Image: Kardajala Kirridarra – supplied.
Author: Melody Menu
I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people as the traditional owners and caretakers of the land where I live and work, and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging; their sovereignty was never ceded.
The ethereal touch of Beatrice ‘Nalyirri’ Lewis’ production masks a powerful and impassioned core to Northern Territory-based group Kardajala Kirridarra. Elements of chill-out music, rap, and searing four-part harmonies sung in English and Mudburra affect a deep, historical connection to country and make for a stunning blend of contemporary and traditional culture.
Kardajala’s debut album Bardakurru Ngurra is resplendent with joyous and forgiving harmonies interspersed with electronic beats, heartfelt spoken word passages, and traditional Aboriginal percussive instruments. Along with Beatrice, band members Eleanor ‘Nalyirri’ Dixon, Janey ‘Namija’ Dixon and MC Kayla Jackson craft vivid and resonant depictions of life in the Central Desert, a focal theme being the creativity and strength of women in traditional culture and contemporary life.
Originally from Wagga Wagga, singer and multi-instrumentalist Beatrice now lives in-between Melbourne, the Central Desert and Sydney. For her, Kardajala is a product of many stories being woven together. “My version of that story is coming to the desert from Melbourne to work with female musicians from remote communities. I had been doing that for around five years when I was about to take a break and work on my own music.” It was there she met fellow musician and now band member Eleanor Dixon from Marlinja, introduced by Monkey Marc, a mutual friend who would go on to co-produce the ensuing album. “We connected very deeply and I knew I had to stay to make music with her. The rest is history for me, it very much felt like it was meant to be.”
Part acknowledgement of country and history, part reclamation and assertion of culture, the use of the language of Mudburra is something close to the band’s heart. Native to central Northern Territory, the language of Mudburra woven around contemporary elements of music production conjures up something striking and new, which blurs the boundaries of traditional and contemporary culture. “This is a very important mix to me as it is bringing together two worlds in a way where both are more enriched from the process. I think this is how good collaboration happens; where both sides feel more empowered from coming together.” Beatrice adds that, while she is “honoured to sing and share Mudburra with audiences around Australia”, she is still very much a student of the language. “I feel very lucky to have three such good teachers. Especially Janey who teaches me all the rude words.”
This kind of companionship and shared learning is also central to this year’s theme for NAIDOC Week: “Because of Her, We Can.” As previously mentioned in this blog, NAIDOC has come to be known as an annual shared celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural history and achievements, which explores a different topic each year. Reflecting on this year’s theme, Beatrice extends her gratitude not just to her friends and band mates, but to the multitude of women in Central Australia. “These women have been one of the biggest influences on my life. I feel so lucky to have gotten to sit down with them and learn and laugh and grow. They have been so patient and kind to me over the years. I have learnt some of my deepest lessons about life and spirituality and country from them.”
The Northern Territory also holds a great deal of meaning for the group, with the lake in Marlinja being a particular source of inspiration for Beatrice. Similarly, the music scene in the Northern Territory has been a driving factor in the inception of Kardajala, from their being the first female band to play at the Bush Bands Bash in 2016, to winning the Northern Territory ‘Best Folk Song Of The Year Award’, and providing the band with an invigorating music scene to grow and flourish within. “There is lots of great music in the NT. Music that is unlike anything else in the whole world which is hard to come by these days.” She particularly recommends anything on the Skinnyfish label, all of the acts in the Bush Bands Bash competition, and gives a shout-out to the all-female Ripple Effect band from Maningrida.
From the gentle coming-of-age story of ‘Two Worlds Collide’, to Kayla Jackson’s musings on what it means to be an Aboriginal woman in modern Australia in ‘Ngabaju (Grandmothers Song)’ it is clear to see how Kardajala Kirridarra are embracing culture and country in a vibrant and vital way, and showing how others can do the same. And for Beatrice, this is all about empowerment. “I really want the younger generation of women to see us on stage and know that they can do that or whatever they want too. That they can be strong in both worlds.”