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Track By Track: Desert Divas Volume II

Indigenous female artists behind latest instalment of inspiring MusicNT innovative share the stories behind their songs.

On Friday, March 17th, the second instalment of the Desert Divas series is set to be released, featuring eight new songs by indigenous women from various communities across the Northern Territory.

The collection — which features original songs from Shana Ray, Eleanor Dixon, Miranda Garling, Jillian Moody, Kiriz Oliver, Bronwyn Stuart, Rita Tomlins and Casii Williams — highlights a diverse range of styles, from shimmering, stadium-ready pop to haunting alt-country. Recorded at Alice Springs’ CAAMA Studios, the MusicNT initiative partnered the hand-picked, rising artists with professional mentors, including Nai Palm (Hiatus Kaiyote), Leah Flanagan, Dallas Frasca and Ursula Yovich, with leadership from musical director Steph Harrison of Bat Hazzard and acclaimed producer Anna Laverty (Florence and the Machine, Courtney Barnett, Cut Copy).

“I had the opportunity to meet inspiring, vibrant women from all over central Australia,” Laverty says of the experience, adding that, “[they] came together to make music but we ended up building friendships and lasting working relationships.”

Adelaide Wood, Indigenous Women’s Music Program Director for MusicNT, echoes this sentiment: “This project was amazing. On the outside, it was about giving aspiring Aboriginal female musicians the skills to walk into a professional studio and record their music. On the inside it was about friendship, culture and music creating something much richer than the sum of the individual parts.”

Further to the music professional development of the artist’s involved, the proceeds from Desert Divas Volume II will go towards a variety of MusicNT Aboriginal women’s music programs.

We recently caught up with each of the artist’s involved in the project to talk through the origin and inspiration of their individual songs. The album is also available to stream in full via NITV.

All words below as credited.

Casii Williams, “How Can I Live”

Casii Williams: “‘How Can I Live’ was written in 2014 in Ntaria (Hermannsburg), for my mum but for listeners it can be who it relates to. I wrote the song because you have ups and downs and say things to your loved ones that you dont mean to say and wish you could take it back after being said.

When I write a song I play tunes at the same time or before. Being a guitar player or piano play you can fidget around with tunes before I start writing. When I first wrote the songs it was completely different because I played just the guitar to it and melody was also different. Now when you hear the remix you wont think its the song I wrote in 2014.”

Eleanor Dixon, “My Spirit Is Free”

Eleanor Dixon: “So what inspired me the most about writing this song was because I wanted to tell a story about my dreams.

I felt my spirit was free every time I dreamed.

I wanted to sing to myself in a way where I can remind myself of who I am as a young aboriginal woman. Things are changing but our spirits always remain the same on our country.”

dd 2Clockwise from top: Casii Williams, Eleanor Dixon and Bronwyn Stuart.

Bronwyn Stuart, “Me & My Guitar”

Bronwyn Stuart: “This song is to do with how I relate to my guitar, to feel like myself – like a person that helps me with emotional struggles.

It’s an energy the connection between me and my guitar, like you’re talking with someone – having a relationship with it to share a story. It’s about my love of writing songs as a way to show and connect with all my emotions.

‘Me & My Guitar’ was written when I was in SA for the Yarnbulla Festival. I was performing my own songs and I needed an encore on the spot. I had started the song while I was sitting with some friends before the festival and ended up finishing it on stage! I just grabbed the guitar and hummed before there were any lyrics. Just strumming the guitar and feeling it until I knew that what I was humming was the melody – and then the words just came.

I was pretty shy – just having that feeling knowing that music is my passion, and that there was that much support. The mentors and organisers, I felt so comfortable – that there was nothing I couldn’t do. That I could do it and I did!

Ursula and Dallas my lovely mentors added some backing vocals that made the song even more lovely and balanced the tone I have. Having the band as well, so brilliant – it was spot on.

It’s that connection of having so much in common with music, you feel it, you love it the best. It’s just wonderful to have a sing and a play at the same time!”

Jillian Moody, “My Brother’s Arms”

Jillian Moody: “‘My Brothers Arms’ was written in Northam where I met my beautiful friend Bernie she told me her story about her and her brother’s trip on the early morning mail truck to find Mum and Dad.

The melody came with the words at the same time.

Bernie said that she will cherish her song forever and thanked me for putting her story into a beautiful song.

When Bernie heard the song on Triple J unearthed she said, ‘Thank you for turning my yarn into a beautiful song. My brother has since passed on and to hear this just had me in tears, but i still remember that day as if was yesterday. Once again, thanks Nan I’ll treasure this song forever, love you.”

Shana Ray, “Flowers Will Bloom”

Shana Ray: “A song I wrote using metaphors to describe how someone can make you feel when everything is going rite in a relationship.

Unfortunately not all flowers are blooming in the relationship. There is a bit of false hope and misleading signs along the way.

Its about waiting for that person to be ready to commit once they become better themselves before they are ready for you.”

Kiriz Oliver, “Song for the Mad Woman”

Kiriz Oliver: “This track is about pure madness, about feeling alone with your mind. I was bored and I wanted to do something creative. Basically a personal point of view based on my experiences. I wrote the track three years ago in my room, without thinking, I wrote it, I had a keyboard and started playing a few notes and it just worked.

To begin with, I thought it would be just a simple piano song, but adding the extra instruments pushed it up a notch.

I’d never written a song that well before and I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I want to write songs like the ones I enjoy listening to.”

dd 1
From left: Rita Tomlins and Jillian Moody

Rita Tomlins, “A Part of Me”

Rita Tomlins: “‘A Part of Me’ is about a person that I felt really close to, so close that the thought of us not being close was scary. It started of like that but I wrote the last verse at a different point in my life – a different feeling – just accepting the fact that we could grow apart – that everything happens for a reason.

It’s inspired by people that were and are dear to me, firstly from when I was a teenager and then about a long distance relationship and the challenges of being so far away.

I wrote the lyrics and the melody first and then I started writing the song on the guitar. I was learning minor chords at the time. I really like the minor sound and the feel of it.

This song has been with me for a long time, I was 15 and living in the family home when I started writing it and finished it when I was 22 living independently with my daughter. The track evolved enormously in this time, it went from an acoustic, sorrowful song to this phat, jam-packed track full of cool instruments. It was just crazy how it went from mellow soft to dynamic and wild. Nai Palm, who was my mentor, she’s out there like a magical unicorn.

It’s an old song. At the time the song meant a lot to me, but it was other songs that I wrote and life experiences that helped me realise that you have to move through the feelings and that you cant get stuck on the fear of not being with somebody.”

Miranda Garling, “Falling For You”

Miranda Garling: “‘Falling For You’ is a song about love and romance. When writing this song I had met my partner who I am still with today. In our early stages of the relationship, it took me awhile to fall in love with him, but in the end i finally got there. I remember sitting down with my niece Krisha Ketchell, in the lounge room, and I approached her to help me write some lyrics. I strummed a few chords on my guitar, and that’s how the melody began. Getting a kick start from my niece, the song turned out to be awesome. The more I performed this song, it started to get its own groove that reminded me off Motown. I love singing and performing this song, it really brings out that nice high tone in my vocal, I am so happy that I wrote this song/

My niece probably would of wrote the one line which was ‘here I am all alone’. And I finished the rest. It was so long ago.”

Top photo: Shana Ray, Kiriz Oliver and Miranda Garling (from left).