Friday, December 29, 2017

Bad As She Wants To Be: An Interview with Black Guitar Visionary Malina Moye

By Sikivu Hutchinson 

When Eric Clapton declared recently that “maybe the guitar is dead” he clearly didn’t consult Malina Moye, the maverick left-handed axe slinger who is inspiring new generations of electric guitar players to rock on.  Featuring her signature fusion of rock, funk and blues, Moye’s eagerly awaited new album, “Bad As I Wanna Be”, is set to drop in March 2018Over the past decade, Moye has received acclaim for her trailblazing work and was named one of “The Top 10 Female Guitarists to Know”, by Guitar World Magazine.  In a career that’s spanned the globe, she’s performed for the Queen of England, played in the Experience Hendrix Tours, and been featured at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's tribute concert for music pioneer Chuck Berry.  Her “Led Zeppelin meets Sly and the Family Stone, with a little bit of Hendrix thrown in”  2014 record “Rock & Roll Baby” (which featured funk icon Bootsy Collins and was dubbed “insanely good” by Guitar Magazine) garnered three Billboard charting singles on various charts in the Top 40.

Moye describes her upcoming album as acelebration of self [and the cover] image personifies an empowered woman who is her own super hero.”  As one of the only internationally renowned African American women rock guitar players, Moye is acutely aware of the role racism, sexism, and white supremacy play in stunting the careers of women of color in the music industry.  Despite posthumous acknowledgment of the influence of rock guitar pioneer Rosetta Tharpe, there are no black women or women of color on Rolling Stone’s “Top 100” guitar players list.  And for the largely white male gatekeepers of RS, only a few white women merit inclusion in the pantheon of blues and rock “gods” who have sold mega millions, influenced scores of musicians, and indelibly shaped global pop culture.  As Moye notes, “Because of where we are as a nation, it’s obvious there are still underlying prejudices in America's DNA. I feel sometimes it's important to start a conversation about issues like the absence of diverse women in certain areas of the music industry. It’s about redefining the status quo and being unapologetically you.”

In a hyper-segregated industry that has long thrived on ripping off black folks’ invention of rock music, Moye is constantly innovating, collaborating, and wrecking respectability politics. During our recent interview about her new album we discussed her upbringing as a musical prodigy, the need to mentor black women and girls of color, and the perennial question of “Why (it) is that our people feel rock is not part of our black culture?”

How did you start playing electric guitar and what messages did you receive about playing this “male” instrument when you were growing up?
 My mom and dad were big influences.  I grew up in a musical family and my dad gave me a guitar at seven years old but I didn’t really take to it until nine.  He gave me a right-handed guitar, but that didn’t work for me because I was left-handed, so I flipped it over and learned how to play it upside down because it felt more natural.  My technique is rare. I actually play with the guitar strung in reverse (upside down) like Albert King famously did in the 60s, and like today’s Eric Gales and Doyle Bramhall, who are also upside-down lefties, on the Experience Hendrix tour.

Even in the beginning, I was so focused at nine years old.  I was walking my own path and following my own beat.  I told my parents that I wanted to do music, turned professional at twelve, and started a band with my brothers.  I was told that I was obsessed, but, in my mind, this was just normal.  My cousins wanted to watch cartoons and they said I was always like, ‘hey, we have to rehearse’.  We would perform at night with the band and go to school in the morning. 

I was born in Ohio but grew up in Minnesota in the late 80s.  The Minneapolis sound merges funk, rock and soul and it is my DNA as a musician, especially growing up listening to Prince.  In Minneapolis, the musicians would add distortion to the guitar which followed funk rhythm and bass lines, with elements of synth-pop. I remember my mom driving my band to one of the Minneapolis clubs as kids where I asked one of Prince’s horn players to record on my album.  The guy was so blown away that he brought his entire horn section to the studio and I had all the horns play on my album. That’s what made me realize everything is possible—when people responded positively to what I was doing at such a young age. Growing up as one of the only black kids in school and in the community, I learned how to embrace being different than everyone else while going after what I wanted. This alone has helped me navigate in the current rock music industry and I’m thankful for it.

