Biography of a Feminist: ANI DIFRANCO

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If there was ever a feminist artist for me, it would be Ani Difranco. She doesn’t just sing about feminism; she lives it in her everyday life. “If you don’t live what you sing about, your mirror is going to find out,” Ani says. I’ve taken the liberty of calling her by her first name because, for me, she’s Ani. She’s unpretentious and she’s one of us. Besides, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind it.

ani copyIn her acoustic, guitar-based, autobiographical songs, Ani speaks about politics, imperialism, patriarchy, abuse, and sexuality. She is a self-described folksinger whose goal is that someone somewhere find her music and poetry enjoyable and inspiring. She would sing to a couple of people at a bar the same way she would sing to thousands of people at a mega concert. Ani has earned herself a legion of fans in the queer community. A lot of her lesbian fans felt betrayed when she married her sound engineer, a man. But upsetting the fans wasn’t new for Ani, who told The Progressive “I remember the first time that I started walking out on stage in a dress and hearing young women screaming ‘Sellout!’ They were just coming to know their own anger, and it hadn’t deepened with the awareness that feminism is truly about women becoming themselves, and having choices, and I remember those angry, angry responses.” Several years later, Ani got divorced. She gave birth to a daughter, Petah Lucia DiFranco Napolitano, on January 20, 2007. The child’s father is Ani’s new husband. And in her latest album, “Red Letter Year,” Ani speaks about childbirth and motherhood.

When it comes to writing about the political and the personal, Ani’s got “the gift of lyrical precision—nothing cuts to the core quite like the resolution of a DiFranco rhyme” as Kerry Mason of Billboard wrote when reviewing her “Reprieve” album. When you listen to her lyrics, you could swear she had read your mind, and put to words thoughts you would never have been able to express in a better way – or express them at all.

If you haven’t heard of Ani Difranco in this part of the world (and I doubt you haven’t), it’s because this folksinger has decided to pursue “a career that’s built on toting your butt around the country and playing music for people as opposed to commercial airplay or national TV exposure” as she said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1995. She depends on word of mouth and personal contact with her fans instead of mainstream media. In a letter to Ms. magazine in 1997, Ani criticized the publication for making “the money” the focus of a little sum up of her career in a column called “21 Feminists for the 21st Century” in which they mostly detailed her financial successes and sales statistics. In the letter, she says: “Imagine how strange it must be for a girl who has spent 10 years fighting as hard as she could against the lure of the corporate carrot and the almighty forces of capital, only to be eventually recognized by the power structure as a business pioneer.”  She regrets having to explain to a feminist magazine she highly respects how we should move beyond the language and perspective of corporate patriarchy. She sees feminism as recognizing women for their work itself rather than their financial success and other consumerist criteria that are imposed upon us. Ani Difranco started her own record company in 1989 when she wanted to record her first album. Since then, “Righteous Babe Records” has produced one Ani DiFranco album every year. Ani wrote about her independent music making in a song called “The Million You Never Made,” in which she addresses major record labels:

“and no I don’t prefer obscurity
but I’m an idealistic girl
and I wouldn’t work for you
no matter what you paid
I may not be able
to change the whole fucking world
but I can be the million
that you never made”

You can never get enough of Ani’s lyrics and folk music. She’s a gifted poet and an amazing musician, but most of all she’s a true feminist. When she dies, Ani wants her grave stone to read: “songwriter, music maker, storyteller, and freak.” I would definitely add “inspirational feminist.”

Contributed by Ran

Guest Contributor

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