When did you fall in love with punk?: Noah Sow on Afropunk Chanson, Freedom and Living Your Truth Tuesday 07 February, 2012

Noah-Sow-Guitar-Reduced1

You can bet there will always be a million pigeonholes people can’t wait to stuff you inside. As a black woman in the punk music scene, Noah Sow of Noiseaux, flips the bird to each and every one. When asked how it feels to be black, German and doing punk music, Noah replied: “I’m educated […]

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You can bet there will always be a million pigeonholes people can’t wait to stuff you inside. As a black woman in the punk music scene, Noah Sow of Noiseaux, flips the bird to each and every one. When asked how it feels to be black, German and doing punk music, Noah replied: “I’m educated enough to know that “Black music” is [many things]…you bet whenever I open my mouth to sing, what comes out is Black music by definition.” Noiseaux has even created their own music genre, Afropunk Chanson, which they’ll have people headbanging to on their upcoming tour with 24-7 Spyz, one of the most influential black bands  in the punk scene.

A mutli-talented artist and activist, Noah’s humor and wit also comes across in her book, Germany, Black and White. Take, for example, her “List of Stupid Phrases” said to Black Germans and practical responses. She suggests when someone asks: “Do you feel more African or German?” one can respond: “Do you feel more ‘ass’ or ‘dumb-ass’?”

For Noah, race is not just some categorization she wishes would disappear so we could all live in peace. Blackness represents the heritage she, and many Black Germans don’t want to continue to see attacked or minimized. Noah sings with passion and intensity on all her songs, and this especially comes across in songs like, “Be Calm,” which criticizes European beauty standards and black stereotypes in popular media. She was a member New York’s, Anarchists of Color, whose 3-word motto was: “Disgrace Your Stereotype.”*

Here Noah talks about punk as a musical genre and lifestyle, being a black woman on the scene and Noiseaux’s latest album Out Now!.

When did you first fall in love with punk rock?

My key punk rock experience was as a teenager when the Black female fronted German punk band “Jingo de Lunch” came to my school to play a show. The headmaster had no idea what he had let through the nod. Punk audiences came from near and far and destroyed the whole sports ground by by moshing. It was the most wonderful day of my life (until then…more have followed since :-)).

I was already a punk kid then, with green hair and all, but had not known the band before, although they were quite influential. Jingo De Lunch were and still are the only influential Black female fronted punk rock band out of Germany.

I was one of three Black kids in the whole town. The town was racist as f*@k. Jingo de Lunch’s singer, Yvonne, was my first female role model. So powerful. I was in awe. Almost made me cry. I’ll never forget that day.

Is punk a way of life?

Punk has different aspects. One is a musical genre. The second and more important one for me is that it is an attitude. I’d call it being deviant, living on one’s own account. Not accepting society’s stereotypes and pigeonholes–that can definitely result in a way of life. When the two are combined, like in new Black Rock movements to reclaim the terms “punk” and “rock”, there’s no more “punk police” going: “Hey, the Sex Pistols are Punk but not Grace Jones or Little Richard,” but a more unifying and causal definition of “punk.”

I could always relate to some of the punk rock elements: openly expressed emotion, explicit resistance against societal norms, I experienced this as very freeing. Some other elements of “punk rock” I never quite understood…like, how did they manage to turn it into this 90% white scene? Like Tamar Kali said, punks wear mohawks and ear tunnels. It’s never been a white thing. I’m not even starting about the musical influences.

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding of punk rock?

That the first thing that pops up in one’s mind when hearing the word is a white male.

You’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on your new album, Out Now! What was your vision for this album?

My vision was to combine the attitude I had at that time with melodic songs. I have a soft spot for beautiful melodies and like to incorporate them into a louder and heavier sound. I wrote my book on everyday racism at the same time when we recorded the album, so I could have a positive outlet for all the sad and heavy stuff that was in my head. In many ways it was an emancipation record for me.

