What does artist extraordinaire Luz Elena Mendoza do with her first two days off during Y La Bamba’s September tour of Portugal and Spain?
“I’m resting, thinking about how I can dismantle this bullshit patriarchy by myself,” she says. “We need to deconstruct and rewire the whole f***ing entire society.”
Oct. 3-5 | Area venues | Reno, Nev.
Earlier this year, Mendoza released Y La Bamba’s fifth album in less than a decade; it’s aptly entitled “Mujeres,” Spanish for women.
“It’s something that’s been in my psyche and heart since the day I was born,” she says. “I’m coming to terms with being a woman. Especially as a queer woman of color, we start shaming ourselves for things we don’t have to.”
“If you want good art, then have a system to include more voices rather than the millennia of males voices we’ve heard for time immemorial.”
— Margo Cilker
Now in her 30s, Mendoza possesses the tools and confidence to fearlessly confront the prejudice and harassment she and other women have faced since the dawn of humankind.
“A lot of this record is about protecting my mom,” she says. “Of course I’m f***ing angry. I take this feeling and make art out of it. It has to do with integrity, intensity and trying to move this shit forward. People need to be mindful. They need to understand what they are saying. The responsibility for men is to listen to women. Some may say I’m intense or fiery, but it needs to be said. It needs to be done.”
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“I think that a lot of bands have not only females but are female-led, as well as several all-female bands,” says co-founder and festival director Flip Wright. “We certainly want there to be diversity in what we do.”
A Gender Imbalance
According to #bookmorewomen, an organization committed to addressing the gender inequality that plagues the industry, two out of three bands at every major American music festival are completely male.
Of the 80 acts booked for Offbeat 2019, 37 have at least one female member. That equals 46 percent. While that’s better than the national average, it’s still an eye-opening statistic for any festival that prides itself on inclusivity and a commitment to the discovery of under-the-radar independent artists.
“There is not a huge community of female artists to connect with about being in a band as a female,” says Ashley Costelloe, lead singer of Reno alternative group Pink Awful. “The real thing is we haven’t made that much progress in treating females equally and gaining the power we deserve and actually own. It’s difficult to get your message across when you’re not being taken seriously. Everyone is looking at what she looks like and not who she is as an artist.”
Some groups such as Los Angeles indie rockers Blushh are lucky enough to find a strong support in a musical community that regularly puts on all-female showcases.
“It feels like you’re all in it together,” says frontwoman Shab Ferdowsi. “Being a woman on stage doing your thing to a crowd of people and doing it really well, it means that I’m going to keep doing my thing regardless of what’s being done or said otherwise.”
“There’s an unspoken understanding between women that happens in all aspects of life,” says bassist Sarah Rose of the shoegaze country trio from Portland. “It’s something we think about because we are women playing music, but that sort of feels like a side note. We’re just people playing music first.”
Ironically, too much focus on gender can actually hinder the progress toward gender equality in the world of music and art, says singer Allie Hanlon of Peach Kelli Pop.
“Sometimes in the dialogue around being a woman in music, there is more attention on that than on the art I make,” says Hanlon. “I’m just trying to take a step back and make the best art I can, hoping they’re looking at it without the filter of me being a woman.”
As any female artist knows, they regularly have to work harder and acquire more resiliency than their male counterparts in order to survive and thrive.
“All of us have become empowered woman because we know what it’s like to struggle,” says Oregonian folk singer Margo Cilker. “If you want good art, then have a system to include more voices rather than the millennia of males voices we’ve heard for time immemorial. I’d be bored off my ass if I went to that festival that didn’t book any women. We’re not doing enough.” | offbeatreno.com