Charlie Belle (L-R): Lola Carroll, Jendayi Bonds, Gyasi Bonds. Photo by: Barclay Ice & Coal.
I’m at SXSW this week, attending as many shows as I can handle. There are over 2,000 bands playing and one I was excited to catch is Charlie Belle, an Austin-based pop-rock band comprised of brother-sister duo Jendayi and Gyasi Bonds and bassist Lola Carroll. The pair picked up instruments as very, very young kids (Gyasi was on drums at four and Jendayi on guitar at seven) and have been honing the skills and expanding their repertoire in the decade since. I got to sit down with Jendayi, now 16, just before the festival started, where she reflected on a hectic last year and an exciting upcoming one. Spoiler alert: teenage girls are still the best humans on the planet.
In January, Charlie Belle put out their debut EP, Get to Know, which led to an “avalanche” of publicity. The band got attention from American press and in the UK, where fans say they hear a British influence in the music. Jendayi says she’s never strived for a British sound, but possibly picked up some of the style from the Arctic Monkeys, whom she calls her “all-time everything band.” The spike in interest is surreal for the young band, but Jendayi and Gyasi are seasoned performers.
Both siblings are graduates of the Philadelphia School of Rock, a program where music-oriented kids get lessons in their instrument of choice and learn how to perform music live. While at the school, students are given opportunities to gig regularly around town. Within a year of picking up their instruments for the first time, Charlie Belle was playing their first shows. At Austin’s Girls Rock Camp, Jendayi started writing her own songs. Writing her own lyrics is profoundly important to Jendayi’s self-esteem, especially in the face of pushback she received from peers.
“Guy musicians especially would assume I’m just a lead singer, and that we’re the opening band,” she says. “You can see the pain in their eyes when they find out that they’re opening for me.” Jendayi doesn’t deliver that line smirking—she’s an example of the glorious trend among young feminists to greet sexism with incredulity and dismissiveness, instead of world-weary combativeness. She points it out as silly, shrugs, and moves on. When asked what feminism means to her, she elaborates, “It’s about respecting yourself, which is the first step to getting respect from other people. Like, hey, I like what I’m doing, I like how I look. That significantly changes how other people are perceiving me.”
The music Charlie Belle makes is sweet and thoughtful, dwelling mainly on relationships as experienced by the thoughtful teenager that wrote them. But it’s also more than that; Jendayi relates keenly to the feeling that “the feminism of women of color isn’t as loud as it should be” and that lots of her friends don’t identify as feminists because they feel like it’s not talking to them. Her feeling of urgency to create stories that are instantly relatable and posit the agency of the narrator (usually herself) in her music as a political statement is stunning at any age, and especially so from a junior in high school. I believe teen girls are our future, y’all.
Charlie Belle will be playing at SXSW on March 20th at the Noisetrade party. Their debut EP, Get to Know, is out now!
Related Reading: 15 Female-Fronted Bands to Love at SXSW.
Katie Presley writes about books and music, and tweets (@loveismaroon) about everything else. She lives in Austin.
EDIT: This post originally included the incorrect name of the band's bassist. It has been updated.