I found out from a friend the other day about Canadian music critic and Heavy Metal enthusiast Laina Dawes. I was intrigued immediately when I saw the title of her book which is called What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation In Heavy Metal. Her book was just published this year and I implore any of you who are interested in music of this genre or simply want to learn more about Laina's story to go out and purchase it. I will be certain to add this book to my 2013 reading list for sure!
The heavy metal scene is not only a male dominated industry, but it is a scene that caters to white audiences. Unfortunately, musical genres are very racialized and if you are of a certain race, certain stereotypes perpetuate what category one should fit into based on their ethnic background. Clearly that is not always the case. As we already know, not all black people listen to hip hop and not all white people listen to heavy metal. Laina's story in particular, as a young black girl growing up in Ontario, she found that metal helped express her feelings of frustration and alienation when she felt removed from others.
According to Vice.com who wrote a feature story on Laina,
"As women, and as minorities, the 'voice' of black women's experiences is commonly ignored, and the music served as a way to get those feelings out, and to create an individual way of expressing themselves. You can scream, pump your fists and allow yourself to feel in the same ways as 'white men' are 'allowed to express themselves in the metal scene."
What Are YOU Doing Here?
This title insinuates a tone that many of us may have come across in our lives when we attend our favorite rock concert or frequent a country bar, and people look at our gender and/or skin color and assume we should be somewhere else. Laina's story is profound not only to the music industry, but to black women in general. She makes it her mission to reach out to black women and allow them to feel comfortable with listening to metal, and to see that it is a powerful form of expressing black female sexuality. Heavy metal is an empowering art form. The extreme images of the misogynistic stereotypes that once dominated the musical genre, is progressively changing with more female artists emerging into the music scene. Laina mentions in her interview with Vice the following:
I really admire black female singers, such as MilitiA from Judas Priestess and Skin from Skunk Anansie, as they are in control of their image, how they want to use their bodies in their performance, verus a hip-hop artist, who needs to be hyper-sexualized in order for people to take notice of her. Metal is more about technical and musical proficiency than what you look like, and I think that in hardcore and punk too, black women can have more control over their performance and how they want to present themselves. The images of black women in popular culture can be so two-two-dimensional - the oversexed groupie or 'animal' or the overweight, sassy ghetto chick. The metal scene can provide a place of sexual empowerment for black women, as it provides an alternative to all that.
You can listen to her interview below from WNYC's Soundcheck from Laina's site. She discusses her thoughts of being a black female involved in heavy metal music. She talks about racism, sexism, and growing up metal.
You can follow Laina on Twitter HERE