Honest conversation with new Ambassadors, Nancy Bates and Rochelle Pitt

Wednesday, 28 Mar 2018

We are pleased to announce together two new APRA AMCOS Ambassadors, Nancy Bates and Rochelle Pitt. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members appointed to the role, we wanted to ask them questions on issues they care deeply about, their perspective on the industry, and how they hope to make a difference with their role. 


Singer-songwriter Nancy Bates is a Barkindji woman, based in Adelaide. For the last four years she has been performing with Archie Roach - as an opening act, guitar player, and backing vocalist. It has led her to record her debut album, For Your Love, which is out later this year. She is also a programmer for the popular Garden Sessions at The Garden of Unearthly Delights.

1. A song that changed my life is:

Writing my song Old Black Woman changed my life...it's a tribute to the Stolen Generation, written on the day of Aunty Veronica Brodie's funeral. I realised that writing deeply requires a songwriter to see themselves in the context of their world...My world holds the stories of our First Peoples, the responsibility of song is culturally-based, even for a contemporary artist. We are drawing on ancient Songlines when we write and perform...the gift of Song is a spiritual thing.


2. The biggest challenge for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songwriters is...

Inclusion, and by inclusion I mean an understanding of the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songwriter. Our way of music is community based...growing up from the roots extending from this foundation....it's juxtaposed to the industries 'commercial model' of music.  For Aboriginal women, there is a deeper disadvantage in gender inequity, and identity. Inclusion at all levels of the music industry is overdue....long overdue.

And other challenges?

Our identity as songwriters extends our identity as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We work as collectives, not as individuals and this goes against the grain of the Australian music industry which drives individual success. Our music, as a people, is held in the hearts of our community, and influences children in schools, health promotion initiatives, sports and recreation, children, men and women in prisons, human rights, environmental health, political progression. You name it, our music is everywhere that matters. Embracing this 'community model' of music allows us as songwriters to see our value and our success, and the question of whether we are commercially successful becomes irrelevant. In this country, you start to doubt whether there is a place in the music industry for your music, just for you because this 'commercial model of success' is pushed pretty hard, and it is cutthroat. Just because you don't earn an ARIA or APRA award, doesn't mean you aren't a highly talented and valued songwriter

3. What is the importance of language for younger songwriters? What can be done to ensure it continues to live on in song?

Firstly, language is important for all songwriters regardless of age, and given our history, knowledge of our languages is something that has been denied many of us, including me. I am inspired by younger songwriters like Corey Theatre, who is on a journey of language reclamation. When I see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people singing in their language, I feel deep pride, followed by a cultural emptiness. Song is a method of language practice, but I think if we are truly to reclaim, contain, or learn languages we must be immersed across our lives. For song to strengthen language, the language must occur outside of the song as well. So the answer is really about more resource for people to immerse themselves in their language, across all aspects of their lives.  

4. What have you learned from your time singing and touring with Archie Roach?

I could write a book about what I learned from Uncle Archie, about what I felt, the enormity of his spirit is really difficult to put into words. I learned to go deeper. 

I learned so much about stage craft, I became a better rhythm guitarist, and now I am studying guitar to further my skills. It was about the level of musicianship that surrounds Uncle Archie that really stimulated my growth too, Craig Pilkington taught me so much.

I learned a lot about the industry, how major festivals work, who they book and why, and where they are. We travelled so much, even overseas last year to Scotland, Ireland, Monaco and France.

I learned to dream big, work hard, and relationships are everything in this industry. I know that we need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people taking up roles across the music industry, at levels that influence change in the industry.

5. Moment when I felt I was on the right musical path...

The moment I was asked to be an APRA AMCOS Ambassador. I felt pretty emotional - that I am being seen, not just as me, but as a woman who cares deeply for, and contributes to the musical lives of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I choose not only to be an artist for my own artistry, I choose to be an artist for whom music is a platform to development of our society.  



Cairns-based Rochelle Pitt is a Butchulla/Kalkadoon/Wirri/Kokoberra woman who started singing and performing at a young age in the churches and choirs of Far North Queensland. In her twenties, her focus shifted between singing professionally and studying nursing, eventually her nursing career and raising a family took priority to music -- that is until she came back by wowing national audiences in 2014 on The X-Factor, where she finished in 8th place. Rochelle performs regularly, is a Kidney Health Australia ambassador and recently released her Soul Mumma EP. 

1. My favourite place to think and write is...

My favourite place to think and write is the beach or anywhere near water, the sounds of running water and being in nature, puts my mind at ease and nurtures my creative side to create the lyrics for my songlines.

2. How does your nursing experience inform your music, your work with community?

Working as an indigenous registered nurse in rural and remote Cape York Aboriginal communities gives me a chance to meet the grassroots people and talk about their health. If music comes up in the conversation I use it as a great way to communicate and incorporate health education into the session - it's a holistic approach. The songs I write are also about the people I have cared for, I have learnt about resilience, compassion, hope and faith from being a nurse and this is reflected in my song Resilience on my Soul Mumma EP.

3. You came in 8th place on The X Factor in 2014, what did you learn from it? How did you make the most of that opportunity without letting it define you?

I believe in taking the opportunity when it arises and then going with the flow. I learnt a lot about the film and television business from working with great people who are editors, producers, hair and makeup. The industry is also fickle so it is good to be grounded and have a clear idea of where you want to be as an artist. I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on publicity so in the end I'm very grateful for the publicity I received, but in turn I understand that they also would have made money from me and my performance.

4. Mum, nurse, singer, songwriter, health ambassador and APRA AMCOS Ambassador. Let's avoid asking you the cliche 'how does she do it?' question. So instead we'll ask you what was your biggest fear about coming back to music? Was it artistic? Was it managing responsibilities?

My biggest fear coming back to music was the unknown in regards to support for my kids. I'm a single mum and like any one going back to work with a small family you just take one day at a time, I had to prepare and do some planning, but in the end I had to just do it! It's my passion, I had to have faith and I know that father creator would look after me and everything would work out. So far things have worked well and I want to take the opportunity to thank the people in my life, my family and friends for their support and help.

5. What are you going to do to help other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songwriters to make the most of their APRA AMCOS membership?

I would love to get to rural and remote communities and talk to our musicians, singers and songwriters to educate as well as facilitate with 'Bama' people to understand that their music is a precious cultural commodity, where what they write can support them, their family and communities. Their musical intellectual property will be safe with APRA AMCOS and they need to be educated and supported in how to register and utilise APRA AMCOS. I also believe that APRA AMCOS can learn a lot from my people as well and how to better support and listen to those musicians, singers and songwriters up here in North Queensland.

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