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Meghan Drury

Meghan Drury is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Studies at the George Washington University. She received a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at UC Riverside, and is currently completing a dissertation entitled “Sonic Affinities: The Middle East in the American Popular Music Imaginary, 1950-2010.” She is managing editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies.

“Voicing the Void: Natacha Atlas and the Transnational Feminist Imagination”
This paper investigates transnational reactions to world music artist Natacha Atlas and probes her autobiographical claim to be a “human Gaza Strip,” a multilayered assertion that is all the more complex considering that she publicized and then disavowed her Sephardic Jewish heritage. Atlas, best known as a singer in the world music electronica collective Transglobal Underground during the 1990s, was born in Brussels to a British mother and a father of Moroccan, Palestinian, and Egyptian descent. She embarked on a solo career in the late-1980s, releasing albums incorporating French, Arabic, and English lyrics. Atlas’ own fraught biography walks a line—perhaps strategic—between hybridity and ethnic pride, a position that has produced spirited debates over her background and allowed listeners to map their own fantasies onto her voice and body.

My analysis reworks Daphne Brooks’ theorization of grief and surrogation in Black female soul singing, ultimately illuminating how feminine voices have both intentionally and unintentionally signified national and transnational suffering. As one writer put it, “her [Atlas’] creative juices gush straight from the heart of the conflict in the Middle East.” Western feminist “sympathy” for and “identification” with Arab and Muslim women have long posed thorny questions about representation and agency. Atlas’ music attracts feminist audiences for its appeal to difference and perceived capacity for building connections and musical bridges. In particular, the song “Leysh Nat' Arak,” or “Why Are We Fighting” from her 1995 album Diaspora satisfied listeners’ desire to identify with a “voice of peace” during the Oslo Accords. Using this example, I argue that Atlas steps into an imagined void of Arab female victimization by voicing the Arab-Israeli conflict. To use Brooks’ terminology, her voice surrogates veiling and invisibility, standing in for the silencing and subjugation of women to perform a kind of feminist empowerment.

“Voicing the Uncontainable Feminine”
Beyond the notion that music can “give voice” to the “voiceless,” this panel asks how popular music amplifies the vocal power women, girls, and feminine or feminized people already possess. We examine how songwriting and song-voicing can work as a process of self-making and network-building. How have feminine voices been heard and interpreted in ways that dampen the richness of their politics and the fullness of their expression? What are the relationships between these restrictions and particular genres or modes of artistic production? Finally, how do transnational audiopolitics further complicate these relationships? Here, we engage the modes by which voice, irreducible to word, text, or performance, is a medium of self-writing that has a special relationship to the empowerment of women, girls, queer, and otherwise feminized bodies. The creative work of these people has often been reduced to merely direct reflections of their domestic realities, or perceived as narratives of (hetero)romance coerced by a sexist industry and consumed by a feminized/inauthentic public whose unarticulated vocalization comes in the form of screams. Songs and memoirs are particularly rich sites for investigating the tension between voicing the conditions of one’s life and creating/consuming imagined alternatives to those conditions. The voice registers authority as it builds new realities through its creative efforts. The texts these voices carry are only one mode of vocal possibility: here, we locate the work that unfolds in their sensory textures, hidden registers, and embodied meanings.

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