Canaille was a series of annual festivals of women’s improvised music which took place in various cities across Europe between 1985 and 1992. A recording of the second festival, at the Rote Fabrik in Zürich on the 17 and 18 October 1986, was released on the Swiss record label Intakt in 1988. The event featured the following musicians, coming together in various formations during the two day event:
Maggie Nicols (voice)
Flora St. Loup (voice)
Annemarie Roelofs (trombone, violin)
Co Streiff (alto sax)
Mariette Rouppe van der Voort (alto sax)
Maud Sauer (oboe)
Lindsay Cooper (basoon, live-electronics)
Maarthe ten Hoorn (violin)
Elvira Plenar (piano)
Iréne Schweizer (piano, drums)
Joëlle Léandre (bass, voice)
Petra Ilyes (bass guitar)
Marilyn Mazur (percussion, piano)
The record is long out of print and has never been re-released on CD. Download it below and start to rediscover the hidden history of women’s improvised music…
DOWNLOAD: Canaille SIDE A
1. Gaat um Gang, Dames! (Streiff, Roelofs, Schweizer, Mazur)
2. Kromhout 2 Cyl. 80 Pk (Sauer, Cooper)
3. Vino Santo (St. Loup, Léandre, Mazur)
4. Hello (Nicols, Ten Hoorn, Roelofs, Plenar, Leandre)
5. Discovery (Streiff, Rouppe van der Voort, Sauer, Ilyes, Schweizer)
DOWNLOAD: Canaille SIDE B
1. Trutznachtigall II (Schweizer, Léandre, Mazur)
2. A) Nasty (Nicols, Cooper, Mazur)
B) Eine Kleine Drum-Musik (Schweizer, Mazur)
3. Metal Nuit (St. Loup, Roelofs, Sauer, Ten Hoorn, Leandre)
4. Sweethearts of Rhythm (Rouppe van der Voort, Ten Hoorn, Plenar, Ilyes, Mazur)
Original liner notes, written by Rosmarie A. Meier, translated by Susan Kaufmann and transcribed by Nicole Emmenegger
In it’s article on the two day Women’s Music Festival Canaille, which took place on October 17 and 18, 1986, at the Rote Fabrik (a cultural center located in an old red-brick factory), Zurich’s largest daily newspaper called it “one of the most exciting jazz events to happen in Zurich.” During the two evenings 13 female musicians from the current European improvised music scene could be heard in different group formations. Invited were some of the central figures and founders of women’s jazz in Europe: the pianist and drummer Iréne Schweizer, the singer Maggie Nicols, the bassoonist and composer Lindsay Cooper, as well as the trombonist and violinist Annemarie Roelofs. All four of them were part of the legendary “Feminist Improvising Group” (FIG), an ensemble that wrote music history.
In the meantime, many years have passed and the sphere of activities of these musicians has spread: Lindsay Cooper, for example, gathered together numerous musicians like Sally Potter, Georgie Born and Kate Westrook for her feminist film projects (The Gold Diggers, Rags). In 1983, Iréne Schweizer founded the “European Women’s Improvising Group” (EWIG), which included among others the bass-player Joëlle Léandre from Franc and Annemarie Roelofs from Holland. Today she also works with a young saxophonist form Zurich, Co Streiff.
The British singer Maggie Nicols, certainly one of the female musicians, who has most clearly pursued the idea of connecting music and politics, has started several of her own groups. She has always done this with the intention of expanding the narrow professional scene and thus setting new musical standards. Not only technical brilliance and professionalism should have their place, but also a spirit of inventiveness, enthusiasm and fantasy. Art on the other hand, everyday life on the other – this division should be lifted.
Annemarie Roelofs, violinist and composer with classical training, co-founder of the Canaille Festival in Frankfurt in 1986, plays the trombone, an instrument that is considered by no means a classical “instrument for girls.” As recently as the thirties and forties it was questioned whether women could even handle this instrument. Annemarie Roelofs did not let this daunt her and is today one of the only female trombonists in Europe. Nowadays, she also plays together with the Yugoslavian pianist Elvira Plenar, who got her training as a classical pianist in Zagreb and Graz.
Marilyn Mazur, former dancer with the Creative Dance Theatre, pianist, composer and graduate of the Royal Danish Music Conservatory, is today one of the few women drummers to make an international breakthrough on this – usually considered masculine – instrument. She works with Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter.
The French bass-player Joëlle Léandre belongs to the new generation of musicians (both male and female) who are not restrained by questions of style and – having been trained by John Cage – has at her fingertips a wide repertoire of the 20th century music. In any case, the music played at Canaille no longer has anything to do with what is commonly called jazz. It can most easily be characterized with the term used by the jazz journalist Bert Noglik: “jazz dissidence.” The diverse social and cultural backgrounds of the musicians are also reflected in various ways in their music. The musicians bring in experiences which range from classical music, from the folk-music tradition across pop and rock music to the techniques of modern composed music.
