Images: Anika Moa / Theia / MC Tali
What do you get when you ask 12 different women the same questions? You’re about to find out. This year, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, we are celebrating our ‘daring dozen’ – a group of inspirational women kicking ass and proving that girls can do anything. We’ve asked them each the same questions, and we’ll be sharing their unique perspectives over the next few days.
Today we continue the ‘daring dozen’ series by presenting the collective wisdom of three women killing it in the NZ music business: Anika Moa, MC Tali, Theia.
Villainesse: What has been the toughest challenge you've faced as a woman in music? How did you overcome it?
Anika Moa: I guess the toughest thing is being heard. I spent the first 5 years of my career feeling lonely and not heard. There are a lot of men in those seats that are lovely but really didn’t know how to talk with, not at, a young rebel of a singer. I love what I do and loved working with most of the music people but I really needed to be heard sometimes. I am most motherfucking heard now though bish! Queens are heard!
MC Tali: When I set out to become an international artist, I was very much on my own. There wasn't anyone who had come before who was excelling in the industry in the way I was and so lots of people didn't know how to react, or deal with me. Many people didn't believe I belonged there; MCing was considered a man's job.
There was a lot of backwards, sexist criticism, whole threads of social forums dedicated to what I looked like or what men would like to do to me (while telling me to shut the hell up and get off the mic at the same time). I could handle the fact that people may not like my music, because of course music is subjective, and I have learned to take knock backs since I sang in competitions as a child. However, reading the comments that were personal and often sexual was challenging because they really struck me to the core. I couldn't understand how people could be so horrible.
It was actually my label boss Roni Size who taught me how to deal with it. He described these people as 'sad little dudes with one hand on their dick and the other on the keyboard' People who were jealous because their own lives lacked significance. Or people who lacked the courage to actually go out there and put themselves on the line.
It taught me to feel pity for them rather than hate – and to turn any anger I had into positive energy to spur me forward.
Theia: It’s been challenging dealing with all the noise. So many people want to share their opinions on what I do, from the sound of my music, to my aesthetic and questioning my creative decisions. I do understand that it’s part of being involved in the music business. But I question – would my look or what I choose to wear be as closely scrutinised if I were a man?
It’s difficult when everyone, including random strangers in the industry, want to give you advice. It’s already overwhelming enough trying to establish yourself as an artist, and having so many conflicting opinions constantly given makes it even more so. That said, I am so genuinely grateful to some of those strangers who have taken the time to share their knowledge and experience with me.
What I’ve learnt is to trust my own instincts and the strength that comes from surrounding myself with a close team who can advise and guide.
If you had a magic wand, what would you most like to change about the music industry?
Theia: Misogyny – manifested in discrimination, objectification and abuse.
It would be rare to criticise the amount of fat on a man’s stomach or the cellulite on their legs, or whether they are deemed to be ‘pretty enough.’ The objectification and sexualisation of women, whether lyrically or aesthetically, is constantly perpetuated, influencing standards for boys and encouraging girls to feel they need to conform to unrealistic beauty expectations, causing low self esteem, depression and self abuse.
In this male dominated industry, there are so many cases of women feeling they are unable to speak out in situations of abuse or mistreatment for fear of jeopardising their position. One shouldn’t have to compromise their morals to advance their position and career, nor be silenced, judged or deemed as a liar when they have the courage to speak out. (See Kesha vs Dr Luke.) The fact that this behaviour is the norm throughout the industry shows the culture of patriarchy, superiority and misogyny that is present, but it is able to change if mindsets do first.
MC Tali: I wish that radio in NZ would be more supportive of local music of all different genres. It frustrates me that children are growing up hearing American and Australian artists and thinking that this is a representation of music.
It also frustrates me that those that do get support here in New Zealand are often the same people over and over again, often those who are on major labels, or who have a more commercial sound. Radio has a lot to answer for when it comes to being able to help certain artists excel – while holding others back – whether they do so consciously or not.
