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writer K. Linda Kivi

by K. Linda Kivi | August 27, 1997

K. Linda Kivi is the author of Canadian Women Making Music. In the foreword, she tells why she wrote it and what she discovered. Here are some excerpts:

The spark that lit the fires of my curiosity in 1984 was the first Canadian Music and Cultural Festival. Like many other festival goers, I went to Winnipeg knowing very little about women musicians in Canada. Like most Canadians, if asked about women musicians in this country, I probably would have come up with a short list of names like Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell (yes, she’s Canadian), Carole Pope, Liona Boyd and Maureen Forrester. To my list I would have added a few feminist performers like Ferron and Heather Bishop. And after that?

And as for historical figures ... ?

In the face of innumerable dead ends and entirely blank decades, I began to wonder why I was even bothering with the past. What is the importance of rediscovering women’s history? The more I thought about it the more I realized how much the past has to do with the present; to look at one without the other is to miss half the picture. To hear about the predecessors is to understand the context of our own struggles. To know about these women is empowering; it reaffirms our own potential. To share in what they created can be a source of great inspiration. To hear, to know and share is to claim our past and, in the process, to reclaim our place in present day society.

So on I plowed ... I begin the chronology in the mid 19th century when records of individual women begin to emerge in the Canadian musical landscape for the first time. Rather than viewing these women as exceptions, their lives can illuminate some of the struggles musical women faced. Given that history has primarily recorded the experiences of the white, middle- and upper-class elite, the individual experiences of minority women are missing ... Yet from various veiled references and untitled archival photos, it is clear that women of all races, classes and ethnicities did make music, albeit primarily within their own communities..

Fortunately, the 1980s seemed to be a time in which more and more women of diverse backgrounds were taking their rightful place in the “Canadian mosaic.” I set out to interview a broad cross section of these women in the hopes of finding the common threads that weave our experiences as women together ...

From this mixed bag of experience and outlook a number of issues emerged again and again. Beginnings had been difficult, particularly among the women over 30. A lack of self-confidence, role models, encouragement and the financial means to set out were sources of struggle for most ...

Many of these women spoke of the constant struggle to be accepted. They had to be twice as good as a man. They had to be double determined. And they had to learn the fine art of balancing their personal commitments and their musical lives ...

Externally, women have had to battle with the attitudes of managers, record companies and producers who continue to be mostly male. Women who pioneered musically did not find it easy to make inroads into the music industry. Traditional attitudes about women’s roles often created formidable barriers. “Women are always expected to do things in a certain way whether it’s playing music, washing dishes or peeing; there’s supposed to be a type of gesturing that goes along with what we do that indicates that we’re heterosexual, dominated by men and cute in a feminine way which is submissive,” said Connie Nowe. On a more positive note she stated: “I think that’s changing. Women are starting to feel comfortable with being assertive, aggressive and other kinds of things that women aren’t supposed to be. That’s why women are starting to play.”

resources for this story

  • Canadian Women Making Music, by K. LINDA KIVI, Green Dragon Press | 1992
  • Hot Licks: Lesbian Musicians of Note, by LEE FLEMING, ed., gynergy books, P.O. Box 2023, Charlottetown, PEI, C1A 7N7 | 1996
  • The National Film Board has at least two films on women and music:
    – Kate and Anna McGarrigle (No. 0181 072)
    – Satellite Symphony – Beethoven and One Woman’s Dream (No. 0189 098)

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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