Spinifex Gum is a musical collaboration between The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill, and Marliya Choir, an all-female, all-Indigenous group from Cairns. Due to perform at Perth Festival on 8 February, Spinifex Gum is described as part protest, part celebration, and a deep and affecting musical experience.
“The protest is a very communal approach. That’s the vibe we’ve got here. You can’t go on the attack. A lot of the songs on the new album are more about us and the personalities we have, the personalities of the choir, the people we are and the people we look up to.”Steph Paul, Marilya Choir
To help get you into the mood for what will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of this year’s Festival, Around The Sound spoke to three members of the Marilya Choir, Steph Paul, Grace Miller and Lara Miller, from their Cairns rehearsal studio. They and their fellow choristers were busily putting the final touches to some additions to the show that will be seen for the first time in Perth.
Given that they were still refining and rehearsing the show so close to performance, these young Aboriginal women still sounded confident about their work.
“It’s all coming together,” said Steph Paul. “We don’t have an awful lot of time to rehearse before we come down to perform it, but we should be ready and roaring for Perth. The girls are ready, more than ready.”
The choir is rehearsing two new songs to add to the Perth show. Already on their latest album, Sisters, Perth will be the first audience to get to see these songs incorporated into the show.
According to Lara Miller, that’s, “Something to be excited about,” and based on the energy coning down the line from Cairns, we have no reason to doubt that. At all.
Sisters, is the second album from Spinifex Gum. Their self-titled debut was recorded in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and, according to the project’s website, “sung of contemporary Australia with a clenched fist,” whereas, “Sisters emerged mostly from Marliya’s hometown of Cairns in Far North Queensland [and] is an embrace, its inspiration is the warmth of the singers themselves.”
This shift in perspective was reflected in Around The Sound’s conversation with Paul and the Miller sisters.
“Spinifex Gum as a project has really grasped and embraced all of the issues that have been prevalent for Indigenous youth and that we identify with,” Paul told us. “The album that we’ve been working on (Sisters) with Felix and Ollie from The Cat Empire covers not only the political side of things, but also the side of things that says we are happy and we’re proud of who we are.”
Grace Miller added, “Also, just addressing needing to be a model group for other young people.”
“I think that mix of celebration and protest,” said Steph Paul. “The protest is a very communal approach. That’s the vibe we’ve got here. You can’t go on the attack. A lot of the songs on the new album are more about us and the personalities we have, the personalities of the choir, the people we are and the people we look up to.”
“I think it’s going to be interesting incorporating that into the show,” followed Grace Miller, “because the songs that we already have in the stage performance are quite political, so it’s going to be interesting to see how these new songs, with a very different message, are incorporated.”
In a moment in time where political discourse often is undertaken on the premise that the loudest voice wins the argument, the Marilya Choir and the young women at its heart, are taking a different approach to getting their message across.
“We work in such a way where it’s like, we’ve presented you with lots of information,” said Steph Paul, “But we’re also people, we’re also still Australian youth and everybody in the audience is just as capable of saying the things we’re saying, doing the things we’re doing. We’ve just been put on a platform to be vocal and we want that message not only to be gained by the audience, but also shared by the audience.
“You need to have that sense of hope, and I think that’s what these new songs especially achieve. There’s a lot to celebrate.”
That sense of celebration also comes through the choir’s collaboration with The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill.
“It’s really fun, said Grace Miller, talking about their connection with Felix and Ollie. “They’re very encouraging and supportive and passionate towards the choir. They take a lot of time out of their schedule with The Cat Empire to come and put work into this project. Their passion is definitely reflected in the show we put on.”
Another feature of the Marilya Choir’s music is that they sing in language.
“I think being able to show that we can sing in language shows that we have the capability to have our culture live on through the youth,” said Steph Paul, when asked about this aspect of the choir’s music.
“Also, a lot of the stories that we sing about are from particular locations so it’s only respectful to honour the culture of the people where those stories come from,” added Lara Miller.
“It’s a way to spread knowledge about those languages,” continued Steph Paul. “It’s a way to demonstrate that it doesn’t take an awful lot to keep a language alive. It just takes passion.”
Spinifex Gum with Marliya Choir have released two acclaimed studio albums and performed at International Arts and Music Festivals across Australia to smiles, tears and standing ovations. Featured artists include Briggs, Peter Garrett and Emma Donovan. Marliya Choir sing proudly in English, Yindjibarndi, and Kala Lagaw Ya, and have made longstanding relationships with families and communities through their music.
Spinifex Gum will be performing at Chevron Lighthouse on 8 February with support from Odette Mercy Trio. More information and tickets here.