Folk means music of the peopleAug 25, 2022
I grew up singing with my Mum and my 3 sisters in 4-part harmony while we did the dishes. We made recordings and sent them over to Nana in Wales. The Welsh have a strong A'capella lineage. Mum was in a local women's A'capella group called Common Thread. She wrote songs such as Woman of Substance (the pitfalls of comparing oneself to a fictional flawless female character), Lean Green Mama (living environmentally friendly), and Tiananmen Square (speaking out against massacres and human rights atrocities). She used to take us to the Daylesford Singers Festival each year. All of us kids even performed our mum's songs - harmonies included. We practiced singing in the car following along with Bernice Johnson Reagon's pre-recorded workshops, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock (an all-female, black, American A'capella group)
'Folk' means 'music of the people.' In the late 90s, living in a lesbian household in Richmond, Melbourne, my housemate wrote an essay for university on why lesbian folk music was inferior in activism to riot grrrl music. The Indigo Girls were too 'soft.' Folk music has a strong tradition steeped in storytelling as well as protest music. It might not have been cool compared to riot grrls, but it still carries the voices and stories of the people.
During the final year of my university degree majoring in Dance, I became bedridden. I couldn't dance. And so, I picked up the guitar and taught myself how to play. I held house concerts in the back shed for my lesbian and feminist activist friends. After moving to the bush on the South East Coast, I continued songwriting and busking at the local markets on Saturdays. That's where I met fellow aspiring musician, Indigenous activist, soon-to-be lawyer, and academic, Lisa. We formed a band with another local woman, Ali, and called ourselves The Eggs. Our ultimate gig was being the support act for Jimmy Little when he came to town in a local protest against a coal plant development.
Meanwhile, I had friends from Melbourne write me letters and ask me to record some of my songs so they could listen to them. I travelled to Folk Festivals along the coast, Canberra, and across Australia, occasionally bravely putting my name on the chalkboard and singing my songs. At the National Folk Festival in Canberra, I had the good fortune of meeting sound engineer Jac. I remember singing my songs and seeing people being moved to tears - including men which surprised me at the time. Something went wrong with the sound during my set and Jac was very apologetic. She gave me her business card, The Angel Train and said to look her up if I ever wanted to do any recording in their home studio. Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist's Way taught me to look for synchronicity leads - and act on them. Months later, I did reach out to Jac. I drove several trips to Canberra bearing boxes of organic, home-grown vegetables and we practiced yoga and recorded my first ep - micromovements. I did it as a gift to my lesbian community who had asked for it. This was before the days of crowdfunding, however, another lesbian folk band I knew had asked their fans and supporters to pay in advance for their CD to fund it getting made. I did the same thing.
Finally, in 2004, I launched my ep of original music. 7 tracks. I described my music as 'acoustic folk with a splash of earth mama hip-hop.' The launch was a wonderful event of diverse performances from folk bands, to Ozlem the belly-dancer, two of my friends from the Ladies Luv Hip Hop collective I was in - Demi b-girl and Nikki Ashby who performed and one of my favourite folk artists, Penelope Swales. Sponsored by Emma & Toms juice and held at the environmental park, Ceres, what made it even more special was that my mum and my 3 sisters got up and sang with me.
One of my tracks, 'u deserve' was selected to be on a women's compilation CD in LA called Females on Fire. Instead of going to the launch in LA, I decided to do my own launch at the Glasshouse Hotel (Lesbian iconic hotel).
In 2005 I found my guitar, the one that fits me. During a visit to Sydney, I was walking down King St, Newtown late one night and saw a guitar light up in a shop window. The next day I went back and gasped when I saw the price tag. In the past, I would have left straight away. Instead, I spoke to Pete, and even played the guitar. He told me it was the same guitar that Sheryl Crow owned. A few days later, Pete kindly allowed me to place a deposit. I had no idea how I would pay it off. Eventually, my grandmother passed away and left me the last amount I needed for this guitar and Pete shipped it down to Melbourne for me.
Since then, that guitar has been blessed by my guru and given a spiritual name - Bhava Loka, and was used every Sunday at Satsang for chanting.
In Feb 2022, I married my person, Chris, and halfway through the ceremony, I did a surprise flash choir. It began with me singing A'capella, Love Thy Will be Done, by Martika, written by Prince. Emotion overcame me and luckily my Mum and my 3 sisters joined me again. Followed by my brother-in-law and Uncle, my singing cousins, my nieces, and nephews, and finally, my friends joined me as we all sang together in harmony. What did Chris do? They joined in of course.
It's been over a decade - or maybe more since I've done a live acoustic gig. My music direction took me into electro-pop with my dear friend and music producer Luke where we formed Body Party with some yet-to-be-released songs.
This Thursday 25 Aug, I'm returning to my roots, singing and playing guitar at Queer as Fvck, at local live music haunt, Lazy Bones in Marrickville, NSW. I've given up the notion that folk music is not activist enough, or in other words, not cool enough, or not perfect enough or polished enough. Music of the people is not about perfectionism. It's about the emotion that gets communicated when we express ourselves through song. I'm returning to my Celtic roots, drawing on a rich tradition of my ancestors. Folk is the music of the people. It's time to show up and sing again.
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