Sisterfire SongTalk: Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, Martha Gonzalez, and Barbara Dane
In this program, musicians spanning six decades sing and discuss social justice demands for systemic change. Produced and presented in collaboration with Roadwork, the Sisterfire SongTalk creates an inviting space for dialogue by combining song and dialogue.
The SongTalk genre, named by one of Roadwork’s founders, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, is situated in a congregational call-and-response space rooted in the Black church and Southern freedom movement that merged song with prose to call people to action.
These artists present offerings that mark this moment of social justice uprising. Barbara Dane, Martha Gonzalez, Leyla McCalla, and Amythyst Kiah, joined by Roadwork MC Nicole Barden, address such questions as: how do you use your music to inspire action?
About the Participants
Nicole Barden is a board member of Roadwork, whose mission is building multiracial coalitions through women’s culture. Roadwork’s signature Sisterfire festival transforms audiences into activist participants in a congregation devoted to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and other regressive social forces. Barden works with organizations on innovative community and economic development initiatives and partnerships and has led projects with a social impact focus.
Having cut her teeth as a singer on the picket lines in her hometown of Detroit, Barbara Dane was a rising jazz and blues star when her views on race and social justice closed industry doors. Acclaimed as the “voice of the other America,” she started the Paredon record label (now part of Smithsonian Folkways) and performed at Freedom Schools in Mississippi, peace rallies, and international protests opposing the Vietnam War.
Provocative and fierce, Amythyst Kiah’s commanding stage presence is matched by her raw and powerful, boundary-crossing vocals—a deeply moving, hypnotic sound that stirs echoes of a distant and restless past. Kiah’s Grammy-nominated song “Black Myself,” the opening track on the collaborative Songs of Our Native Daughters (Smithsonian Folkways), is described by NPR as “the simmering defiance of self-respect in the face of racism.”
Martha Gonzalez is a Chicana artivista (artist/activist), musician, feminist music theorist, associate professor at Scripps/Claremont College, and author of the forthcoming Chican@ Artivistas: Music, Community and Transborder Tactics in East Los Angeles. As a singer-songwriter and percussionist for the Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal, her music and lyrics have had a considerable impact in the Los Angeles Chicano music scene.
Digging into her roots to unearth history and explore musical tradition, Leyla McCalla has an entirely unique voice and perspective that is urgently relevant to our times. An alumna of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, her widely acclaimed collaborative album Songs of Our Native Daughters confronts sanitized views about America’s history of slavery, racism, and misogyny from a powerful, modern Black female perspective.