Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Emerging Divas in Soca Music

Last weekend I attended a conference, Gender, Bodies and Technology hosted by the Virginia Tech's Women's and Gender Studies Program. I presented a paper based on research I've been doing on female soca artistes in Trinidad. I've been interested in the way women use cultural expression to assess, contest and redefine gendered discourse. Here is an excerpt from the paper on Faye Ann Lyon's experience being pregnant during the 2009 Carnival season:

At twenty eight years old, Faye Ann’s decision to continue working until near her delivery is not unheard of for contemporary women. For her, pregnancy does not mean the end of her career or even her sexuality. By publicly declaring that she was not ill but pregnant challenges the ideas of some areas of Western medical care that the pregnant body is in a state of disability and all women are just simply in a state of waiting for the birth of their child. Faye Ann also brought new ideas of sexuality to the stage with her pregnancy. The pregnant body takes up more space than the female body is expected to inhabit and the body no longer maintains the slender image that society approves of especially in the performance space. A contradiction emerges here about the status of the pregnant body. On one hand, it is evidence of sexual activity, but since female sexuality is expected to be hidden, pregnancy makes this difficult to conceal. On the other hand there is a supposed loss of sexuality as the woman has submitted her body to reproductive function. But Faye Ann’s glamour and confidence never faltered and she did not attempt to suppress her sexuality as she continued to wine and maintain her diva status during her performances.

Faye Ann Lyons proudly declares, “I always said that I want to be the female version of my father or surpass that in terms of performance”, which she has achieved and more as she is the only woman to capture three Road March titles and the first female Soca Monarch in Trinidad. She has accomplished her own signature as an artiste. She makes it a point to condemn the industry’s expectations of women and advocates that they should be seen as more than just sex objects but in the same light as men which is, as serious and talented soca artistes. She does not depend on her body or sexuality to achieve success but focuses on the strength of her voice, crowd incitement and writing her own songs. Her additional roles as daughter, mother and wife has not reduced her commitment to her career as she clearly wants to be on equal ground with her male counterparts. Faye Ann definitely will not take her role in the industry lightly and is prepared to continue contesting the male dominated ideas until there is significant transformation for female soca artistes which she has already contributed to.