This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. By clicking or navigating the site you agree to allow our collection of information through cookies. More info

2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday March 13, 2024

Updated on Tuesday July 16, 2024

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

Searching for women in the music industry

Anthropologist and DJ Kornelia Binicewicz founded the ‘Ladies on Records’ initiative to highlight female artists in the music industry. For Women’s History Month, she tells us about her mission to highlight invisible women in musical heritage, the women who inspire her and the digital resources she uses to uncover their work.

Kornelia Binicewicz gazing down at there records
Working on the Turkish Ladies mixtape
Kornelia Binicewicz

We can tell the story of women, with women

Kornelia is the founder of Ladies On Records, a project that aims to tell the stories of female artists from the past in a new, contemporary way. She established the initiative when she moved to Turkey from Poland in 2015, explaining,

‘The history of art, politics and music has been created mostly from the perspective of men, through the participation of men, so you have to consider it as a kind of storytelling. Who was telling the story and what story did they want to tell? I’m trying to play this situation again. I am a woman. I want to tell the story of women, with women. Hopefully this is what people can get from Ladies on Records - the idea that the story can be told in a different way with different tools.’

Kornelia kneels on the floor, surrounded by records
A Drop of Luck project, Selin Unsel, in copyright
Kornelia kneels on the floor, surrounded by records

We can learn from messengers of change

As a record collector and a DJ, Kornelia puts together compilations, mixtapes, playlists and podcasts that foreground female musicians. There are two women Kornelia particularly admires, who she describes as ‘messengers of hope, of change, of transformation and liberation for many cultural social groups’ and who ‘definitely belong to pop culture but bring something much more important than just pop and entertainment’.

The first is Selda Bağcan from Turkey. She produced her biggest music in the 1970s and is one of a few women who was given a chance to participate in social discourse about democracy, liberation and freedom in Turkey. ‘ She is iconic and powerful,’ says Kornelia. ‘Her music is still recognised and acknowledged as a form of protest against dictatorship, for example, when the protest in Gezi Park happened, which was an important moment in Turkish democracy, her songs were the anthems of the revolution.’

The second is Googoosh from Iran, an artist who represents the music scene from pre-revolutionary Iran. ‘Artists like Googoosh were banned after the revolution - women were forbidden to sing and perform. It was impossible for their voices to be heard. But still their songs and their attitudes to music, art and society, give strength to people and contemporary struggles, like the degradation of women’s rights we’re seeing in Iran right now.’

We can build a reality of facts and artefacts

Kornelia uses both digital and physical resources to ‘build a solid version of reality’ that is expressed in her podcasts, playlists and articles. So, how does she approach her research?

‘I am an anthropologist of culture, I don’t just look for music. I often go to databases and search engines and type something very random to find inspiration that will take me to another story, a deeper understanding. I use technology in a freestyle way.

‘We are overwhelmed with information that is very momentary, especially in the Instagram, TikTok era, we get something that is an impression of reality.

‘A database gives us a more solid knowledge of history, it helps us understand both past and present and maybe foresee some future situations.

‘It’s interesting to think about those databases as living museums of artefacts that are constantly being rebuilt and refurnished with inner tags and labels that can change during the process of working with them. This gives us new perspectives and deeper perspectives of things. We land in a more solid and more reliable reality of facts and artefacts.

‘I use, the British Library, and Istanbul research institutions like SALT, that explores meanings around the contexts of being Turkish. And I love Discogs - a database devoted to the presentation of recorded music. It gives access to users to update information. I also go to the physical libraries and archives, I am a digger. And I love contact with people - collecting stories, carrying out interviews - people are the best source of knowledge.’

We can search for women everywhere

Through Ladies on Records, Kornelia is uncovering hidden stories about women and new perspectives by women. But she thinks more can still be done to highlight women in all aspects of society.

‘We’ve heard of the term ‘herstory’, but we still have to uncover more, redefine the history, start over, and dig more to reveal the contribution of women to music and to culture in general. We have to revise all the museums, all the archives, and search for women, give them chances to be visible and participate in building the history of everything.’

Any time I go somewhere, I find amazing books, beautiful books saying ‘the biggest man of…’ and it’s not presenting the story of ‘manhood’, it’s presenting the story of humanity as though men and women are equally present. But the women are just invisible. We have to push harder and highlight women’s achievements, put them on the front pages. I want visibility of women in the daily picture of our lives.’

Kornelia leans over to pull a record from a shelf.
Working on. the Turkish Ladies compilation,
Kornelia Binicewicz
Kornelia leans over to pull a record from a shelf.

We can change things

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a Europeana Pro news post asked the same question of a range of women in the Europeana Initiative: what would you like to be asked about your work, and what is the answer? Kornelia answers,

‘The question I’d like to be asked is ‘Does my work change anything?’’

‘And the answer is yes - a little. But not enough. It is bringing some change. Since I moved to Turkey, the discourse about music by women in Turkey has changed a little. So it does make a little difference and that little really matters.’