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The Mamafesto: Mamas that rock: Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco has been making music for over 20 years. Her sound combines folk, jazz, soul, electronica and her own experiences to create music that tells a captivating story. And through the years her music has changed with her, incorporating her own personal reflections on motherhood.

Ani DiFranco is known for many things when it comes to her music: skilled guitar playing, poetry-like lyrics, activism through music and songs that talk about abortion, race, queer politics, sexism, corporate culture, guns, and more recently, motherhood.

I began listening to Ani in high school, her angry, rebellious songs about friendships, patriarchy, periods and falling in (and out) of love speaking straight to my 15-year-old soul. My friends and I would hunker down with a boom box and our cassette tapes, rewinding and listening to her spoken word piece, “My IQ,” over and over until we could recite it in our sleep.

I continued listening to Ani in college, her songs speaking to the injustices and inequalities I saw and felt around me. It’s random happenstance that she and I had our first children in January of 2007. I wondered what that would mean for her music. Would it change, be less political, powerful? I have no idea why I worried.

The Ani of motherhood is just as political, just as powerful and just as vivid. But now, in addition to singing about sexism, racism, reproductive rights and the patriarchy, she happens to sing about motherhood too. It’s not cloying or precious. It speaks to the conflicted feelings many of us have about becoming a parent. The sheer joy and fear that live side by side. The merging and reconfiguring of identities.

In this way, Ani continues to be a balm for those of us who were wee baby feminists in high school and college and are now mothers and wives and career women and yes, still, feminists. And, like many feminists, no matter how steeped in the movement you are, there’s always room for growth and learning.

Last year, Ani organized an artist retreat which was poorly planned to take place at a former plantation in New Orleans. Her first apology missed the mark completely, though she followed it up with a more understanding one. Yet, many fans were shocked, hurt and rightfully outraged over what felt like blatant racism from someone who should have known better. It’s instances like this, where even the most seasoned of feminists can screw up and stumble trying to get it right, that make intersectionality even more important when it comes to the movement.

Hopefully everything that happened will have an impact on Ani’s future music, just as various stages in her life have influenced it — broadening and deepening what she creates. For some captivating music with some feminism and motherhood woven together with a little young adult angst and patriarchy-stamping boldness, check out Ani DiFranco.

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