Folk and punk mightn’t seem the likeliest of musical bedfellows but, by fusing folk’s sing-along melodic nature with the in-your-face attitude and energy of punk while also feeding off the political engagement present in both genre’s, Ani DiFranco introduced folk based music to a slew of listeners who mightn’t have otherwise ventured outside the ’90s alternative music scene. Fitting with the punk elements of her music, DiFranco has approached her career in a staunchly independent manner, releasing each of her 18 studio albums through her own label, Righteous Babe Records – founded before DiFranco was even 20 years-old.
Political and social issues – including those of racism, sexism, sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights, poverty, and war- have not only played an important role in DiFranco’s music, but in her life more broadly, with DiFranco supporting a variety of social movements and causes, as well endorsing several prominent politicians on the left of political spectrum. Specific causes DiFranco has been involved with include the “Not in Our Name” anti-death penalty organization, the Katrina Piano Fund – which raised money to help musicians replace instruments lost during Hurricane Katrina – and 2004’s March for Women’s Lives in DC, an event that saw her perform several songs for supporters in front of the US Capitol. In 2006, in recognition of DiFranco’s contributions to the feminist movement, she was awarded the “Woman of Courage Award” at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference and Young Feminist Summit.
I first became aware of DiFranco in the mid-to-late ’90s when Triple J – a national youth-oriented radio station in Australia – gave the track Untouchable Face high rotation. As my exposure to her music grew I became enamoured with songs like Buildings and Bridges, Little Plastic Castle, and Gravel, as of which wryly balanced sentimentality with angst that definitely appealed to my teenage self. As I matured, so did my understanding and appreciating of DiFranco’s song-craft and I began to pick-up on the political/social commentaries taking place underneath the surface narratives. This multilayered lyrical content, melded with engaging musicality, is one of the reasons Little Plastic Castle continues to be one of my favourite albums.
By approaching her career in a fiercely independent fashion, demonstrating the strength of her convictions through her support of various causes, all why writing and performing engaging music, Ani DiFranco is definitely one of the Women-Who-Rocktober.