Also exciting at the Canaille Festival was the encounter between the “founding generation” and a second generation of younger musicians like the pianist Elvira Plenar or the saxophonist and flute-player Co Streiff from Switzerland. In contrast to, say, Iréne Schweizer or Maggie Nicols, many of these younger musicians have their roots in classical music.
The French singer and composer Flora St. Loup attended music conservatories in Paris, Vienna and Salzburg. She has written the music for numerous plays and films. Also working “across borders” are the Dutch musicians Maartje ten Hoorn (violin), Maud Sauer (oboe) and Mariëtte Rouppe van der Voort (flute and saxophone), all with classical training and a the same time long “at home” in free improvised music (together with Guus Janssen, Maarteen Altena etc.). Only the German bass guitar player Petra Ilyes comes from the rock and punk tradition and has no trouble finding her way in free improvised music. On the contrary, with her funky and jazz-rock like interludes she supplements and broadens the musical diversity of the “Canailles.”
“What is really so different when women make music?” is a question that arises time and again. If the still relatively recent history of the European women’s free improvised scene is considered, from the “Feminist Improvising Group” across the “European Women Improvising Group” to the women’s music scene which started primarily in Great Britain and Holland, and finally the Canaille Festivals, the musicians are certainly not concerned with “feminine” aesthetics, but rather – if anything – with “feminist” aesthetics. This claim is especially strong with the “first” generation around the FIG and EWIG. The younger musicians, who have built upon the social and musical achievements of the pioneer generation, have in the meantime developed a new understanding of themselves: They have become more self-confident. For the “first” generation, the time spent playing only with other women was an important step in finding their identity. The common experiences in the struggle for emancipation in private as well as public life, especially as musicians, was the departing point and the heart of what they did: “We improvised our lives, our biographies… our situation at the moment was the basis of what we did” (Maggie Nicols, 1986).
The means of musical expression – and here it is not by chance that the first and second generation come together again – is free improvised music. For it offers the musicians that free room to develop individual styles and to express what they themselves are or want to become. The question of “Feminist Aesthetics” cannot be seen as much in the way the music – for example that of the “Canailles” – “sounds” as in the way they appear on stage and how they deal with each other. Here is where their circumstance and their strategies for getting by in life (even surviving) are reflected most clearly: solidarity, wealth of imagination, self-irony, passion, humor and seriousness. These elements could all be clearly felt during the performances at the Canaille Festival. And also in how the 13 musicians came to an agreement without any one leading figures on both afternoons before the Festival and put together the individual formations (altogether there were 24 different groups, from duo-appearances to entire formations).
The other outstanding moment of the Canaille Festival: Every time there is a festival, it is a women musician who initiates (at least co-initiates) it. The first Canaille Festival was organized by the Dutch trombonist and violinist Annemarie Roelofs (together with Christiane Spieler and Kathi Goth) in Frankfurt. The second Canaille, from which this recording was made, was realized through the efforts of Iréne Schweizer and the group “Fabrikjazz” (Factory Jazz” in Zurich. The third Canaille took place in November 1987 under the aegis of Flora St. Loup in Vienna and the fourth in December in Amsterdam (organized by Maartje ten Hoorn). In the meantime Canaille has become an institution. The musicians have taken their affairs into their own hands, for in these times it is not a matter of course that these musicians get invited to the important festivals of the free improvised music.
This recording of the Canaille Festival in Zurich in 1986 is intended to give the broad public a survey of the musical diversity of the current women’s improvising scene in Europe. For financial reasons alone, we were forced to compress the excellent musical material from more than 9 hours to two short record sides. At the same time we wanted to give not only an impression of the musical breadth of these musicians and a taste of the what was at times almost euphoric, certainly exciting and varied performances, but also to represent all 13 musicians. This record has an important documentary value. Especially because I suspect that the emergence of a broad scene of free improvising women musicians is the most exceptional and innovative moment of the 80s as regards the history of free improvisation. However, this recent history of free improvisers can only be found on a small number of records. There are no recordings of the “Feminist Improvising Group” (FIG) or the “European Women’s Improvising Group” (EWIG) available to the public.
This Canaille record was realized thanks to the work and support of a team of enthusiasts called “Fabrikjazz” and other groups in the alternative cultural center “Rote Fabrik.” In the end, it was the various groups of the IGRF (a collective body of groups around the “Rote Fabrik”) that decided at short notice to support the record projects both with infrastructure and financially. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who were involved.