Who were some of your superheroines growing up? My mom Scelesteen is no joke.  She didn’t take shit from anybody and she told me that you can do anything in this world that you want to do.  She was ruthless, amazing, and full of love, but she went through so much in life. If the house was burning down she would say ‘we can have a pity party for five seconds’ and then we would have to keep it moving. My grandmother was also another major influence in my life.  She made sure that everyone ate and everyone knew love.  We were never made to feel like we were poor and didn’t have anything.  I also admire Sheila Nevins, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and any woman who actually stands up for herself and makes something work. 

Who are some of your primary artistic influences? Growing up with musical parents, I listened to an eclectic palate of music spanning several decades. At home, we played Mahalia Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Michael Jackson. Recently, I’m loving Eminem and Bruno Mars.

What challenges have you encountered in the music industry vis-à-vis racism and sexism?
Certain avenues are not available to you when you’re the first person doing these things.  But one of the great things is now folks can create and control their product.  Money gives you access to do certain things.  Take Rosetta Tharpe, who was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is now being considered the actual architect of rock music. There are few black women in rock overall and even fewer who are playing electric guitar. For instance, some great players who should be recognized more are Kat Dyson, Diamond Rowe, and Jackie Venson. We have to redefine the status quo.  I want to play my part and help folks rethink how black women are perceived in entertainment.  Ask yourself, which women, let alone black women, are in the top twenty on the rock charts? I want to encourage mainstream rock artists to diversify by putting other unique artists in front of their shows as support acts whom their audiences ordinarily wouldn’t see. That [kind of exposure] trickles down to playlists and to radio; and maybe it will make the old guard rethink their programming.  It’s important to start a conversation about the lack of opportunities and representation to provide vehicles for girls of color to play music.  They’ve cut arts out of schools and underfunded music training. In order to make those avenues happen we need to educate and force the conversation. So, with Rosetta Tharpe being inducted, maybe now black women and women in general will start to be included in the rock genre much more.

What advice would you give to young women of color about navigating the racism and sexism of the music industry? I really take to heart what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about your life’s blueprint: “[you should have] a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own ‘somebodiness’. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.”  Everything that you do, do it in truth and try to be the best at what you do, and just know that God will always make a way.  There are other people ahead of you who’ve made their way, which sometimes shows you that you can at least grasp an opportunity.  It’s important to mentor and raise up young people that are coming up.  If you see other kids that are killing it, highlight them, put them on your Instagram, because that is the new medium. Find like-minded individuals and don’t let anybody make you feel like you don’t matter. The hardest thing in the world is to ignore what people think—good or bad. Do what you know you are put here to do and show up.  When they tell you that you can’t do it, still show up.  Make “No” fuel you, and accept all of those life lessons which are part of your journey.  If you see me with my axe doing me, that means you can do you too. My mantra is, ‘Discover your super power and celebrate yourself.’

Malina Moye’s album “Bad As I Wanna Be” will be released in March 2018.  For more information check out

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of the novel and play White Nights, Black Paradise, on Black women, Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Her forthcoming novel Rock ‘N’ Roll Heretic: The Life and Times of Rory Tharpe, is due Summer 2018.

Monday, December 25, 2017

#MeToo in Our Schools? Hearing Black Girls in the Sexual Abuse Backlash

Dorsey High School, December 2017

By Sikivu Hutchinson and Ashunda Norris

In 1991, African American law professor Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas transformed her into a feminist icon in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace.  Building on Hill’s legacy, women in corporate America, state and federal government, college campuses, and the entertainment industry have exposed perpetrators, challenged victim-blaming, and mainstreamed a #MeToo movement that was initiated by Tarana Burke, a black woman. Yet, when we turn on the TV and see debates about this brave, new heightened consciousness, the faces and voices of black women and girls are often missing.  This is despite the fact that approximately 34-50% of African American girls have experienced child sexual abuse.

As educators and mentors in Los Angeles schools, we see how they have become fertile ground for unchecked sexual harassment and sexual violence.  In an informal survey conducted at three South L.A. high schools by the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a majority of girls of color felt unsafe on campus and had experienced some form of sexual harassment.  Some felt victimized by a jock culture that encourages boys to openly rate girls’ bodies, sex partners, and desirability, spilling over into toxic social media attacks.   As a result of these experiences, respondents said that they felt less confident about themselves and did not feel supported at school.  For many girls, going to school in an environment where sexual harassment is normalized can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

Dorsey HS, December 2017

Sexual harassment in schools often takes the form of catcalling, touching, ogling and being called out of one’s name.  Terms like “bitch”, “ho”, “ratchet”, “thot” (that *h* over there) are frequently used to demean African American girls in ways that echo their specific history of institutionalized rape and dehumanization in the U.S. under slavery.  As a form of sexual harassment, use of these terms reinforce a violent culture and climate that is normalized by a “boys will be boys” mentality. This mentality is often cosigned by teachers and administrators.  As a result, girls find that simply walking around campus becomes a minefield fueled by widespread ignorance about behaviors that qualify as harassment.      