I also would love to see Electronic Music get more recognition. It is one of New Zealand's biggest international exports when it comes to music, with many of our producers and DJs/MCs who have been touring overseas and killing it in front of thousands of people for years still virtually unknown to the general public. It is only in the last year for example that the Electronic Music Award was even televised for the VNZMA's. People like myself and The Upbeats, Truth, State Of Mind, Concord Dawn, TREi and K+Lab (just to name a few) have helped put NZ on the world map when it comes to Electronic Music, (or music in general) and have blazed trails for others to follow. I wish there was more acknowledgement for these achievements.
Anika Moa: This is a hard question because the music industry and the writing industry are two separate things and I am hardly involved in the music industry these days so wouldn’t know how to begin…
I am a songwriter, that’s what I feel I am good at, so do I qualify as someone who thinks they have the knowledge to change an industry they are not a part of anymore? Shit, well, I would start with radio stations playing good music instead of the shit they spew out (Hauraki, Radio NZ, The Sound exempt lol) and I would create more songwriting hubs for us. Learning the craft is important.
How does the word ‘feminism’ apply to you personally?
MC Tali: For me personally I believe that women deserve the same rights as men. We deserve to be paid the same, to be given the same opportunities, to be seen as men's equal in life. Anyone who considers themself a feminist is simply someone who believes in equality for women.
Unfortunately the word feminism has become tainted in the last few years. Some parts of society that wish to see women remain in more subservient positions have tried to paint feminists as man haters, or say because we are proud of our bodies and sexual feelings that we can't possibly also be feminist. This is just another way to try to incite hate and stir up divisions within our society. People are afraid of feminine energy because it threatens the existing patriarchal ideology, it threatens domination, oppression and age old violence.
The future is female. Get the t-shirt.
Anika Moa: I prefer Mana Wahine Toa because I understand that phrase better than ‘feminism’. I am from Aotearoa and consider the issues here at home to be the most important factor. It also doesn’t have to mean absolute women stuff, I feel it can cross to houses for homeless, electing a REAL LEADER for our country and other issues/things like suicide awareness, women’s refuge, teens learning good shit, schools teaching real world shit and growing up good boys (Celia Lashlie)… I could go on and on...
Theia: Feminism means the equality of the sexes: politically, economically and socially. To me, it means having the freedom to exercise those rights. To be a woman, act like a woman and think like a woman without the fear of being questioned or not taken seriously.
It means viewing and treating others with respect because we are all equal, all human, and no one is inferior or of lesser value than another.
Feminism means being completely and utterly yourself, without judgement. To feel pride in my femininity and to know that my talent and ability will take me where I need to go. I do not have to yield my integrity to get there.
It means not viewing others as competition, because we’re all doing our own thing, we’re all individual, and there’s more than enough room for everyone both on the way to, and at the top.
It means speaking up when necessary for what is right and other times, gritting my teeth, letting things roll off my back to continue marching forward.
What advice would you give to young women who want pursue a career in music?
Anika Moa: IF YOU WANT IT, DO IT! Think later, act now!
Theia: Constantly set goals. Look back on how much you’ve achieved, celebrate, and push on head high.
Own your decisions, own your mistakes. No one’s perfect, so learn from them and move on.
Have a close team who will affirm, encourage and help you to be the best you can be. Those who will be there through the joys and the trials, to hold you up and push you forward.
Be kind to everyone. Treating people with respect and love costs nothing and a good reputation is priceless.
Know what you stand for, what you believe and what you will not compromise on.
Not everything is easy, but if you truly want it, fight for it. There’ll be good days and bad days, however as long as you remember why you’re doing it, you’ll have the fire to continue.
MC Tali: I would like to offer advice to all women who want to pursue a career in music – because why do you have to be 'young' to get into it? It's never too late to find the joy and freedom of self-expression that making music can offer!
My advice is this – be prepared to be picked apart on not just your music but your looks, who you date, and what you choose to wear. Be prepared to have people expect you to be better than just 'good', be prepared to be pitched against and compared to your fellow sisters in music. Be prepared to put your heart and soul on the line, only to have doors slammed in your face. Be prepared to have to hustle to be paid fairly. Be prepared to not be taken seriously by whoever is on stage when you say you are the MC/DJ stepping up next.
If you are prepared for all of these things and some of these things happen – then hopefully you will have also prepared yourself with the tools you need to navigate such situations. Self belief, focus, determination, tenacity, a strong supportive crew who believe in you, and the ambition and desire to never, ever give up! XX