Rhythm, Roots & Research - Part VIII (final)

upcoming & Remarkable - a special series by talents on the rise

Hi there ladies, are you ready for the last edition of Rhythm, Roots & Research? In this final chapter I will summarize the previous editions, and draw my final conclusions. Click here for part I to VII.

“ What sort of female, black identities are articulated in present-day music, and how do African-American women negotiate the emotions related to blackness through music? “



I expected the answer to my research question to be: "the representation of women in contemporary music has a revolutionary, feminist undertone." Before diving into the research, I expected contemporary music to be used as a platform to spread political point of views. On the other hand the representation of women by women, is an expression of the adaption of the male gaze. Researcher Laura Mulvey talks about this in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1998). In the case of a “male gaze” women's music reflects upon the sexualized and objectified image men would have when it comes to (black) women and empowers this image.

What I can conclude from my research, is that there are two attitudes to distinguish: A) the mirroring or adaption of the male gaze in which women in music represent themselves as ultra sexual beings, eroticized objects almost, which is the sexualized & submissive attitude; or B) the contrasting revolutionary attitude, in which women take on empowering attitudes which are derived from feminist perspectives. Nevertheless, this distinction is not as black and white as represented in my initial prediction as described above.


the submissive, revolutionary and sexual attitude

In the first editions of RRR, three possible female black identities in music were distinguished: the submissive attitude, the revolutionary attitude, and the sexual attitude. However we have also seen that these three identities can not exist without the other, and constantly overlap. The sexual attitude Beyoncé takes when she is turning into her alter ego Sasha Fierce on stage is closely linked to both the revolutionary attitude and the submissive attitude. The pop icon and the team behind her claim to use her sexual attitude to empower her (female) audience, however in my opinion she is using the adaption of the male gaze to do this, which is a link to the submissive attitude.

When we look at the case studies in my research, we can conclude – despite the difference in intensity – that both the American singer Solange, as well as the European singer Giovanca aim to represent the empowering, revolutionary attitude. Both women aim to keep the submissive and sexual attitude - as defined in my research - out of the picture of their public image.

Whereas the vision of Solange Knowles is to fight for the rights of all women, as she focuses particularly on the double marginalized identity which black women experience. The aim of Giovanca Ostiana’s work is to fight for the rights of young woman all around the world, in need of extra help and support, specifically through her work for Plan Nederland.



We can also make a distinction in the level of race-mindedness and gender-mindedness between the two musicians. While Solange is focused on both gender and race related topics, Giovanca is more gender-minded than race-minded in her musical work. Giovanca nevertheless shared in several interviews how her ethnicity Hans impacts her social and politica's print of views.

Taking all of the above into account, you can conclude that black musical feminism is an often forgotten phenomenon. However in our modern society the attention for this topic has. Mostly as a consequence of the recent debates on both race (Black Lives Matter) and gender (Riot GRRRLS movement).The submissive attitude, the revolutionary attitude and the sexual attitude are three identities are integrated in present-day music. On behalf of my case studies we can conclude that both musicians aim to represent the revolutionary attitude in their work. Whether their focus is mainly on race – in Solange’s case – or on gender – in Giovanca’s case.

Don’t touch my pride
They say the glory’s all mine
Don’t test my mouth  
They say the truth is my sound

(Don’t Touch My Hair – Solange Knowles, 2017)


Thanks for following my special series on the blog. This research is close to my heart and I hope this series showed you new insights regarding black musical feminism. I also hope my work enlightened you on how certain types of identities hidden in music reflect deep- rooted issues in society. Most of all: I hope my research inspired you to continue digging in to the topic of black musical feminism.

- Maxime


BloG: Maxime Ten Brinke | Photography: els danquah | Creative Direction: Shenelva Booij