Strisvara: Empowering Women Through Music

By Radhika George

I arrived at Lofsdalen, a quaint town that comes to life during winter, thanks to a plethora of skiers, on a grey August evening. During summer however it is marked by a silence so deafening you can hear Lake Lofssjon flowing nearby. Marked by rustic cabins becoming of the nature surrounding it and the one supermarket that saw more sale during our time there than it did the entire summer, this perpetually grey and beautiful town became the setting of Strisvara for the next two weeks.

Strisvara is a three dimensional women empowerment program through music. Initiated by Treeonz, it is a residency program for women from various countries who come together to stay and compose music for two weeks. The group then sets out to perform at various venues. Another highlight, the project aims to involve women from various spheres of life. The city musician, an international musician and an indigenous musician. During Strisvara 2016, a few of us “city musicians” and a few international musicians from Sweden, U.S and Spain convened at B.R Hills in Karnataka to work with women musicians belonging to the indigenous Soliga tribe. This year in July 2017, the Soliga girls and two Indian participants (Sangeetha and I) were the international musicians who visited Sweden to jointly work with women musicians from the Sami group indigenous to the Scandinavian region.

This year saw the collaboration of two indigenous groups, Soliga and Sami along with musicians from Israel, Noway, Jordan, Sweden and India. The first week of the residency sailed by smoothly, a week where everyone got to know each other musically and personally. We participated in workshops and activities and got exposed to the different kinds of music and related theories hailed by the different participants from various parts of the world. During this week, an outline of what we had to achieve by the end of the residency was laid out. We were divided into ensembles; entrusted with the duty of composing two original tracks and a theme song for the entire group. Moreover we had the freedom to form ensembles with other participants apart from our designated ensemble. It was like a candy store, you could pick and choose whoever you wanted to work on your ideas with and you couldn’t have asked for a better group! The participants convened religiously at 8 am every morning at Fjällhotellet. This is where everything from our food, workshops, work, practice and power naps took place. The hotel was a few miles from the cabins we stayed in and the morning and evening walk, differentiated only by the clock on your phone, was the linchpin that helped me keep myself together over the course of the most exciting and exhilarating two weeks!

The second week took a turn so sharp that we stepped out of our comfort zones to produce brilliant results. Everyone was at such ease with each other that we began demanding the best from one another. Working without differentiating between day and night, stopping only to fuel our bodies with food, each group organised and worked on their ensemble tracks, theme song, duets and other collaborations. It was one of the most demanding and rewarding weeks ever!

With our tracks ready, we performed our first concert as a group for the Lofsdalen community who were ardent supporters of us and the project. We left the beautiful Lofsdalen to commence the tour and performed at various venues across Sweden with the program culminating at Stockholm.

A lot of people, including some of my own friends, wonder why it is necessary to have a program exclusively for female musicians. Even if the underlying concept was women empowerment. It is easy to form judgments, opinions and comments about problems from the outside, but it is different when you’re actually a part of the problem. It isn’t surprising that these questions mostly come from non-musicians and mostly men.

This is precisely why a program like Strisvara is what you need to fight against this benightedness. It is no doubt that the number of female artists on stage, whether it is at a music festival or a stadium show is abysmally low. Like every other industry in our world, the ratio of men to women weigh heavier on the former and it is no different in the music industry. Many initiatives are taken to fight the various causes that leads to this one sided see-saw, and I believe that such measures are still wanted in the music industry.

Strisvara is one such initiative. A major part of why Strisvara is successful in attaining its goals is because it allows for dialogue. Women empowerment has a catholic range of understanding. For different people, communities and groups their vision of what needs to be addressed will largely be a consequence of the issues that are specific to their community and society. In simple words, the problems faced by female musicians in a town in Sweden may be drastically different from those faced by say a women from the Soliga community. Although there are numerous differences and many similarities in the problems, no issue has a precedence over the other because it all plays a role in the spectrum of empowerment. A quick chat between rehearsals or drinks and dinner that devolved into a heated discussion, were all opportunities for us to express ourselves and understand each other, to appreciate the differences and similarities of the problems we face as musicians and women. This dialogue is crucial in empowerment. People need to be informed about the problems that persist in our society and be able to have radical talks about it.

During Strisvara, a main point that was raised by many of the participants was that they felt more free to express their thoughts musically. They didn’t feel scrutinized or judged in the eyes of the other female participants and felt it was okay to not be great all the time. This level of freedom encouraged many of us to present more ideas and opinions that we normally would think twice before playing out to a mixed group. Strisvara not only provided a platform for us as musicians to dive confidently into exploring and experimenting with various ideas and sounds but also a platform for discussion, which is an important part of any movement. These empowered women go on to empower more women and before you know it we have a battalion of confident and strong women ready to take on the music industry and the world at large.

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