Here’s an important name from the past that far too few Americans know: Olympe de Gouges. Before she met the guillotine in 1793 during the French Revolution, she spoke out against slavery, oppression, and discrimination. Declaration Of The Rights Of Woman And Of The Female Citizen, her book, is one of the first recognizably feminist texts published anywhere on earth. She was unbossed, dangerous, uncompromising, and resolutely free — and Sylvie Burger, the outspoken front person of Womankind, strongly identifies with her struggle.
“Free Woman,” the closing track on Womankind’s full-length Kind Of Love, isn’t necessarily about Olympe de Gouges. Burger’s anthemic lyrics can apply to any woman pushing back against the patriarchy and this not so kind misogynistic world. But de Gouges battle meets perfectly with the inspiration of the song, and Burger is carrying on her fight. She’s turned her pen against gender oppression in the same fearless manner that de Gouges did centuries ago. Her music has an international orientation, speaking to individuals around the globe. Burger keeps her observations sharp, her humor biting, her objectives plain, and her backbone strong.
The other four members of Womankind back her up with the distinctive brand of danceable jazz-pop that has made the group a popular club attraction in their native Paris. “Womankind” was named as such to imply something kindly provocative, and also a way to talk about kindness as a woman. The musicians in Womankind are gently virtuosic — they don’t show off, but they hit all their marks with impeccable skill and taste, and they create an ideal sonic habitat for Burger’s storytelling. The Swiss-French singer is exceedingly well-traveled, and Womankind fits her with music that’s similarly cosmopolitan. Like many of the band’s eclectic songs, “Free Woman” draws connections between gypsy jazz, transcontinental soul, American blues, and Latin pop. Burger, who first established herself as a professional musician in Mexico City before making herself an indispensable part of the Paris independent scene, sounds right at home throughout.
For the “Free Woman” clip, Womankind has joined forces with another fiercely autonomous French artist: filmmaker Chris Nahon, creator of the celebrated L’Empire Des Loups and other imaginative movies. Nahon shoots Burger and her bandmates in the Southern French city of Montauban — the birthplace and early headquarters of Olympe de Gouges. Today, it’s a meticulously preserved center of culture and an officially designated “City Of Art And History,” and Womankind makes the most of its beauty. Burger dances through its streets with the confidence of a conquering warrior and the liveliness of a prisoner released. But of course, she’s not the only one in this picturesque Downtown: there are women everywhere, all of whom struggle to make their own personal accommodations with male power. Choreographer Daniel Pop is also seen dancing; he brings a powerful energy to the global project, with his long hair adding a feminine aura. We catch glimpses of their stories, and we cheer for them as they stand up for themselves. By the end of the video, they’re all dancing together – including a group of female firefighters, brave and strong women in a traditionally male-dominated field – finding strength in solidarity and camaraderie amid a centuries-long battle for equality.