Interview by Ciska Hoet
A performance about the legendary American composer and singer Meredith Monk: it cannot be done without female musicians on stage. Or is that discussion just hopelessly outdated?
An animated conversation with stage talents Nabou Claerhout, Naomi Beeldens and Anthe Huybrechts.
"Quite honestly? I think it's a shame to hang this interview on International Women's Day. I sometimes feel like that theme is forced upon me. If three men are on stage, do they have to talk about being men?"
Trombonist and jazz musician Nabou Claerhout doesn't mince words when it comes to the position of women in the music industry. Although she gets headwinds from her colleague, soprano Naomi Beeldens: "I just think it's important to keep having this conversation, precisely because that equality is not there yet."
Together with singer and pianist Anthe Huybrechts, they take the stage in Hey Meredith!, Zonzo Compagnie's first musical stage portrait of a female composer: Meredith Monk.
And while the trio may not be quite on the same page on a theme like women's emancipation, they clearly share the same admiration and fascination for Monk.
I must confess that I didn't know her beforehand, but once I started looking her up, I came to see her as a great role model. The way she not only thinks out of the box, but also escapes all kinds of pigeonholes: I can learn a lot from that.
About Meredith Monk
"She is a true phenomenon," Beeldens insists. "Monk is a versatile talent with a sound idiom all her own. A founder of extended vocal techniques, she uses her voice in a very unique way. She began her career in the 1960s but she has a great influence on the music world to this day."
Huybrechts nods. "I must confess that I didn't know her beforehand, but once I started looking her up, I came to think of her as a great role model. The way she not only thinks out of the box, but also escapes all kinds of pigeonholes: I can learn a lot from that."
Leading up to the musical theater performance for young audiences, the trio had an extensive online conversation with Monk. "Because I'm a jazz musician, she immediately recommended a good jazz documentary starring women," laughs Claerhout.
"She's very open and funny but it's also clear she knows what she wants." The makers got Monk's fiat to work with some of her works, as well as to work with a trombone, even though Monk himself never actually did that.
"The nice thing is that we can work with a lot of material thanks to her varied body of work," Huybrechts says. "There is film and choral music and her specific way of moving, but she has also, for example, made documentaries on which the projections we use are based."
By following her own creative urge so uncompromisingly, she almost automatically became a figurehead.
Woman in a man's world
Then again, the conversation turns to Monk's position as a woman in a man's world. "I don't know if Monk actively sought to profile herself as a feminist throughout her career," says Beeldens, "but it is undeniably a theme in her work, sometimes quite literally as in Education of the Girlchild.
By following her own creative drive so uncompromisingly, she has almost automatically become a figurehead." "I think, anyway, you used to have to fight harder than you do now as a woman," Claerhout adds. "I've never felt different at school or later with colleagues because I'm a woman, but of course I realize that wasn't always the case."
In addition, we must not forget that sexism still exists, in obvious and not so obvious ways, hidden in work processes or in the way it is communicated.
Huybrechts confirms that. "We were taught the subject 'female composers' at school, for example. Surely it's somewhat painful that that has to be something separate." "Women were actively written out of history for hundreds of years," Beeldens says of this. "They didn't get the chance to develop or build a career.
That's why it's so good that we're doing this Monk portrait now. "In addition, we must not forget that sexism still exists, in obvious and not so obvious ways, hidden in work processes or in the way it is communicated."
"I do share that opinion per se," Claerhout stipulates. "It's not because I don't experience it that other people don't have negative experiences. We all have to make sure everyone is equal.
Still, I don't want to dwell on being a woman all the time, let alone view men more negatively because they are men.
On and off stage
By the way, for Hey Meredith! we may have three front women on stage, but we have a wonderfully diverse crew behind us. The direction, the choreography, the videos: all punishing work by punishing people."
So punishing that they would be willing to play live for Monk? That question causes hilarity. "We would be SO nervous should we know she's in the audience," it sounds in chorus. Though it should be clear that Hey Meredith will be an ode to Monk to say hello to.
Hey Meredith! * Zonzo Compagnie (6+) * premiere
HEYdldiedendo - the world of MEREDITH monkStart: 14:00 Tickets