Shania Malone, a member of the WLP, and a senior at Dorsey High School who is openly bisexual, says that she has been harassed by a female student. Malone also shared that she attempts to take preventive measures to curb sexual comments. "I usually wear my backpack really low to cover my butt. I also wear clothes to cover up my shape and curves."  Serenity Smith, another senior at Dorsey, related that she has been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe at school. Young men frequently joke about her body. "They think they can say stuff like: 'I'll blow your back out, your ass is looking mighty fine today, and your pussy is showing today' and not get into trouble because their behavior is justified."

The sexualization of black girls at very young ages contributes to an atmosphere where sexual violence against them is viewed as inconsequential.  If black girls are stereotyped as “unrapeable”, then everyday sexual harassment is something that “they bring onto themselves”.

A recent Georgetown University study on cultural perceptions about black girls concluded that they are widely viewed as more mature, less innocent, and less in need of protection than white girls. Racist, sexist perceptions such as these contribute to higher rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration among black girls.  According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are routinely overpoliced in public school environments. On a national level, black girls are suspended nearly six times more than white girls, and are more harshly disciplined for lesser or similar offenses than white girls. Further, the Human Rights for Girls advocacy organization has concluded that exposure to “sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system.” These factors, coupled with a culture that condones sexual violence against them, make many black girls feel that they have nowhere to turn when they are victimized.

Dorsey senior and WLP member Tayah Hubbard stressed that many black girls feel like they won’t be believed if they tell someone they’ve been sexually harassed or abused.  For Hubbard, “black girls are told ‘oh you’re strong and you can get through it.” Hubbard sees a connection between the dearth of social services, after school programs, and counselors in predominantly black and Latino schools and the high numbers of students who are pipelined into prisons instead of college. 
Hubbard and her peers in the WLP recently led sexual harassment prevention workshops with classmates of all genders.  But although new sexual harassment policies are being touted on Capitol Hill and in the State Legislature, sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention education that speaks to the specific circumstances of girls of color is not part of the curriculum in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  The #MeToo movement has disrupted the national status quo of silence and invisibility around sexual harassment, yet, when it comes to validating the experiences of girls in communities of color, the silence is still deafening.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project, a feminist high school mentoring program for girls of color
Ashunda Norris is a filmmaker, poet, community builder and teacher whose most recent work as a filmmaker has screened internationally, including Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. Her writing has appeared in The Rush Magazine, L.A. School Report and DC Metro Theatre Arts

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

White Nights, Black Paradise: A Staged Reading

"A remarkable novel about a fascinating history...The book does justice to the survivors and victims of Jonestown by forcing the reader to recognize what mainstream discourse has gotten terribly wrong about the tragedy. I encourage anyone who cares about history and the truth to read this book as it goes beyond what existing scholarship would have you believe!" Anita Little, Religion Dispatches
"White Nights, Black Paradise" renders visibility to everyday black women's struggle with race, gender, religion, morality and poverty. The stories of Taryn and the other black members of the Peoples Temple that Hutchinson vividly brings to life makes it clear that while many blacks submitted to the ideal salvation of the racial utopia Jim Jones pushed, this submission of sorts represented black peoples' epic struggle and fight with finding a voice and life in a racially hostile homeland. This is an important and beautifully written story that restores the humanity of the followers of Peoples Temple." Kamela Heyward-Rotimi, Duke University

"Brilliantly woven." African Americans on the Move Book Club

"Hutchinson not only provides perspectives underrepresented in the history of the Peoples Temple, she crafts a compelling piece of historical fiction that will grip you until the very end...She has written a valuable work for anyone interested in the intertwined histories of religion, the left, and the African-American Freedom Struggle in this country, one providing important insights for anyone concerned for the future of the progressive movement in America.David Anderson, LA Progressive

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