Review – “Part-Time Woman” – Vivek Shraya & Queer Songbook Orchestra

part-time womanreviewed by Michael Thomas

What does it mean to be a woman right now? Unfortunately, there are many more negative ways you can differentiate a woman’s experience in the world from a man’s. A woman can expect to be catcalled and harassed, diminished by words and actions and to constantly have her knowledge and authority challenged. Vivek Shraya is all too aware of this and pulls zero punches with Part-Time Woman, which starts off as a biting critique before gaining another facet as means of empowerment.

The strength of the EP comes not just from Shraya’s outspoken lyrics, but by the musical tools at her disposal. The Queer Songbook Orchestra is massive, with strings, horns, piano and more to help match the mood of her songs, plus additional vocals from a number of people, including Choir! Choir! Choir! In the inspiring final song of the EP, “Girl, It’s Your Time.” the orchestra sets a 50s swing tone while Shraya sings lines like “Girl, it’s your body, don’t ever say you’re sorry.” The aforementioned Choir! joins in at the end, and it’s clear that Shraya is not saying all of this in a vacuum. To have the support of a community is everything.

While there is empowerment in that song and “Brown Girls,” the first half of the EP calls out sexism in all its forms. In “Sweetie,” gentle piano and strings usher in the beginning of the album before the musicians settle into a gently country-sounding melody. “Ever since I called myself girl, you called me darling” are the first words from Shraya, and she lays out all the terms of “endearment” women hear, including “sugar plum” and “honey bunch.” And then there’s the need of men to always “protect” women, which Shraya turns on its head: “And now you wanna protect me when the only one I needed saving from is you.” A swell of voices join her with the last two words.

“I’m Afraid of Men” is similarly biting, with Shraya singing early on, “My neck hurts from checking my shoulder/My feet hurt from walking faster.” The song gets a little louder as Shraya pulls out the gut punch: “Are you hitting on me? Or are you gonna hit me?” Women deal with enough shit from men, but Shraya gets into intersectionality with “Part-Time Woman,” in which she wonders when a trans woman can officially be a woman. Does she have to do her makeup every day? “How many high notes do you have to reach? How many hours do you have to bleed?” she asks.

There’s also “Hari Nef,” inspired by the transgender model and asks “Who do you want to be?” It’s the point in which a woman considers her ambitions and wonders how much of it is achievable.

In just six songs, Shraya hits back at sexism big and small and encourages woman to be outspoken. It doesn’t hurt that the musical compositions are subtly excellent too.

Top Track: “Sweetie”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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