“In this band, the women make the decisions.”
In a short sentence Wiyaala, a lead vocalist of GRRRL, has articulated one of the core purposes of the electronic music collaboration.
Featuring independent women from around the world, GRRRL is a collective of seven artists who have combined forces to tell their stories, using their experiences to create change for women.
Underlying the beats, bass and rhythm is a powerful message of unity and change and the all-female group will perform on the Festival 2018 Main Stage in Surfers Paradise on Sunday 15 April.
GRRRL was brought together by organisation In Place of War, which works with creative communities in places of conflict.
“In Place of War is a charity that searches for young women in the entertainment industry doing their own thing despite all the challenges, especially from countries like mine [Ghana] where the music scene is dominated by a lot of men,” Wiyaala tells GC2018.com.
“[Men] do everything from the music, production to everything, so when a woman is trying to get in there, they try to take advantage of the situation, sometimes trying to demoralise your sexuality, trying to take advantage.”
But that’s all changing. Wiyaala is one of seven artists – plus an all-female team of producers, directors and managers – who are using music and their space on the international stage to change the lives of women in their communities.
“[In Place of War] saw what we were doing and what we stood for – and what we still stand for,” Wiyaala says.
“When you check our management, from the manager to the sound engineer to the singers, the rappers, we are all women.”
Wiyaala is from Funsi in Upper West Ghana. She sings in the Sissala and Waale dialects, as well as English, frequently combining all three in her songs. She’s breaking down the barriers between languages, culture and genders.
Wiyaala is using her voice and new platform to bring people together, despite their differences, and have the conversations that people around the world need to be a part of.
“GRRRL has given me a powerful voice. When I say things, people take them seriously,” she says.
“When I tweeted that I wasn’t going to attend an event because I was on the farm and I was farming, it became a big headline.
“People were now discussing farming and I took the opportunity to tell the young ones to go into farming and see what they can do for themselves because it’s one area that can accommodate a lot of youth who are not working.”
Wiyaala has experienced the effects of music to create change; she has lived it. And being part of GRRRL, who have toured all over the world challenging perceptions and creating conversations, has opened up the dialogue in her home country of Ghana. She’s even has a street in her village named after her.
She’s encouraging young people in her community, especially women, to get involved in music, and shining a light on issues that haven't been widely discussed.
GRRRL was only formed in the middle of 2017 but already, things are starting to change.
“Ever since I joined GRRRL, reaction, perception from my country has really changed because they saw the really, really good side of entertainment when it comes to women.” Wiyaala says.
“In my country there are a lot of challenges, apart from men dominating and trying to take advantage. Most people also thought when you’re a woman and you’re in the industry, it’s because you are dumb and you are probably finding an easy way to expose your body.
“Some people say it’s a way of doing prostitution so that you parade yourself on the camera trying to be all sexy, so the men who find you attractive come and give you money. No, it’s about using music to bring a lot of change in my community.
“The young ones, they are daring to be different, they’re becoming confident. Through my music I’ve gotten a voice to talk about other issues affecting women. Girls having education, ending child marriage and I’ve also been given this huge respect from my community.
“When I sing these things, the elders and the youth, they come together and they think about it and then they say, yeah, she’s right.”
Wiyaala’s story is just one of the many that GRRRL are sharing through their music.
The other members of the group performing at Festival 2018 include AWA – African Women Rise – from Zimbabwe, Nona Nkoane from South Africa, rapper Speech Debelle from the UK, Lei Di Dai from Brazil, British Bangladeshi artist Sohini Alam and British born, Ghanian/Russian/German electronic artist Afrodeutsche.
While they all speak and sign in different languages, their performances are a moving example of music’s power to transcend all barriers.
“We are one,” Wiyaala says.
“Music has always been a powerful tool for change. Music is one language that everybody speaks. Even though the language in a song might not be your everyday language or your own tongue, it’s just one language.
“I guess that’s why it’s a universal language. You don’t need to understand what the singer is talking about, the sound, the feelings and the emotions are expressed in the song. We all understand and everybody speaks music.
“Through music we are telling the world that look, here we are, we are women on the stage, we come on the stage, we sing, we know we are hot, we know we are sexy, we are beautiful but we’ve got brains too.
“We are talented, not only to use our physical talent but inside to show the beauty and the power that women can bring into the entertainment world and we can do it as well as the guys, if not better.”
They sing in many languages, but GRRRL’s message comes through loud and clear.