"Damn few good heavy metal albums by black women," I observed in my metal album guide Stairway to Hell, way back in 1991. Little did I know that 21 years later, Toronto writer Laina Dawes would publish What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, a book in which she surveys, interviews and takes the pulse of not only black female musicians, but fellow writers, academics, fans, and women promoting metal behind the scenes. Many tell her about years of enduring what one chapter heading calls "'The Only One' Syndrome," and sometimes worse -- an implicit if not explicit racism that questions whether they even belong in the moshpit. "When I began writing this book, I didn't know any other black women who were metal fans," Dawes writes. But she finds them. "Though the numbers are very few, a handful of black females in the music industry are silently showing that the metal, hardcore and punk scenes are not exclusively populated and run by white men."
This playlist was directly inspired by What Are You Doing Here, in which nearly every artist on it receives at least passing mention – from frequently heavy-rocking '70s funk artists Mother's Finest (fronted by Joyce "Baby Jean" Kennedy), Betty Davis, Nona Hendryx and Tina Turner to more recent extreme bands such as London's Skunk Anansie (fronted by Deborah Dyer -- aka Skin -- who contributed the foreword to Dawes' book), Tennessee's Straight Line Stitch (fronted by Alexis Brown), Georgia's Tetrarch and New York's Dormitory Effect.
There are also two songs here by Stiffed – the punk band Santigold led in Philadelphia before she went solo and more alt-dancey. So if you think loud rock is entirely the province of pale-faced Aryan Viking spawn lacking ovaries, prepare to have your preconceptions blown.