When looking back on women of color in folk music like Odetta, Joan Baez, Elizabeth Cotten, Mimi Farina, and Joan Armatrading, it is clear their influence has shaped folk music today, especially for female folk artists in 2016.
The lack of Black women, let alone Black people in general, in the publicized representation of folk music is astonishing considering that they were at the forefront of the creation of this genre. This is why it is extremely important for artists like Lianne La Havas, Julie Byrne, and many more black women to reclaim the space that was intended for them by iconic women such as Odetta.
Although the stories and meanings behind the songs that Black women in folk have evolved with the times, from songs of Black liberation to body positivity, it still rings true that they use their musical platform to tell a message.
Lianne La Havas, whose real name is Lianne Charlotte Barnes, was born on August 23rd 1989 to a Greek father and Jamaican mother and is a British folk and Neo soul singer, songwriter and record producer. She began singing at seven, and wrote her first song at the age of 11, and learned how to play the guitar at 18 years old.
Early in her career, inspired by her parents taste in music, she sang background vocals for Paloma Faith, she was initially discovered on Myspace in 2008. La Havas was co-writer and performer in ‘The Paris Parade’ alongside Christian Pinchbeck (who designed the artwork for Lost & Found) and also is now part of the duo Elephant (Memphis Industries). They had a short career but it began La Havas’ career in commercial music. In 2010, Lianne signed to Warner Bros. Records, spending two years developing her songwriting skills before releasing music publicly.
La Havas made her television debut on October 21, 2011, broadcast of BBC Two’s Later, with Jools Holland, a program that also featured Wisconsin folk band Bon Iver. Following her appearance on Later, with Jools Holland, it was announced on October 25, 2011 that La Havas would be the supporting act for Bon Iver’s December 2011 North American tour.
La Havas released her first EP Lost and Found on October 21, 2011 featuring artists like Willy Mason, and then released another EP titled Live From Doubt. She has also worked with and in support of Artists such as Alicia Keys and Prince.
After touring Jamaica with her mother, she felt inspired to write her Grammy nominated album Blood. This album includes songs like “Unstoppable” and “What You Don’t Do”. Reviewers describe La Havas music as “illuminating passion, impulsiveness, ambivalence and uncertainty, yet the structures La Havas created are lucid and poised”.
Having Lianne La Havas in the music industry is very important because she is aiding in the representation of Black women in alternative music styles.
Lianne La Havas wrote Unstoppable to attempt to repair a relationship that she ended. She wished that she could rekindle her relationship with former bass player. They attempted the relationship again but called it quits once more.
La Havas depicts how a woman can be broken down by the words and actions of a man during her song Lost & Found.
In a feminist perspective, she brings light to the unhealthy need to compare or alter oneself to attempt to imitate what a man wants her to do. This could be seen as her call for self-love which is a subset of feminism because “self-love is seen as a political act, because we are conditioned to aspire to beauty ideals (conditioned under the male gaze).” (Psychology Today) It is seen as cocky or unusual to not have insecurities about your body or yourself in general. Lianne La Havas sings of this explicitly,
You broke me and taught me
To truly hate myself
Unfold me and teach me
How to be like somebody else
You broke me and taught me to
Truly hate myself
Unfold me and teach me
To be like somebody else
Everyday there are new generations of young Black people joining the world of music. They are redefining their selected genres and paving the way, just the way that artists such as Odetta did for them. These artists are extremely essential as leaders in the lyrical industry because it reinforces the fact that we can do anything that we set our minds to, no matter the gender, skin color etc. They are also helping to bring support the Black community with their selected topics of rhythmic conversation.