I’ve always wanted to see what it would feel like to record all the songs both in English and German, how they would change, how their feel would change. And I really wanted to reach out to my Black rock music loving folks in my own country as well as anywhere else, so a 2-language-album made sense.

I also managed to become autonomous after long and unlovely experiences with the German record industry’s stereotyping issues. Being able to release the album on my own label “Jeanne Dark Records” felt especially awesome.

Do you think you’ve been able to connect with artists and fans abroad because the stereotypes and issues you communicate through your music are so similar around the world?

I absolutely feel this is a universal Black rock woman experience. For me it’s great to make international connections because wherever we are we are such a minority that we simply don’t find many people to connect with if we don’t reach out pretty far.

I’ve met women in every part of the world with similar experiences: not “fitting in” (or not wanting to fit in), not being content with serving submissive “non-threatening”, exaggeratedly feminine images, every one of them having to fight against so much bulls*@t and adversity only to be able to show her art. Of course, this results in powerful connections. I’m happy and honored that I can call Maya from Mother Goddess and Honeychild Coleman my dear friends, among others.

It seems like there aren’t too many female led punk-rock bands like yours (or are they just less recognized?).

Hmmm, I don’t consider NOISEAUX a “punk-rock band”. There might be some correlations in my or our music and biography, but “punk rock” for me is not a synonym for “part of the Afropunk culture”. I guess I know what you mean though–how is this still such a male dominated genre? It’s because when women are loud, in charge, in control, self-confident, we are frequently reprimanded, ignored or attacked. We’re a threat to male privilege and probably also the whole identity construction of some guys. And women of color are not exactly being encouraged to start a rock band hahaha.

I have the impression that this is slowly changing–I hope I’m right. Media images are definitely pushing in the wrong way regarding young women’s self images.

Would you say your femininity influences your music?

I don’t have any clue what “femininity” is supposed to be, other than a collective experience from a certain socialization. I can only say that yes, of course, my music is influenced by how I grew up, what my role models were supposed to be, how my daily life is shaped by the challenges and benefits of being a woman of color. It’s in my lyrics.

Most musicians I know have very eclectic music tastes. What musicians of genres other than punk or rock have influenced you?

Bunches. I don’t care so much for genres, it’s more the songwriting and vocalists’ expressions that I connect to. I have the most random genre mix in my “all-time-favorites” folder: 24-7 Spyz, Suicidal Tendencies, Jessye Norman, Bloc Party, Kele Okereke’s solo record, Grace Jones, Miles Davis, The Spin Doctors, Roxy Music, The Police, Brandi, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, and I didn’t even get to the guilty pleasures!

Congratulations on your upcoming tour with 24-7 Spyz! One of the best parts of a concert to me is the song or collaboration I don’t anticipate. Can you give Live Unchained a little taste of anything you have in store for the audience that they may not expect?

Thank you!

This tour means a lot to me, I still have a hard time grasping the fact that we’re actually touring together! We’ll be presenting our new style and genre “Afropunk Chanson” on this exciting occasion, I think nobody’s going to expect this from us hahaha. We’ll play songs from the album Out Now! but, a little differently… and mostly new tunes. If we have the time, we’ll upload something shortly before the tour so folks can catch a glimpse :-).

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Creating and talking about my art without being reduced to some fantasy image of what a Black Woman’s art is supposed to be. Being without having to explain. Being seen as a person.

Being able to make a living from my own ideas and being independent in my choice of projects and work: the books I write, the music I play, the theatre shows I produce…I love the fact that they are uncompromisingly what I want to show, sometimes radical.

I’m very thankful for all these chances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been quite a struggle to get there. I don’t take anything for granted.

Keep in touch with Noiseaux on Facebook and Twitter.

*The term “Disgrace Your Stereotype” was coined by New York’s Black Rock Star Militia Vox, http://www.militiaismyname.com/, founder of Anarchists Of Color.


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