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American folk singer-songwriter Alela Diane offers an ode to motherhood

By Alison Hird

Oregon-based singer-songwriter Alela Diane has just released her fifth album Cusp on which she challenges the artistic taboo on writing songs about having babies.

Alela Diane's debut album Pirate's Gospel was a huge hit in France. Voted one of 2007's top ten records, it helped launch her career.

Her latest, fifth, album Cusp is set to cement her popularity and hopefully help give motherhood its moment in song.

She recorded the album while pregnant with her second child and during the mixing went into labour early. There were complications and she almost died during childbirth. It made her appreciate being a mother even more.

It may not be fashionable but she refuses to shy away from talking and singing about her experience.

"I tend to write from a very personal narrative perspective, and this is a phase I’m in right now," she told RFI. "I have two daughters and I wanted to carve out that space in music because I do believe there’s a lot of pressure on women. When you’re an artist your music is sold based on whether you have a pretty face or if you’re young."

Alela Diane is attractive and at 34 is hardly ready for retirement, but that's not the point. She's a great singer with a powerful, unaffected voice and a way with words.

"I couldn’t pretend that I’m making the same music as I was 10 years ago or that I’m the same person I was 10 years ago," she continues. "So for me this topic is relevant to my life and I think it’s such an important and transformative experience in a woman’s life that there needs to be a place for it in art."

On the song Albatross she expresses the pain of having to leave her child behind while she went on a promotional tour.

So Tired addresses the fatigue of giving birth, looking after kids and, yes, touring.

There's a song for her daughter (Wild Ceaseless Song) and one for her mother (Never Easy) with whom she always had a strained relationship.

"Never Easy is about how I've learned compassion for my own mum since becoming a mother myself. I understand more of the challenges that she was facing when I was a small girl."

Refugee crisis through a mother's eyes

Alela Diane also explores the world around her through the prism of motherhood. The haunting song Emigré was inspired by the photograph of three year old Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi whose body was found washed up like a rag doll on a Turkish beach in 2015.

"The children have grown silent, from their mothers’ arms they float away” she sings.

She first saw the photo in 2016 when she was at an artists' residency in Oregon writing the songs for the new album.

"My own daughter was the same age as Alan at the time. I think everyone was horrified and saddened by that picture: the acknowledgement that these were women and children risking their lives for safety, for freedom."

"When you have children you would do anything to keep them safe. It was that knowledge and that love, the painful aching part you feel for a child, that encouraged me to address that and to write that song."

On the video, Alela Diane is holding her one year old in her arms. She felt it was justified.

"It felt relevant because what I was trying to show is just every mother wants to keep her baby safe, and to have freedom. Everyone deserves that."

U.S. president Donald Trump is also making a relevant contribution and, in her view, it's far from positive.

"We’re dealing with the worst president and it’s humiliating and disheartening and discouraging. Trump is always talking about building a wall in America and we’re dealing with that, and a lot of Mexicans risk their lives crossing our border as well. It just feels relevant right now."

Alela Diane performs at La Cigale in Paris on 26 April.

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