Maz O’Connor – Chosen Daughter
Maz O’Connor’s third album is a deeply personal exploration of her Irish roots, of the relationships and trauma that filters down through families. Truths are unearthed, pain is uprooted, hurts are picked over, and yet it is utterly beautiful.
O’Connor’s ability to address and express herself through her lyrics and songs, taking complex gender issues and examining them in the most poetic manner, is uncanny. She is a storyteller, yet her voice is like a spirit gliding across generations of women.
The stories she tells are the stories of women all over Ireland in the century now gone. Then, she exquisitely picks apart the freedoms and liberation of post-modern feminism and finds uncomfortable realities, that don’t entirely sit easy with her. She courageously tackles and questions the exploitation of women, sometimes through their own volition. These are complex matters and she goes there, looking to the past, the present and a gender-equal future.
There was a hiatus between O’Connor’s first and second albums. She was scooping recognition, fellowships and awards for her artistry, not least a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship. Yet writing the new album, she seemed to hit a bit of writer’s block – until one evening, watching the powerful and poignant film ‘Philomena’ with her mother. A conversation followed, whereby she discovered that her mother was adopted in England from a mother and baby home run by nuns. Her birth mother had been a domestic servant in England. This inspired the songs ‘Predator’ and ‘Finer Than I’.
From that conversation, the theme and the writing process formed and flowed in quick succession. O’Connor knew what she had to do. Uproot from England for Ireland, to the land of her grandmothers, and her father’s family in Waterford.
Many of these songs poetically tell their stories of poverty, destitution and emigration, as if their voices are channelling through her. We are the products of our pasts, the generations that went before mould and shape and make us who we are, not just through DNA but folklore and shared histories.
One of the most enigmatic and poetic songs on this album is ‘San Francisco’. It lyrically tells the true story of her paternal grandmother and great-aunts. Left in poverty when their father died, the eldest daughter emigrated to San Francisco to become a nun, and in return for offering herself to this vocation, the other four sisters were housed and educated in a convent in England, effectively saving the family. A beautifully written and delivered song, essential listening for anyone with ears.
Maz O’Connor was moved and inspired by the stories of both her grandmothers. She continues to explore the female relationships in families, and examined her own relationship with her gender. The #MeToo movement inspired songs such as ‘Party Girl’ and ‘Loved Me Better’. Here, contemporary attitudes to women, behaviours given normalcy via millennia of patriarchy, and women’s own attitudes towards themselves and each other due to controlling and abusive relationships are profoundly considered by O’Connor. These cross-cultural, cross-generational, cross-gender explorations are more than just musings. O’Connor enables her art, her talent and her intelligence to create an album that’s reflective, progressive and philosophical.
I enjoyed getting to know this album inside out. Even the song ‘Cordelia’ takes on the father-daughter relationship as proffered in Shakespeare’s King Lear, and likewise, continuing the theme of being a “chosen daughter”, whether through adoption or family-favouritism. ‘Bones’ continues that theme of patriarchal society and its patronising flippancy towards women – the normality of taking your father’s name, for example, the reinforcement generation after generation of presumed male ownership.
Other songs consider how women self-abuse to address their wounds. O’Connor says the song ‘Invincible’ was inspired by Amy Winehouse and her use of drink and drugs to hide her inner-turmoil and pain. The excellent song ‘Nicotine Patch’ uniquely address the issues of re-bound relationships, whereby one partner uses another to get over an ex.
‘In the Morning’, the final track, is a sort of dialogue, about the morning after the night before, about self-destructive behaviours that do nobody any favours, yet just seem to be accepted as the norm.
This is a beautiful collection of songs. I love the way O’Connor immerses her creative processes in exploring the stories of the past, the stories we tell ourselves about the present, and the hope and aspirations for the future and a fair and equal society. I love how she ruminates on the injustices of not just Irish women, but all women, under the manacles of church, state and family structures.
Most of all, I love how she examines how, through our own attitudes and behaviours, we are sometimes our own worst enemies, woman to woman, mother to daughter, and down through the generations. Yet the potency and depth of female familial relationships is empathetically addressed.
Lend her your ears. Listen to ‘Chosen Daughter’ and ruminate on its gentility, its feminine and feminist integrity.
Find out more at www.mazoconnor.com
The album will be launched at London’s Courtyard Theatre on Friday 15th November 2019.