New York- based BETTY tells the writer that music should be a part of every revolution be it gender equality or LGBT rights
For Amy Ziff (vocals, cello), Alyson Palmer (vocals, electric bass) and Elizabeth Ziff (vocals, guitar) of BETTY, being part of a band has always meant more than playing great music together. The artist-activists were in the city as art envoys of the US State Department to raise awareness on the causes they stand for including equality and gender violence. They could not have come at a better time. BETTY got together in the late Eighties and have been an active voice for women’s empowerment, LGBT rights and equality from its inception in Washington D.C. 28 years ago. They were in the city to perform and conduct outreach programs on speaking out and working towards a better future.
“Our music isn’t necessarily very political, but we are very politicised,” clarifies Elizabeth, “we came together in Washington D. C. so when Regan was in office, so there was a lot of protesting and it was also when the AIDS epidemic began so we sang (to raise awareness) for that. We’ve also always been very feminist, singing for feminist issues, pro-choice and women’s empowerment but our songs are about love and food and sex and passion.”
BETTY’s activism, hence, lies in the framework of where they choose to perform, the causes they lend their voices to and the very fact that they are three empowered, vocal, passionate women. Also it’s been fun,” adds Elizabeth, “it wouldn’t have lasted this long if it weren’t.”
One of the reasons they wanted to come to India was because of the priority the issue of gender violence has gained in the country. “The way people reacted to last years incident, protesting very strongly is something we don’t see in America anymore.” says Liz Having been a big part of the LGBT movement in America, BETTY is all too aware of the recent Supreme Court ruling criminalizing gay sex. “It’s very disappointing to us,” says Liz while Amy points out that if it has started a conversation then, there is hope of moving forward.
Of the three of them, it’s Elizabeth who was a very vocal activist at a very early age. When she was in second grade, it was very hot and the gym teacher allowed the boys to remove their shirts and when she went to take her shirt off the teacher told her she couldn’t. She was six and couldn't understand why so when the teacher turned her back, she got all the little girls to take their shirts off and go running around school. “That’s the thing with children. When something isn’t fair, it rings true to them. We learn to accept unfairness as we get older but I’ve never learnt to do that and I think no one should,” points out Elizabeth. “But it’s a luxury to be able to think about things that aren’t fair,” reminds Amy, “because some people don’t have food or shelter and can’t think of these things because they are just trying to survive. As soon as we get to the point where everyone can ask those questions then we are further along the way.”
While BETTY was already well-known for their music and their off-Broadway musical BETTYrules, their popularity rose after they sang the theme song for the hit TV series ‘The L Word’, which chronicles the life of a group of lesbians living in Los Angeles. Elizabeth, herself a lesbian, also composed, produced and wrote a few episodes and Amy has even guest starred in one.
During their trip to India, the band stopped over at Shillong, Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi where, in their capacity as art envoys of the United States State Department, they conducted workshops for children and performed. Percussionist Tanmoy Bose shared the stage with them in Kolkata but the band is more excited about their other co-performers. “We were also joined by those who had suffered gender violence and survived and thrived,” states Alyson.
Will there be back in India soon? “We were comparing our music with Indian classical music and there is just so much we can do together that we have to come back to make more music.,” she concludes.
Emma Goldman said “If I can’t dance, I want no part in your revolution,” we believe that anytime there is a conversation about changing the world, music has to be a part of it – Alyson Palmer
When you’re a little girl, you already know you can’t go to a park late at night. We don’t want to live like that or pass that on to our sons and daughters – Elizabeth Ziff
Street harassment is a big issue because it makes you feel lesser than - especially when you are a child – it continues as you grow up so that u speak less, you want to be seen less and eventually you do less – Amy Ziff