This goes out to all the girls out there… on International Women’s Day

I’ll be honest. I had never even heard of International Women’s Day until I lived in the Republic of Armenia. Although my experiences in Armenia in the mid 1990s did not leave me with the impression that Armenians cared much about feminism, I did notice that they celebrated this holiday every March 8th. Then I learned that International Women’s Day started out as a Socialist political event in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Soviet bloc countries. It was originally intended to honor working women and their social, political, professional, and economic achievements. Since Armenia was a Soviet country until 1991, it makes perfect sense that they’d still be recognizing this holiday in the mid 1990s and beyond. I liked this holiday a lot better than Vartavar, a holiday that takes place 98 days after Easter that involves throwing water on people– especially women wearing thin blouses. On that day, you have to be careful walking down the street because it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to dump a bucket of water on you from their balcony.

In the fifteen years since I left Armenia, I notice that more people seem to be embracing International Women’s Day. Indeed, on my personal music blog, a commenter from Ireland left me a link to a song that he thought was perfect for today’s festivities.

Trouble In The Fields by Nanci Griffith

This particular version was recorded live in Edinburgh, Scotland in July 2012. The song is about farming, and the hard work that goes into making soil produce. The lyrics very poignantly outline doing what it takes to survive during hard times. They also point out how city life divorces people from the reality of where food comes from and how important rainy weather is. I guess I should remember that, next time I complain about the rain! I think it’s especially meaningful that this song was co-written by Nanci Griffith, since women are generally seen as the primary source for nurturing, even if when we think of farming, we might think of men first.

Hammer and A Nail by Indigo Girls

I remember the first time I heard this song by Indigo Girls. I was a sophomore in college, working at the campus radio station. I remember thinking this was a great song back then. It has an upbeat melody and lyrics about empowerment and social justice. Years later, when I earned a master’s degree in social work, this song was featured at our hooding. It seemed to fit really well with the concept of social work and helping those in need. Social work is a profession very much dominated by women of all ages and the words to “Hammer and A Nail” are all about putting your shoulder to the grindstone and making the world a better place. I think it fits here perfectly on International Women’s Day.

Women Be Wise by Sippie Wallace (and Bonnie Raitt)

I will admit the first time I heard this song, it was on Bonnie Raitt’s Collection, which had a great duet version of Sippie Wallace’s blues song about how to keep your man around. She advises, “don’t advertise your man!” The first video is just of Sippie Wallace singing her song, but I love the sassy duet she did with Bonnie. It totally changes the mood of the song to one of two girlfriends sitting around, talking. The second video is Bonnie performing it in Montreux in 1977.

This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush

Switching gears, here’s a sublime song by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Kate Bush. This song was originally written for the John Hughes film, She’s Having A Baby. In the film, it plays when the character, Jake (Kevin Bacon) learns that his pregnant wife and their unborn child are in danger. In the video for “The Sensual World”, Kate Bush depicts a pregnant woman who collapses while dining at a restaurant and is rushed to the hospital. The song is written from the man’s viewpoint as he prays that his beloved wife and child will pull through. There’s nothing more feminine than giving birth.

Strati Angelaki Dunashe (Strati Angelaki was saying) by Trio Bulgarka

Kate Bush has done two albums with Trio Bulgarka, a trio of amazingly talented Bulgarian female folk singers. I had actually heard of Trio Bulgarka before I purchased Bush’s The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, both of which featured songs with Trio Bulgarka. In the summer of 1996, I went on a vacation by bus that included stops in Turkey and Bulgaria. While I was in Bulgaria, I happened to purchase Trio Bulgarka’s album of selected folk songs on cassette. I remember thinking it was very primitively produced. Then I listened to it and was amazed by the vocal chemistry of these three women, Stoyanka Boneva, Yanka Rupkina, and Eva Georgieva. Since International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide, especially in Eastern Europe, I thought it was only fitting to include a song by Trio Bulgarka. Thankfully, I was later able to download this album on iTunes.

The Song of Solomon by Kate Bush and Trio Bulgarka

Here Trio Bulgarka joins Kate Bush on “Song of Solomon”, a love song inspired by the Bible.

Kirvem by Kizilirmak

On that same bus trip through Turkey and Bulgaria, I discovered the Turkish band, Kizilirmak, named after a river in Turkey. As I wandered around Istanbul with my friend Elaine, we passed a music store and the haunting song “Kirvem” was playing. We were both lured into that store by this song’s lush melody and poetic lyrics. We both bought a copy of the album it came from, R├╝zgarla Gelen. I have to admit, the entire album makes great lovemaking music, even if I don’t understand the words. Kizilirmak is a co-ed band, but there’s something very feminine about “Kirvem”, which is why I included it in this list.

Maybe this list of songs for women seems curious, since these are all old songs! The women singing on these songs are women who have been around awhile and certainly have made contributions politically, culturally, socially, and professionally. I also discovered many of these women around the time that I discovered International Women’s Day. Perhaps my readers can inspire me with other songs that celebrate women.