Every Monday night in April of last year, Greenpoint’s Manhattan Inn hosted the Hum, an evening of first-time, unique collaborations between New York City-based musicians. It was so popular that the venue brought the series back that October. That edition was even more popular, so the Hum is returning to the Inn this month, starting on Sunday.
Oh, and all the performers at the Hum are women.
That’s not what Rachael Pazdan, who created the Hum last year as the talent buyer for the Manhattan Inn, likes to focus on when she talks about her series. She wishes being a female musician wasn’t a big deal at all. “It really rubs me the wrong way,” she says. “People always have to say ‘girl band’ or ‘chick bass player.’ Why can’t it be women, but just no big deal?”
Instead, she wants the Hum simply to celebrate music, and the love of playing and listening to it, sending the subtle message that it’s normal for women to make music together. Given the sexism rampant in the music industry, Pazdan initially didn’t think this idea would receive much support. But it did: last year, several performances sold out, and all but the earliest editions were well-attended. “I [doubted] I’d see a series of all women performers taking off,” she says. “I had no idea it would all be moving this quickly.”
Pazdan’s initial idea was to curate unique first-time collaborations between a diverse array of women working in various musical genres — everything from pop to punk, classical to crunk. “I’m sort of curating a dream band to create an eclectic sound,” she explains. “I keep the sound spectrum on the same page, but when they come together [the sound] becomes something new.”
The largest collaboration in this series — most are pairs — also closes out the season. Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Police Woman, joins Mayteana Morales, the percussionist and vocalist of funk band Pimps of Joytime, Zimbabwean singer Mizan, and Noga Shefi, the bassist of Brooklyn DIY band Zula. Wasser is excited to play with three musicians she doesn’t know. “Where that could go seems endless,” she says. “It’s great to be expanding beyond my normal circle.”
The Hum is as much about this — exposing women artists to each other, as fellow artists — as it is about exposing women artists to the world. “One artist told me, ‘I have never played with another woman before’,” explains Pazdan. She hears often that the musicians she invites to the series rarely work with other women. Participating changes their mindset. “One artist who performed in October says she now thinks about working with women first. Before, she hadn’t thought about it as an option at all.”
Wasser’s experiences confirm this: in over twenty years as a musician, she has seldom played onstage with other women, and even less often — never, almost — in a band of only women. This isolation denies women musicians the opportunity to recognize often frustrating shared experiences, like being treated as a bandmate’s girlfriend, or met with surprise when they explain they’re a percussionist and not the singer. But, notes Wasser, that makes the bonds between women musicians easy to form, and deeper.
“There’s a certain camaraderie among working women musicians that goes unspoken,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Ah. We made it here.’”
The Hum takes place every Sunday in April at 8:30 p.m. at Manhattan Inn.