Crate Digging For The Unsung Heroines

Opinion and Insight 112 0 Add this
To celebrate IWD 2018, Abi Leland recalls some of the hidden gems she discovered before the internet age by then-obscure female artists
Crate Digging For The Unsung Heroines

A natural compulsion for crate digging combined with many projects I’ve worked on over the years means I’ve had the pleasure of discovering tracks from all over the world from a huge variety of artists and songwriters. I started working as a music supervisor in the late nineties, so being prior to the internet I had to have more creative ways of researching music. For instance, I managed to persuade EMI Publishing to allow me to delve into their archives and I spent weeks in the basement of their Soho office going through their dusty vinyl records unearthing songs that they didn’t even realise they published.

The internet has certainly relieved us of such duties, as many of these rare gems can be found in Spotify playlists or are revitalized by reissue labels and contemporary artists. This has made it more challenging to newly unearth quality music from the past, and in fact has given me greater incentive to utilise my old school methods of research away from online tools. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am sharing a handful of some of my favourite tracks by female artists. There are so many great women who have had and continue to have a huge influence on people, music and culture, from Mahalia Jackson to Nina Simone, and Grace Jones to PJ Harvey. But this small selection is a focus on more unique and lesser known tracks and artists (all of which deserve greater recognition) and with each of them I remember my joy at hearing them for the first time.


Betty Davis - Anti Love Song



70’s funk artist Betty Davis influenced Prince, has had documentaries made about her and was married to Miles Davis (apparently it was Betty that persuaded him to call his album Bitches Brew rather than Witches Brew), but she still remains unknown to many.  She was well ahead of her time; managing to retain artistic control she was unique, provocative, full of attitude, and sexy without becoming sexualised.


The Lijadu Sisters - Life’s Gone Down Low



Another artist ahead of their time, it would be easy to believe this track is current rather than from 1976. Despite success in Nigeria and in the US and Europe (and being sampled by the likes of Nas) they have never quite had the recognition they deserve. The sisters have since moved to Brooklyn and performed with the all-star William Onyeabor tribute, Atomic! Bomb Band, at the Barbican Centre in 2014.


Usha Uthup - One Two Cha Cha Cha 



A significant artist in India, and if you are into Indian films and pop music then you have probably heard of Usha Uthup, but I confess she was new to me so this song definitely felt like a hidden gem. I particularly like the moment about a minute in when she effortlessly breaks into KC and the Sunshine Band “That’s The Way (I Like It)”.
 

Graziella Pareto - Quel Guardo Il Cavaliere” (from Don Pasquale)



Graziella Pareto was a soprano from the 1920’s. This recording was introduced to me by the director Nick Willing on a film I worked on with him fourteen years ago. It has such a distinct quality to it that is hard to replicate these days. It was actually placed over a rather eerie part of the film, which means that despite finding it beautiful I still always feel a bit creeped out when I listen to it.
 

Doris - Beatmaker



Like The Lijadu Sisters and many other artists, Swedish psychedelic funk singer, Doris Svensson started her career in the 60’s only to remain in obscurity until recent years. Her unique, off-kilter style drew attention to underground contemporary hip hop artists such as DJ Spinna who heavily samples this track. Other tracks of hers were also sampled by Madlib and can be heard on Flying Lotus’s fictional radio station on GTA V, one of the best selling entertainment products ever, forever immortalising her work.

 

Kemistry & Storm - Signature



So fast forwarding to the nineties, this is a very different track, and I appreciate not everyone feels the same as I do about jungle and drum & bass. In a scene that was largely dominated by men, not only were they successful DJs, they were also writing and producing their own music, and leading a successful independent record label. At a time in the industry when I was lead to believe that producing and A&R were men's roles, Kemistry and Storm were hugely positive role models for me. Kemistry sadly died in a road accident in 1999, but I will always remember her for her contribution to the industry and the influence that she had on me.



Abi Leland is managing director at Leland Music 

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