Ursa is 11. She’s named after a constellation. Her favorite bands are Pixies, Green Day and the Dead Milkmen, and she’s learning to play devastating punk beats on a borrowed drum kit at Girls Rock Camp Birmingham in preparation for the Girls Rock Secret Stages performance on August 1.
On day one of camp Ursa and fellow campers aged 9 to 16 gathered in front of the stage at Saturn Birmingham during a workshop between instrument practices. Substrate Radio DJ and iamthefbomb.com editor-in-chief Jackie Loquidis Hamric along with local multiple-instrument musician Jennifer Freehling produced the slide show “Music Herstory” to give the all-female campers a crash course in the legacy of women in music.
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Virginia Woolf’s quote flashed on the screen.
There was a rustle through the crowd. “Anonymous” doesn’t sit well with these girls. “Anonymous” isn’t relevant anymore, except as a point of contention or perhaps as an eviscerating song lyric. At the core of Girls Rock, however, is using music as a means of personal and social change, especially when it comes to equality of the sexes.
“The definition of feminism is advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the political, social and economic equality to men,” Freehling explained to the audience. “So, basically, if you care about equal opportunity, you’re a feminist. It’s not a movement about hating men. It’s a movement about empowering women, and giving women the opportunity to pursue whatever they want to do in life.”
“Because we’re awesome,” threw in Hamric, eliciting a babble of proud giggles from the campers.
Hamric, (aka. Jakie Lo) and Freehling gave out 73-song mix CDs following the workshop. The artist list goes on and on, each name indicative of a femme superpower in the music industry: The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Tammy Wynette, Janis Ian, Bjork, Ani DiFranco, Beyoncé, Patti Smith, the Go Gos, Bikini Kill, Lana Del Rey and Dolly Parton — women who refused to remain anonymous, like Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton the original voice of “Hound Dog,” which spent 14 weeks in the R&B charts with seven weeks at number one, four years before Elvis Presley put his hip-swinging masculine swagger to it.
“Girls Rock is not just a rock camp,” said Lindsey Shante, coordinator of Girls Rock Camp Alliance in Birmingham and a teacher with Girls Rock in Florida since 2012.
“The lessons, skills and connections these girls make and learn will resound in their memories for a lifetime producing more successful, confident women that will rock the future of Birmingham,” Shante said.
The non-profit organization, founded in 2007, is responsible for establishing music camps worldwide that promote female empowerment through music and the arts. Throughout the week-long school of rock girls form rock bands, learn to play their chosen instrument, create a song, design a band logo, participate in a music video and learn to promote themselves through creative workshops and master classes taught by local professionals. Shante, who performs with Birmingham’s Helen of Coi, said she was proud to announce that fundraisers throughout the spring allowed a large portion of campers to attend Girls Rock on full or partial scholarship.
Throughout the week, the campers will learn song writing, design, zine publishing, screen-printing, DIY merch and promotion and stage persona with lunchtime performances by DJ Chocolate, Helen of Coi, Sister Sniffle, and Rachel Roberts.
After the “Herstory” presentation, the musicians were split into three or four-piece bands. Ursa, Abbey, Jayla and Semira, all 11 years old, are the Blue Shredders. Where Ursa’s influences are moody punk acts, the singer and keyboardist Semira leans toward funk, jazz, hip-hop and R&B. She names Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys among her top influences. Local songstress Mandi Rae served as one of the band coaches on Monday and was tasked with combining these eclectic tastes into a cohesive whole. By the two-hour mark, the Shredders have a decent sound: a basic rock beat with Semira’s quirky choice in keyboard effects and flourishing knowledge of scat, Ella Fitzgerald-style. Camaraderie and calluses are forming and they’re looking like a band. Traces of Janelle. Traces of Patti. Traces of Birmingham.
The Blue Shredders, Girls Image, The Punkettes and Space Cat Swagger will perform their original songs on August 1 during Secret Stages at the Parthenon, 2210 First Avenue N, from 2:30-4 p.m. For more information, visit girlsrockbham.org.