Our newest APRA AMCOS Ambassador Justine Eltakchi contributed the song Pride to SBS’ Eurovision Decides
She has played over 700 gigs in 5 years despite having congenital night-blindness and low vision
Her advice to young musicians with a disability is: you can literally do anything
Songwriter/musician/artist/producer Justine Eltakchi has been working hard behind-the-scenes and on the live circuit over the last decade, and the song she entered in SBS' Eurovision - Australia Decides, 'Proud,' will be performed by powerhouse vocalist Casey Donovan.
Justine's visual impairment has presented a completely different set of obstacles to overcome in the music industry, but it's her creative drive and resourcefulness that propels her forward.
We sat down with Justine to ask her a few questions about song writing, accessibility within the music industry and her advice for young performers with a disability.
What are three words that describe you?
Persevering, optimistic, eccentric.
What is a song that changed your life?
If I had to choose one, it would be 'Ready for Love' by India.Arie. The very delicate production of a vulnerable song, delivered by one of the best performers of the last 20 years. This song was one of the first I ever learnt, performed and truly connected with.
Can you talk about the inspiration for the song 'Proud'? How did it end up getting selected for Eurovision Decides?
'Proud' is such a significant song to me in my career. I actually had a truly inspired moment where I felt compelled to sit at the piano. I was overcome with emotion and the song wrote itself. It was inspired by two people close to me in the LGBTQI+ community, and grew to be a story of overcoming the obstacle that most people face: being yourself in a world that wants everyone to be the same.
I submitted the song into the song portal for SBS' Eurovision Australia Decides, and the song was sent to Casey Donovan. We met recently and both laughed and cried together. Having someone connect with your music so much, is something very, very powerful as a songwriter.
You have played an incredible 700 gigs in the last 5 years. How has gigging made you a better songwriter and performer?
It has been a ride! I have pushed myself these last five years, and experienced so much on and off stage. As a performer, I have learnt connecting with an audience is a conscious effort, that you are by far your worst critic, and that performing is not just a physical experience, but a mental and spiritual one, too. I think it has made me more real about my songwriting, it has pushed me to understand people more, and how music connects with different audiences.
What is one accommodation that can really help with accessibility at venues/festivals/gigs of any kind?
Venues, clients or agents can often have a hard time understanding the scope of disability or the individual needs of someone. I think what is important to highlight is that much of disability is invisible. One in three Australians with a disability avoid social situations so we need to continually address the issue of accessibility in our industry, ensuring there is equal opportunity.
I have congenital night-blindness and low vision. I struggle to see in dark venues and in general life – steps, deciphering surfaces and recognising people. Explaining this to venues is often redundant, as people assume if you aren’t using a cane – you don’t need assistance.
What I think this means is, we have to start taking people seriously when they reach out. For any disability, extending a hand of support is always going to be appreciated, as the mental and emotional stress caused by a disability, for many, is very real.
Speaking from someone who has a visual impairment, there is extra preparation that goes into everything. For example, finding an alternate mode of transport, memorising EVERYTHING (or face reading five words per screen on your iPad, in my case) and managing the inevitable stress of entering and setting up in a new venue. I memorise labels, buttons, floor layouts and the way someone walks – a hilarious gift and an alternative to ignoring people by accident!
As a visually-impaired songwriter/performer, do you have any advice or tips for others with a disability that are trying to establish a musical career?
I will give the advice I wish my 18-year-old self had: you can literally do anything. Also….zoom function will be your best friend forever.
We are in one of the hardest industries in the world. Much of our time is spent solving “how to do something” whether you have a disability or not. Obviously there are limits put on us through access, system structures and society and thus the odds are stacked higher, so being resourceful is very important.
Find people who respect you, who make an effort to support you where your limitations are, and continually work on your craft and expand your skill set.
I have recently started getting stuck into production, and I have memorised the buttons I need to know and zoom is on max. Yes it is harder, but my desire to learn is greater than that difficulty. In general, your desire has to outweigh the challenges, because they will always be there.
If you’re like me and struggle at nighttime events where you can network, follow organisations like APRA AMCOS, Women in Music Sydney and MusicNSW for events that are more structured and/or in the day time. For extra support, Australia Council for the Arts are just one of the bodies that provide funding to people with a disability.
I want everyone to believe in themselves, because it took me such a long time. Overcoming my self-limiting beliefs opened up so many opportunities. The person who told you, "You can’t do it because of xyz" is wrong.
Copyright is meaningful to me because…
Copyright is important to me because it protects the very foundation of music. It is important to have laws in place for creatives, that put our minds at ease when we are making art. Having a body like APRA represent us, takes much of that stress away.
I am an APRA AMCOS Ambassador because…
APRA AMCOS is a thriving organisation that cultivates community and camaraderie in an industry that thrives on these two things. Not only do I love the very real impact that APRA AMCOS is having on our industry, but the events and SongHubs they are producing. I really didn’t start understanding the scope and layers of our industry until I started attending events held by APRA AMCOS.
It is an honour to be an Ambassador and I hope to make an impact not just as a songwriter, but a young woman living with a disability. I really hope to help encourage and support as many people as I can, as I take on this responsibility.