Hannah Judson and Zeb Achonu launch MUSEFest

Hannah Judson and Zeb Achonu launch MUSEFest

Drunken Mermaid has been itching to get a feature on Hannah Judson onto the site, and with the arrival of MUSEFest, the perfect opportunity has presented itself…

drunkenmermaid.com: How did MUSEFest come to be?

Hannah: MUSEfest came out of a conversation with Zeb Achonu, about women who become mothers while continuing to produce and perform. Zeb had created a Facebook group for mothers in bands, and we decided we should make a music festival for the group. We began thinking about artists who have inspired us personally to create and continue doing our thing, throughout the arch of our lives, not just right now. We realized that the festival mission needed to expand to women who inspire other women, including but not limited to mothers. We both have varied taste in music, and the festival is not focused on a particular style, but more on intensity, polish, and strength of message and performance.

Zeb: The Mothers Make Music Facebook group had come about from me finding a statistic saying that “The PRS for Music membership (writers and music creators) is currently only 14% women” (statistic from PRS for Music). That’s a shocking statistic, really. Why are there so few women writing and creating? And of that how many of them are mothers, which is just one of many varied reasons that women become less available to create music. Along with the usual conversations about a male dominated music business, it became even more important to celebrate and encourage women who do create music and are working in the music industry.

drunkenmermaid.com: Who are the performers? What can you tell us about them?

Hannah: The headlining performer is Miss Baby Sol, from London. She is a powerhouse, smart and beautiful, taps into historical music moments, and reworks it to make it completely her own. She also has a message to listen to. She is known for her past work with J’nay, Paloma Faith, and Amy Winehouse, but it’s her present work that we should be talking about. Her work is tinged with soul, jazz and reggae, and is completely, currently, her own.

Here’s a taste of Miss Baby Sol:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo_hbrxfDZ4&w=560&h=315]

Hannah: Also performing is Ösp Eldjárn, and Icelandic singer/songwriter. She is great! She grew up performing with her family in a traditional folk musical act, and then with brothers and friends in folk/Americana/blue grass lineup before moving to London. Her work is inspired by the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald, the stories of Joni Mitchell. Now she is writing and performing her own etherial and atmospheric folk.

A few others will be performing that night, including me. My work is alternative folk, with sometimes sultry and very original lyrics. The texts are subtle, evocative and tell stories influenced from both sides of the Atlantic. I work with one foot rooted in folk storytelling tradition like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. My vocals have been compared with Suzanne Vega, Elliott Smith, and Cat Power.

For those of you who don’t know Hannah, she’s like the distilled essence of XPN out of Philly:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhrSZIN4QLA?list=UU9aNPI0JrjzdpcEG1KsrkKg&w=560&h=315]

Hannah: There will also be an art exhibition before the show, a speaker, various exhibitors and the evening concludes with a DJ. It will be a full, fun evening.

drunkenmermaid.com: What have been your biggest obstacles to making MUSEFest happen?

Hannah: Getting started has not being easy, as we are building this on an extremely limited budget, across time zones, with no history to show as we are speaking with potential partners and performers. The thing that has kept us going is how much enthusiasm we have received from artists and supporters a like, for this festival. The theme really strikes a chord, is positive and is all about moving forward, remaining in dialogue and of course entertaining those who like the music!

drunkenmermaid.com: What do you see it becoming in the future? Where would you like to take it?

Hannah: We will be producing the next MUSEfest in Paris in the spring of 2015. The second edition is beginning to take form already and looks like it will be a bit larger in scope. After that, New York or Chicago are the next logical steps, but we will always loop back around to London.

Zeb: I’d like to see MUSEfest become a major contributor to increasing the visibility of women making music, something that sparks conversation and encourages women working in and around music to continue doing so, and others to restart, or begin.

drunkenmermaid.com: Tell us about yourself – what got you into music? When did you begin to perform?

Hannah: I lived in Spain for a few years after university, studied classical guitar, and began writing songs then. When I moved to Chicago, I immediately got an electric guitar, amp and pulled a band together. I have had bands or musical projects ever since. My creative influences are varied, and my work has been deeply influenced by Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Laurie Anderson, Liz Phair to name a few, but also artists, writers and designers too… Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Douglas Kennedy, Frank Gehry. When something shakes you from the feet up, there’s something there, its part of the conversation. It doesn’t matter the medium.

Zeb: I grew up knowing I wanted to sing and make music. There was always a wide variety of music playing in my home as a child; reggae, folk, rhythm & blues, hi-life, soul divas, classical… and when I could choose, I got into indie and rock, before finding hip hop and trip hop. I joined a few bands, specifically the live set up of Euphonic, who I toured Europe with in my early 20s, then when that ended I started working on a solo project with Euphonic producer Rob Henry, put together my own band and started playing gigs in and around London.  When I moved to Paris in 2009, I started the Paris branch of internet music show, Balcony TV, and spent all my time promoting other artists. I really missed making my own music and working with my guitarist Oli Thompson. I moved back to London and started doing a few acoustic shows, joined a choir, just found pleasure in singing again. Having my son forced me to take some time out and consider what I wanted to do next. So, happily, I’m now back making music, actually working mostly with a producer I know in Paris, but really enjoying being both a mother and a musician and finding the balance and synergy in those two things. I’m not saying it isn’t exhausting though!

drunkenmermaid.com: Tell us about the charity White Ribbon Alliance.

Hannah: A percentage of proceeds of the event will go to the White Ribbon Alliance. They are an amazingly effective organization with the basic goal of healthy birth for all women and children, everywhere. Much of their work is focused in Africa and Asia, but the overarching goal is to bring education, resources, systems and care to people who need it most. This charity is so well run, with a profoundly low overhead. We are going to show some videos from their work at the event as well. Childbirth is such a fundamental topic. Everybody either is a mother, or has one. We should take care of mothers!

drunkenmermaid.com: Who are your major influences? What do you take from them? What do you add or do differently?

Zeb: The obvious, corniest, but truest answer is my Mum. She is always on the go, starting new exciting projects, encouraging others to do the same and finding herself frustrated at her own or others’ missed opportunities. I remember doing gigs with very few people in the audience and really not feeling like dressing up and giving it my all, and she would remind me that those people came, they deserve the best you can give. And she is right. So on goes the face, and the sparkle, because you just never know who or what may come of it. Musically, there are many influences; Ella Fitzgerald for her voice, Madonna for her business savvy and performance, PJ Harvey for her incredible music and ability to reinvent but stay true to her own sound, Jill Scott, for her consistently incredible vocals and songs, and for me, Martina Topley-Bird. When I first heard her voice on a Tricky track I was mesmerised. Here was a young, mixed race woman, singing in a somewhat bluesy manner, but with a very modern edge, over electronic, sample based beats… it was combining everything I was into at the time, still am, and it was like I was being told “yes it’s true, you can make the music you feel”. That was huge for me.

drunkenmermaid.com: What are your best and worst experiences to date?

Zeb: I have been lucky enough to play in some amazing places, but it was Malawi, at the Lake of Stars festival that I have my fondest memories. I travelled through parts of Africa with a bunch of musicians and DJs I hadn’t known before and loved every minute, partying wherever we stopped. All the way to the festival. Which was great because everyone was so supportive and made sure that we all caught each other’s sets and there was a genuine good music good people vibe about the whole thing. Worst experiences…? Oh gosh, I’m sure there are many but I try to blank them out!

drunkenmermaid.com: How can we get more information about the festival?

Saturday Nov. 29, 2014
Hackney Attic
270 Mare St
+44 871 902 5734
Buy tickets here.

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