Valentine’s day has a cringe factor of 11 out of 10 for me whether I am single or coupled. Why, I am not sure? Maybe it has something to do with turning irreducibly into plastic capitalistic fodder. Or the fact that it, like most national holidays, is geared towards fostering and feeding a “norm” – an extension of the socially acceptable ways in which love is shared and celebrated. All are largely hetero-normative— and often replicated, even if subverted, in the queerest of communities. I mean perhaps it would be infinitely more honest to celebrate “good fuck day” than a day that exists to put love into a saleable package.
To be completely frank, there is almost nothing more nauseating (at times), than watching PDA between heterosexuals. I don’t really want to see that. All that privilege wrapped up in the freedom to make out in public, is on par with the freedom that any man, (despite the size of his man breasts) has a right to go topless without reproach. I didn’t wake up in the morning dreaming to see that.
Before some of you start to wrap your misinformed lips around the words “reverse sexism” or some suchness, let me put it this way. If I was on a train platform, topless, kissing another woman, would the crowd clap like in those recycled Valentine’s commercials, “oh those crazy lovebirds, isn’t that beautiful, must be the box of chocolates”. Maybe, but it’s more likely that we will at least get one snide comment, and or violent interference from some twat who feels his penis diminishing in the face of PDA between women. I can hear some echoes of ‘don’t be paranoid’ queer folks hold hands all the time, not everyone is homophobic, the world is changing. Whatever. The truth is that it’s still not safe to be outwardly queer, in most parts of the world including, more than likely, yours. Even if it’s better in some places than others, it’s all relative. Due to the undeniable fact, that demonstrating love for another woman in public, and dare I say, especially as a WOC, is a bad ass act of resistance, here are some songs for us.
I didn’t get to know about the British singer song-writer Joan Armatrading until over a decade after the release of the album, To The Limit (1978). I was working in a bookshop called Women & Children First in Chicago. The staff would play music made/performed by women and, her mesmerising voice coupled with luscious melodies instantly hooked me. Songs like the Love and Affection (1976) are a pure chilli and honey combination of voice and lyric that floor you from word go; ‘I’m not in love but I’m open to persuasion’. However here I want to feature one of her most defiant love anthems, the light hearted yet militant pop folk 1978 classic Taking My Baby Uptown , in which Armatrading reassures the “pretty person on her arm”, that despite what the haters say, that their love is all that.
Like most of my peers I was first introduced to Meshelle Ndegeocello, with what was her first international 1993 cut, If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night). Most of us knew, then, despite the gender of the lover she speaks about, that she was anything else but straight. Fast forward to early 2000, and the ‘proof’ cannot be more explicit than in her song Berry Farms (2002). This is a distinctive Ndegeocello funk driven masterpiece and it speaks about unrequited love; the passionate ode to a “sweet 17” who was willing and able, but far from out and proud.
The hypnotic, sensual Narcissa Cutiepie The Pendulum Vibe (1994) must be one of the first to don the title “neo soul”. It speaks rather unabashedly about a lusty encounter with a woman and the exploration of that pleasure. I must admit every time I listen to this song there is a part of me that wonders if she is talking about and equating loving women to self-pleasure which feels a bit reductionist. In any case, on the REAL, what the song most definitely IS about, is the unashamed reclamation of sexuality, as a woman who loves women, and that my friend, usually has to start with love of oneself, n’est pas?
Muchos gracious to the person who reminded me of this piece called Macorina on the album Noche Bohemia (1994) by the legend of legends and rumoured lover of Frieda Khalo. While, across the seas, Joi was expressing passions of woman on woman love through popular soulful stylings, Vargas released this classic Spanish folk guitar led beauty. The poetry of her lyrics takes you to the heart, the seductive power of Macorina.
COURNEY MELBA BARNETT
Before reaching out to some of my FB friends, I had never heard of Barnette, and now I am a fan. Well, at least of this cut History Eraser (2015) from the album A Sea Of Split Peas. It sings to my post-punk/grunge sensibilities when it comes to the sound and lyrics alike. This song captures the freshness of a new playful connection (almost feels like spring) and the adventures that make what could be either a new love, or something that just kinda, almost happened.
I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say this grooving soulful track, carried by Syd ’s smooth vocals, is in sentiment, a little sister to Ndegeocellos Berry Farms. Though I find her lyrics less mature, it tells a similar story, where what is not said is what rings true. In Girl (2015), Syd croons for the attentions of a woman she knows she loves better than anyone else. She is explicit between the lines. She sees her as nobody else will.
So yeah, I am cheating with this Down Home (2018) because the Rainbow Girls didn’t write this song. However, their interpretation leaves me with a big smile, even after the zillionth listen. And anyway, it’s not a far-flung proposal to suggest it was first ‘penned’ by some unknown blues woman as contrary to popular pop knowledge it was not the Stones but Alvin Robinson who first released this gem in 1964. The Rainbow Girls’ special acoustic sound which wrap home-cooked harmonies around the trios’ bluesy guitar and stand-up bass combo, celebrate the kinda love that only a woman with that scent of home can stir.
It had to be done. I had to end this absolutely non-exhaustive list of queer love songs sung by women about women with Ma’s Prove It On My Blues (1928). Not only because of her influence on me artistically (see: Grown Ass Woman inspired by /ode to Ma, and this Chicago blues classic). More than any other reason, (if indeed there needs to be a reason), it has to be added because this song was written nearly a century ago, in the 1920’s by a black woman, who unapologetically loved women. And she wasn’t the only one.
Contrary to popular advertising, gay pride started way before Harvey Milk and the “I’m Queer I’m here get used to it” days. Women had been celebrating their love for women well before all that. They cleared the path for the “Armatradings” who cleared the path for the “Ndegeocellos” and so on and so on… yeah, the beat goes on.