Activated by the Geko Jones-led call for a December 15th day of #YoutubeDivas, here’s a selection of incredibly talented vocalists who stretch & confuse the boundaries of voice, body, song.

If a “diva” is someone who uses the inherent performativity of gender to radiate brilliance, then here are some stars in my galaxy. These five women are particularly important to me for their brave, exquisitely articulated visions of what music itself can be.

And if this post has a reading list, it’s:

Pamela Zoline – The Heat Death of the Universe

Joanna Russ – The Female Man

James Tiptree Jr./Alice Sheldon – The Girl Who Was Plugged In

now for the #Youtubedivas:

MAJA RATKE — I have a Maja Ratke dublate, for real! Got it cut in Bristol. At some level, being a ‘good’ singer is easy — you play the game by external rules, you sing on-key, you behave the way good singers behave. Creating outside of the drab-but-heavy gravity of normalcy ain’t easy. Maja, like Meredith before her, makes the difficult look at once difficult and effortlessly elemental.

MEREDITH MONK — From 1979. A lot of people learned a lot of lessons from Meredith Monk… If her name is new then you have homework to do. Bonus: our favorite semi-forgotten NYC black queer pop minimalist Julius Eastman accompanying her on vocals!

CAROLINE BERGVALL — Caroline and I have worked together, she is one of the great poet/voices of our time! Brilliant, hypnotic, smart, visceral. The 1st video is Caroline reading — so rhythmic, her flow. If this video doesn’t have more than 75 plays by the end of today, something is very wrong. The 2nd is me in Knoxville. I was opening for the Dirty Projectors in this beautiful old theater and decided to begin my set with a piece-in-progress by Caroline.

CHRISTINE SEHNAOUI is my favorite saxophone player. Not into the jazz dudes. Love Christine sounding like anything but a horn. Have you ever heard brass speak like this? Three years back I profiled her for The National:

During the last few weeks, my friends and family have mistaken the work of Christine Abdelnour Sehnaoui for both a broken air conditioner and a car dying outside my window. I can’t say that I blame them. Her recordings call to mind unoiled hinges, deflating balloons, asthma attacks. This Parisian alto-saxophonist, born 31 years ago to Lebanese émigré parents, plays like music does not exist.

Lastly, here’s a diva in the traditional sense — Violinist/vocalist Daoudia, a massive chaabi star from Casablanca. If you’ve spent time in Morocco, then you’ve heard her. Friends in Casa who’ve dealt with Daoudia report that the chaabi matriarch is humble and down-to-earth, too.


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