“You will feel like a goddess on stage” – a BIGSOUND Q & A with Kardajala Kirridarra

Thursday, 14 Sep 2017

 (Kardajala Kirridarra: L-R Eleanor Dixon, Kayla Jackson, Beatrice Lewis. Photo by Matt Barber)

You didn't have to be at BIGSOUND to feel the hype emanating from Fortitude Valley. But you definitely "had to be there" to truly grasp the wonder of Kardajala Kirridarra, the all-female Northern Territory electronic group composed of producer Beatrice Lewis, vocalist Eleanor Dixon, MC Kayla Jackson, and Eleanor's aunt Janey Dixon. Hhhhapy raved about their "breathtaking set of ancient stories," Purple Sneakers' correspondent gushed, "Kardajala Kirridarra took my already high expectations and blew them apart," and Double J described how Eleanor "stopped the usually chatty crowd in its tracks" with her sublime opening note at the stations's first-ever showcase.

But one does not merely rock up to BIGSOUND and blow away the industry, especially when it means travel from the remote communities of Marlinja and Kulumindini (Elliott). A successful Kickstarter campaign funded the trip for Beatrice, Eleanor and Kayla as part of a journey that really started thanks to Barkly Regional Council’s National award winning ‘Barkly Desert Cultures’ arts program.

Beatrice, Eleanor and Kayla took time from their busy showcasing schedule to stop into the APRA AMCOS Queensland office and tell us a bit more about how Kardajala Kirridarra approach their career and art. They have just recently released their self-titled debut album, which is performed in English and Mudburra language.

Note: the Q & A is edited for length and clarity.

How did your sound and producing an album evolve from your initial introduction via Barkly Desert Cultures?

Beatrice: Barkly Regional Council brought me up from Melbourne to the NT. It was a meeting of those two worlds: my production and all the music that Eleanor loves and that Kayla loves. And their beautiful stories, culture, desert experience, and way of living - all of those amazing stories, stories from a long time ago. It made my heart really, you know, happy, and it was a nice meeting, being able to share some music and being able to create a platform to help bring that into the world in a different way.

Q: In addition to the council support, were there other programs, funding opportunities and/or platforms that helped you get to the next level?

Beatrice: Barkley Desert Council has been the main one. We just did a Kickstarter campaign (for BIGSOUND funding), it was really special. I feel like those fundraising platforms are such a nice way for people to support each other.

Eleanor: We had an important message behind it - that it’s not just for us, it’s for everyone. People who have supported us, we carry their energy because of them, and we’re here because of these people. We’re at BIGSOUND because of these people. It’s a blessing. It’s beautiful. We carry these people.

Q: What has been the key to getting the word out about your music? Has there been a pivotal moment when you felt that your music and message was connecting? 

Beatrice: The first thing I felt was that the world was ready for it. There’s people like Dr G and some really incredible song people from Australia who carry so much spirit of this country, so much story. And people just want to connect with that. White fellas often just don’t really feel connected to country. When you have the traditional owners of this country and they share story and song, it helps people connect to themselves, to be able to connect to country more, it helps you expand as a human.

Eleanor: It helps you find the purpose in yourself as a being.

Beatrice: And also – our amazing publicity team!

Eleanor: But that relationship was through feeling. We wouldn’t do it, if we didn’t feel good about it. The energy of the music carries itself inside people. It’s the feeling of the stars being aligned. Everyone comes into balance with each other.

Q: Kardajala Kirridarra were the first all-female band to play at Bush Bands. Is there advice you can share with other female musicians—particularly those that are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and/or from regional areas--who are trying to breakthrough into a very competitive industry? 

Eleanor: I’ve done Bush Bands before with my dad. I didn’t put myself in a box and say “I’m a woman." It was more of "I just want to do this because it’s fun.” Coming together with these two (Beatrice and Kayla), is more of an enchanting feeling. Women are going to just come together.

Q: But you are a role model. There’s a concept that you need to see things to believe that you can do that as well. What you’re doing is being inspirational to others, do you agree?

Eleanor: The main message I would give to girls, especially from my community is they need to feel in love with themselves, because you will feel like a goddess on stage. It’s a beautiful gift you can give back to yourself. No one can give it to you.

For advice, seek out other musicians. In the community everyone can sing, I’m telling you. Especially the old women. I encourage young girls to look for these old ladies and other girls that can play guitar, just connect with them and you can do this. You can go and sing anytime.

Q: Do you feel like through your music you are promoting your language ?

Eleanor: It’s an awakening. In our music there is a cycle. It is from the beginning of creation to the end of creation. We tell the story of a woman’s life, which is also the cycle the of earth. Everything we do, every day, we carry the sound of the earth in our body. And language is the sound of the earth. Everyone speaks different languages, but we relate to each other in songlines…and that’s the sound of the earth.

Ngurra is the main word, because Ngurra is country. We all sing for Ngurra. It's the word for country, connection to country.

Beatrice:  It’s important for white fellas to learn these words because they do have all this meaning - strong purpose and sense of country.

Eleanor: Just learn one word, I say. And it’s Ngurra. Find it in other language groups, go and meet with the local Aboriginal mob and ask them what word they say for country, and that’s all you need to know.

Q: So, BIGSOUND. What’s the key thing you’d like to make sure people understand about you and your music when they walk away from your shows?

Eleanor: It’s all we just spoke about.

Beatrice: Connection.

Eleanor: And to take the time to self-reflect. It’s a reminder of who we are as human beings. With our music we don’t push it out in a really aggressive way, we send it out in a healing way.

Q: Do you do anything in particular as a group to prepare yourself to perform?

Beatrice: We sing, do the bush medicine, we paint up. We have a pre-show ritual. We make sure we’re really connected and relaxed.

Q: After this? Where are you off to next? What’s in the grand plan?

Beatrice: We’ve got a lot of collaborations. People are really excited about the sounds, the language and the stories. It’s really beautiful. A lot of people from the music industry have gotten in touch about wanting to collaborate. We’re going to write some new music, we’ve got some summer festivals. 

You’re going to be busy!

Beatrice: In a nice desert time way, which is still slow and lovely. It’s really nice for me to work with this mob. The music industry is quick and demanding, it’s all go go go.

Eleanor: Everything changes in a split section. I get overwhelmed. (laughs) I go bush! It’s making sure that we take time for ourselves. You can’t forget yourself. And you do. You tend to forget yourself. Everything coming at you all the time, what about myself? I just need a second to breathe.
But...it’s a beautiful thing, having lots of opportunities. Coming from the bush, we don’t have much. But sometimes I have to remind myself who I am, and that’s the most important thing.

The work has to match your values.

Eleanor: The songs are what we carry, and we have to respect the energy that it comes from. And it comes from an energy of no rush-rush. It’s a healing energy, so we need to take time to heal. And we’re not just doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for everyone.

Listen to their album on Apple Music or Spotify.

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