kardajala kirridarra’s ambient electronica champions aboriginal women
With references including thunderstorms, Bjork, indigenous languages and the role of women in Aboriginal communities, the group are knitting together past, present and future.
Eleanor Dixon is a proud Mudburra woman, a twenty six year old singer full of self determination and cultural pride. She's a founding member of Kardajala Kirridarra — the downtempo, electro-ambient pop band where she sings in Mudburra (an Indigenous language) about Aboriginal women. Alongside the band she also mentors young Aboriginal women across central Australia through music programs.
Eleanor grew up in Marlinja, a town almost 1,000 kms away from Alice Springs, her experiences there first informed her of the power of a microphone to foster a sense of connection and offer a platform for change. Since then, she's been passionate about asserting that creative expression can lead to new opportunities for women and break through musical and cultural frontiers.
At sixteen, Eleanor formed Rayella, a folk band made up by her father, brothers and male cousins in order to overcome Aboriginal traditions that prevent women from spending time alone with men. Rayella was the first Aboriginal band to have a lead female singer accompanied only by males on stage. Eight years later, Kardajala Kirridarra are the first all-female Aboriginal band to perform to thousands at festivals like Bush Bands Bash and Golden Plains. They're also the first band to sing in Mudburra over electronic soundscapes.
In line with Eleanor's spirit, this new group speaks of the past as much as the future. Heavily influenced by Bjork and using samples from thunderstorms and traditional clapsticks, the band — which also included Kayla Jackson, Janey Dixon and Beatrice Lewis — produce songs that fuse the powerful and tender, celebrating the essence of Aboriginal women.
We caught up with Eleanor to chat about her journey as an artist, cultural pride and the importance of creating opportunities for Aboriginal women living in remote communities.
You formed your first band, Rayella, with your father, brothers and male cousins to overcome certain Aboriginal traditions. Can you tell us a bit about that?
In Aboriginal culture it's not appropriate for women to perform with men unless it's with family. Men in our culture are lore keepers and so we have to respect that. I always just wanted to basically sing and connect with people and the only way I saw that happening was through music. Singing and jamming with my dad and cousins was always something we connected through and that inspired me as a person. It also allowed me to begin my purpose as a person in this world.
How was the transition into a project like Kardajala Kirridarra that was outside of your family and saw you working only with women?Rayella was more of a family or traditional project about the journey I've had with my father, it's what I needed at the time. I feel like I needed to do something like Rayella, where my family really pushed me, before doing something like Kardajala Kirridarra. I had to learn about myself first and I had to understand what it is I wanted to share and tell others. The thing is, in our Aboriginal culture men and women have separate responsibilities, communities and ceremonial traditions, so we can't always talk about the women [perspective] with men. This is why I decided to reach out to my auntie, who helped me connect with other women and we later on formed the band. It all just came together and to be honest I now feel very free, as a person and as a musician.
So forming Kardajala Kirridarra was heavily influenced by wanting to work in a female environment?
Yes, it was about receiving the support and strength from women. The story that I carry through the project is about being a woman and a mother, it's a very empowering energy. It's about how we can tell our stories with a lot of strength, but also in a very soft and pure way; there's toughness but also care. It's about our stories being Aboriginal, Black woman.
Kardajala Kirridarra was the first ever all-female band to play at the festival. How was this received by the community?
It was an unexpected surprise for them. It was beautiful and empowering, so special. So many women came after the show and thanked me. Also, this was an important journey for me because I had already performed this festival but with my family — with Rayella — but now I was able to go back and perform with only women. It was something that was meant to happen and it just shows that a woman can do what a woman needs to do.
Clearly your career choices have revolved around empowering Aboriginal women through music. What's the biggest issue that Kardajala Kirridarra is trying to tackle?
There's so much to tackle. The truth is there's just not much opportunity and that's what I work hard to provide. Coming from a small community that is 1,000kms away from Alice Spring or Darwin, you can't really know what's out there. The biggest issue for Aboriginal women out there is that they are isolated. They don't have access to opportunities or to even feel like they might achieve the things. They don't have the freedom to express themselves.
Being someone who grew up in a remote community and has found many opportunities through music, how do you think creative expression helps with these issues?
It helps women to find and accept themselves. Creation is a power that was given to women, we are life-givers. When we are given the opportunity to believe in ourselves we can create an empire. We need to take control. This is why I do workshops and mentorships, to show girls that what makes things happen is determination and hard work. I worked hard from a young age to book my gigs and form my bands. You have to know what you want first, though. Then you have to work hard to get good at it. Then the opportunities will come to you.
What's the most memorable thing anyone's ever said to you after a Kardajala Kirridarra show?
We did this show in Tennant Creek (Northern Territory) just before Golden Plains. It was a small show in a small community. When we finished our set this old fellah, an elder, pulled me aside straight after the show and he was crying. He spoke to me in Mudburra and said "thank you." He said he was proud of me for speaking Mudburra because not many people speak it and the language is disappearing. He said we all needed to work together to make things happen. The look on his face made me feel like I was doing something right, it helped me push through and feel like it was all worth it.
Kardajala Kirridarra's self titled album is out 7 July.
Text Triana Hernandez
Image courtesy of the band.