Monday, March 23, 2009

Record Labels: Righteous Babe Records

Ani DiFranco: Both Hands


Anais Mitchell: Your Fonder Heart


Folk music is not an acoustic guitar — that's not where the heart of it is. I use the word 'folk' in reference to punk music and rap music. It's an attitude, it's an awareness of one's heritage, and it's a community. It's subcorporate music that gives voice to different communities and their struggle against authority.

Ani's music has always spoken to me, both for her gorgeous poetics and for her fiercely feminist, pro-labor, anti-authority politics. Of course, the two are so intertwined, it's often startling to find such beauty in such anger -- that's part of the joy in her work. And given how powerful her urge to remain free and in control of her own destiny, it was no surprise to anyone to find Ani opting out of the major label game altogether, before even the typical token other-label release which so often characterizes artists who decide to take the production and promotion into their own hands.

I've spoken about Ani's subcorporate politics here before, in reference to her lyrics. But Ani's sense of her voice as a power for change extends far beyond her ability to reach an audience, and having one's own label makes one a powerful change agent. Since the establishment of Righteous Babe in 1990, Ani's label has taken on a life of its own, offering the same ownership and folk individuality to a variety of emerging artists, from indie whistlefolk darling Andrew Bird to folk/blues powerhouse Toshi Reagon, most recently releasing a double-CD set tribute to Utah Phillips, who Ani championed as a fellow organizer and folk maverick in his last decade, bringing his hobo poet's voice to a whole new generation.

For samples, I've included the very first song on Ani's very first record -- the one that started it all -- and a favorite 2008 cut from Vermont singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, who left the previously-mentioned Waterbug Records to join her idol and influence at Righteous Babe, saying:

If you knew what Ani DiFranco meant to me as a young woman and a young songwriter … well, I was simultaneously elated and in total disbelief.

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