunities equal to men.’ I think it’s very telling that there is one word in the language that means women are equal and we won’t say it. We can’t say it and we don’t identify with it.’


For DiFranco, feminism, as a counteracting force against the imbalance produced by patriarchy, is relevant to both women and men. ‘From patriarchy comes war, comes the destruction of the environment. It’s right there on page one of the Old Testament: ‘God created the earth and man to lord over it.’ There will never be peace as long as there is patriarchy.’


Getting into her stride, she elaborates: ‘The older I get, the more I understand peace is the product of balance. Whether you are talking about your body, or an ecosystem, or relationships between nations, you just can’t have huge imbalances and have there be any kind of peace and tranquillity. You can maybe pollute your body a little, pollute the planet a little, but the degree we are doing it now – the ice caps are going to melt and we are all going to drown!’


Wrapping up the interview, DiFranco summarises: ‘I see the work of feminism as being all of our work – a prerequisite for dealing with all these other social diseases.’


Canon is out now on Righteous Babe Records. Verses is published by Seven Stories Press, priced £11.99. Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England[email protected]



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