The ladies of La La Land

Observations on choirs

Los Angeles is not a city usually associated with spiritual purity, community action or the power of the natural woman. In La La Land, talk of ladies "coming together to strengthen their uninhibited femininity" summons dubious images of a Girls Gone Wild-style party around the casting couch.

But the LA Ladies Choir is something quite different, and really rather beautiful. It was formed by two established local musicians, Becky Stark and Aska Matsumiya, to unite women in a community of song. You don't have to be trained or be pitch perfect. You just have to follow one golden rule: sing joyfully.

And the joyful singing of these 30-odd women has turned out to be something that the people of LA really want to hear. Now booked to play at parties, art openings and concerts of their own, the Ladies Choir has also recorded an album with the producer Jim Scott, who has worked with Foo Fighters and the Rolling Stones. They sing songs by Stark and Matsumiya, and a cover of Yoko Ono's "Sister O Sister". "That one is a real anthem," says Stark, who often talks about peace and love, and means every word she says.

The choir also looks incredible: like a 1970s dream sequence of diaphanous chiffon, with flowers in their hair. But Stark stresses that there was no beauty criterion for entry. "I wanted to start a ladies' choir because I really felt that I needed to strengthen my sense of my own femininity. And I happen to feel my energy really flows when I wear long, flowing dresses and flowers in my hair. I know some people will say, well, not all women want to wear long dresses and flowers, but the truth is that we love it." The collective includes other professional singers, but also a cook, an acupuncturist, a TV producer and Frankie Rayder, the supermodel wife of Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist.

The choir's ethos is about including females, rather than excluding males. "This is nothing against men at all," says Stark, who has her own band, Lavender Diamond, and also performs with the Decemberists. "I love men and I perform in other bands with men. But in music and in a lot of fields there are more men in leadership positions, and I noticed that women's energy would change around them. We really do still have a system of patriarchy."

The way she sees it, it is not as simple as men having all the power. "We have equal power, but it can be a different power, and I really believe the female is more attuned to being in a group. We need to be reminded that singing together - that music - is actually a resource for strength."

This article first appeared in the 07 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the new progressives