Oakland’s Women Sound Off Helps Women Help Themselves

Evangeline (Vang) Elder and Carmena Woodward (aka DJ Red Corvette) are the two masterminds behind Women Sound Off (WSO).

Carmena Woodward (left) and Evangeline “Vang” Elder (right), co-founders of Oakland-based Women Sound Off. Photo by Kate Dash.

But since the first “Women in Music Festival” in 2017, WSO has grown to include a range of women from all walks of life. It now runs on a group of dedicated volunteers, many of whom see Women Sound Off as a source of support, inspiration, and community.

On Friday, October 18, these women filled Oakland’s Red Bay Roastery & Bar’s headquarters with spoken word and music about love, politics, being a woman, anxiety, and coming into one’s own identity. Four featured artists — Tyanna Braswell, The Poetic Activist, ZOLA, and OG GHOST HAZE — held the audience captivated through emotion-filled performances, leaving some of the audience members teary-eyed. grlgod, an Oakland-based DJ, provided energetic tunes throughout the night.

Music to me means everything. Music is transporting. … Music to me is a language for who I am. I’ll send you a playlist if I like you. … When I’m sad, when I’m happy, I go to certain songs, and it takes me to certain places, it heals me. Something as amazing and special as that, that keeps on giving from one song, one album, that’s when you can’t give it back less than it deserves. … You have to give music the respect that it deserves. To me, it’s the ultimate art form.

— Evangeline Elder, Co-Founder, Women Sound Off

The showcase is one of the many events put on by Women Sound Off during the year, when they are not planning their largest event of the year — the Women Sound Off Festival. The fourth edition of the festival will be taking place in April of this year, and will feature panelists, workshops, and performances, in a culmination of curated events aimed at empowering women in the music and creative industries.

Other events throughout the year have included panels, workshops, mixers, and other showcases. Vang and Carmena hope these serve to enlighten the community of East Bay women, specifically women of color, about the possibilities that exist in the creative industry.

Spoken word performances by Tyanna Braswell (left) and The Poetic Activist (right). Photos by Jenilee De La Fuente and Alix Vadot.

Vang wants to see more education about these roles so that women will be more comfortable entering the industry without feeling forced to leave and move to New York or LA, where more established structures and pipelines are in place for the music business. “My passion was always early development for artists. Finding someone when they’re not already blown up…and figure out how to showcase them.” Vang’s own background in artist management with All Angles Agency and partnerships with EMPIRE has helped her achieve these goals for the women coming in to the WSO space.

Carmena says she’d love for Women Sound Off to eventually get their own office in the Bay Area and serve as a kind of co-working space for current or future volunteers to evolve professionally. For her, the ideal would be to get enough funding for these girls to get paid and for these volunteer gigs to become their career. Carmena is a full-time DJ and, in addition to WSO workshops, she has started giving DJing lessons to young people in the area. She hopes to see WSO take off as a global movement.

Music has just been always there to help me through everything, get me through, get me started, it’s always just been there. It’s always been something that I can relate to. Even when I try to get away from it. It’s always something that I always go back to. It’s something I love. It’s something that’s helped me the most. Music is like my best friend.

— Carmena Woodward, Co-Founder, Women Sound Off

Women Sound Off is its own ecosystem. Their mission is to empower women in creative industries, which they do in part by putting on such showcases as that which took place on Friday. Another aspect is somewhat less visible — each volunteer is themselves being empowered by participating.

Callea, one of the volunteers who has been with WSO since the very beginning and is currently balancing various side gigs including a marketing internship at Noise Pop (a Bay Area independent event producer), says being a part of the organization has made her more confident, and has given her the push she needed to apply to the internships and jobs that she now loves. She and another volunteer are in charge of bookings at WSO. Callea always loved finding and following emerging artists, but it’s not until she joined WSO that she realized “Woah, wait, I can get paid for this?”

Performances by ZOLA (left) and OG GHOST HAZE (right). Photos by Alix Vadot.

For Genevieve, who has been with WSO from the get-go to support her friend Carmena, the organization has helped her discover a new side of herself. “This was the first time that I was able to express my own artistic talent and really see that side of myself,” she says of the first Women in Music Festival, where she was in charge of floor installations as part of WSO’s partnership with Glossier. “It’s allowed me to realize the creative freedom I have to even bring in other sources of income into my life, and I think Women Sound Off has really been a pillar for a lot of women to do that.”

The organization seeks to be a place where all women of color and women minorities are welcome. Allowing everyone to “just be themselves” comes first, says Vang. She is adamant about maintaining a balanced top-down structure, where women “of all the colors of the rainbow” are in leadership, leading the organization to organically support a more diverse community. Most of all, she wants the world to recognize that the Bay Area, though it lacks the structure, has the talent.

“Everyone skims over Bay Area women, they skim over Bay Area artists, they skim over us, over and over and over again. […] We also have some creative strengths here, some creative woman power. We deserve to be on the same lists, we deserve to be on the same wavelength as the women who are curating and crafting events in New York and LA. And that’s sucky that [in the Bay Area] we’re natives, and we’re creators, but then tech comes in and dominates and all of a sudden that’s the narrative, as if there wasn’t a culture here ten years ago. It’s crazy.”

Oakland has an incredibly rich history in music, but too little support compared to competitor cities. “This is the place where you used to sell CDs out of your trunk. This is the place where you do a distribution deal, you don’t do a full deal. You’re independent and you own your masters.” Vang, Carmena, and the WSO team, in supporting women, are doing their part to see this local narrative reach a global audience.

To learn more about Women Sound Off, visit womensoundoff.com

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