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The Unique Thrill of Playing Live and the Value of Musical Mentors

YARA is the winner of Wild Turkey Music 101’s mentorship program. The Melbourne-based neo-soul artist will receive professional and artistic mentorship from Killing Heidi’s Ella and Jesse Hooper.

YARA is the winner of Wild Turkey Music 101’s mentorship program. The Melbourne-based neo-soul artist will receive professional and artistic mentorship from Killing Heidi’s Ella and Jesse Hooper.

She’ll also be performing at Wild Turkey Music 101’s Victorian live session, which is happening at Melbourne venue York on Lilydale on Sunday 22nd October. Anyone eager to go along can enter here for a shot at winning tickets to the exclusive gig.

YARA is head over heels to have won the opportunity to receive mentorship from Ella and Jesse Hooper. “I actually haven’t really processed this yet. I’m still like, ‘OK, sure!’”

YARA’s blossoming music career is a perfect example of the rewards that come from trusting one’s instincts. She was born in Ukraine to Palestinian parents and lived in the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza for the majority of her pre-teen years. The family then moved to Colac, in Victoria’s Western District, when YARA was 12.

By 18, YARA felt confident that music was her calling. So, trusting her gut, she left country Victoria for Melbourne/Naarm, where she enrolled in a music performance degree. Now 26, YARA has been fashioning her emotionally candid neo-soul sound ever since, while also connecting with many like-minded musicians in the Melbourne music scene.

“The people that I’ve learnt most from have been my peers, which I’m really thankful for,” she says. “People I met studying music and people that I’ve gigged with and I met along the way, they haven’t gatekept anything, they’ve just shared with me. I’m so thankful for that beautiful local community that we have here in Naarm.”

YARA released her debut EP, Lonely Love Affair, in May 2023 and is currently working on a follow-up. At various points over the last decade, YARA could easily have lost motivation to pursue a career in music, especially given the dominant narratives about the kinds of people who find success in Australian music.

But with the support of her peers, YARA was able to trust her spirit and work hard at actualising her musical vision. A major step in this direction was YARA’s decision to learn the ins and outs of audio engineering and digital music production.

“I was watching other friends produce and watching friends do live mixing for gigs and I was thinking, ‘Is this something that I can do?’” she says. “I hadn’t seen people that look like me [do it] – I hadn’t at that point discovered my favourite female producers. So that’s something I’m really, really glad I went into and tried anyway.”

Taking charge of production and audio engineering has had a significant impact on the sound of YARA’s recorded work, as well as the intensity of her live shows. “The backstage side of it has added to the onstage side,” she says. “That’s been so much fun and I’m so glad that I did that and took the risk.”

YARA says it wasn’t easy to find her footing in this sphere, but trusting your spirit rarely is. “It was really difficult to go into such a male dominated industry,” she says. “But it taught me how to be a lot tougher and have a lot thicker skin and also how to be more self-compassionate and how to be nicer to myself.”

Performing live has been another crucial factor in the development of YARA’s artistic identity. “I just love performing live,” she says, something that will be evident to anyone who attends the upcoming Wild Turkey Music 101 live session.

YARA’s live shows are rooted in a more spontaneous form of expression than her recordings, YARA and her backing musicians finding synergy by means of trusting their spirits.

“Because I’m a soul-pop person, my main thing is being a vocalist. Being in the soul/R&B/jazz community, it’s just better live because you also get to improvise a little bit,” YARA says. “You don’t have to do it the same as the record and getting to play with a band is amazing.”

Beyond the thrills of singing live and improvising with a band, YARA loves the intimacy of live performance. “I get to connect with people, which is amazing, especially after Covid – a real privilege.”

Enter the Wild Turkey Music 101 Competition now at www.wildturkeymusic.com.au for a chance to see YARA and Killing Heidi perform at Melbourne’s York on Lilydale on Sunday 22nd October.

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