Burst into Dames: All-female, jazz fusion band bursts onto the campus music scene

Burst into Dames, a newly formed jazz-fusion group, poses for a portrait in Granoff 024 on April 17. Evan Zigmond / The Tufts Daily

Two guitarists, one bassist, one drummer, a cellist, a violinist, a saxophonist and two singers — that’s nine incredibly talented musicians — make up the all-female band, Burst into Dames. This classics and jazz fusion band, playing both covers and originals, has emerged as the only one of its kind here at Tufts and has shaken up the campus music scene considerably.

Burst into Dames was created last semester by seniors Josie Watson and Lisa Fantini, who were both in other bands on campus but were the only women in each. Watson still participates in her rock band; however, Fantini no longer performs with her former jazz ensemble or rock band. The other band members, or Dames, include senior Suruchi Devanahalli, junior Emily Touchet; sophomores Paige Shephard, Claire O’Donnell and Emma Mitchell-Sparke; and first-years Alix Kaplan and Juliana Vega.

Burst into Dames is the winner of this year’s Battle of the Bands, organized by WMFO Tufts Freeform Radio and Tufts University Social Collective (TUSC). As a result, they will be performing at Tuftonia’s Day on April 27.

For Watson and Fantini, their main motive behind creating this group was the shared feeling of the need for creating a different environment where women could practice their music.

“Musical spaces, in my head, were just like all men,” Watson said.

Fantini added that she had been rejected from every a cappella group on campus, which inspired her to form her own band.

“[The rejections] made me develop a fear of auditions, and I felt I wasn’t good enough,” she said. “I just want to send the message that if you don’t fit into any existing group, there is nothing more exciting than creating your own.”

Other Dames agree that an all-female music group has a completely different environment than one dominated by men.

Vega explained how during her high school career, she was one of the only female members in every band she was in.  She said she started as a guitarist and was initially reluctant when her male peers suggested she pick up the bass, worrying they were trying to remove her as competition on the guitar.

“[I thought] ‘No way in hell I’m playing bass, ever.’ I don’t care if [my peers] were better than me at the guitar; I had the dedication,” Vega said. “I am not playing the bass because you wanted to get rid of me as your competition.”

Eventually, Vega picked it up and has never looked back since, because she noted that there are even fewer female bassists than there are female guitarists. She responded to Watson’s call for a female bassist for the band and doesn’t feel like her musical abilities are doubted in this all-female space.

“It’s exhausting having to compete with people who think they are better because they are male. It makes me nervous to perform in front of them because I’m not only playing to have fun, but to prove myself,” Vega said. “Being in an all-girls band, where everybody supports everybody and encourages everybody to try what they want, is such a big change.”

O’Donnell agreed and noted that when she tells people that she is part of a band, most will assume that she is the vocalist and express surprise when she says that she is in fact the guitarist.

O’Donnell also felt that women aren’t taught to have confidence when competing against men in something that only requires skill. In her high school jazz band, her peers expected her to fail whenever she did a solo or performed in place of a man, even though she has been playing the guitar since she was five.

“[Jazz is] all so male-dominated,” O’Donnell said. “Being in an all-female band has taken away the pressure of needing to prove myself because I’m a girl and I play guitar.”

Fantini explained the impact she wants the band to have as they play in front of a large audience during Tuftonia’s Day.

“I want this group to show people how awesome women are, and that we can be incredible musicians as well. It will hopefully motivate other women on campus to not be afraid to start their own bands and to have confidence in their abilities,” she said.

Watson agreed. She added that music at its best is pure emotional expression, and if a person is in an environment where they feel they can’t express their emotions freely, they won’t be inspired to make the best music possible.

“The more women you get into the music industry, the more intense the women liberation movement will be, because music is a form of expression,” Watson said.

“In this band, everyone’s much more supportive, it’s more fun, we’re all friends. We put each others’ health and well-being before the music,” Fantini added.

The future of the band may seem uncertain with a third of its members being seniors, but Fantini and Watson hope the band will keep going even after the seniors graduate. They want the Dames to become a concept that will continue attracting more talented female musicians and inspire them to pursue their music.

Fantini envisions that Burst into Dames will serve as an inspiration to all musicians — especially women — on campus who feel they don’t have the space or confidence to perform.

“In music there is no right or wrong, as long as you feel it in the heart,” she said.