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Pathways for African-Australian music creators: Q & A with True Vibenation

Tip Published Wednesday 8 April 2020
True Vibenation are an African-Australian trio with an electronic / hip-hop / soul sound of their own (Photo: Bruno Marion)

True Vibenation are an African-Australian trio with an electronic / hip-hop / soul sound of their own

Culturally and linguistically diverse musicians face extra barriers to entry especially in Australia

Industry support for CALD musicians can come from places such as community radio, grants from Australia Council and resources from APRA AMCOS

From the music workshops of Campbelltown to the stages of Glastonbury and Mozambique's Azgo Festival, African-Australian trio True Vibenation has carved out a truly global music career with an electronic / hip-hop / soul sound of their own. It all starts local though and TVN's Vuli shares the band's story and tips for other culturally and linguistically diverse music creators who are starting out.

What challenges are facing culturally and linguistically diverse music creators in Australia?

I think being an artist in Australia comes with many challenges in itself, and culturally diverse artists also tend to have those challenges compounded.

I’d say one of the big ones is that, due to the lack of diversity there is very little visibility, and within that, it means that on all levels, from managers and labels, to music punters, we aren’t as immediately familiar or relatable based solely on appearance, and often when people try to relate its via the stereotypes and cultural norms that they grew up with.

For many culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) artists this is often limiting, and when they don’t fit perfectly into the pre-perceived and existing stereotypes, both the audience and often right up to top levels of the industry cant work out where we fit in the bigger picture of the music scene (locally not globally).

At the same time, we know where we fit, and when performing globally this is a non-issue as international audiences are exposed to diversity at a profoundly higher rate than Australians are.

Often if you listen to the music and take away the physical appearance of the artist it becomes clear where that artist fits locally and globally, but this is not the lens that we are viewed from or afforded.

This leaves us being categorised in unsuitable categories (often ‘Urban’, ‘World music’ etc.) and leaves many CALD artists being dismissed and mismanaged, ignored and put into the ‘too hard’ basket.

I think also each state and community has its own unique scenes and histories and gate keepers and this is a huge factor that is often overlooked.

What are the organisations and media outlets that help support creators at a grassroots and/or early career stage?

I think for the most part there are a lot of avenues, but they always depend on visibility, and those outlets that have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening across their local scenes, not just in their own smaller pockets and areas of interest.

Community radio such as FBi, Koori Radio and Radio Skid Row in Sydney are great examples, as well as triple J Unearthed.

Initiatives from organisations like the Australia Council that offer grant opportunities can be helpful, as well as community organizations in CALD areas that provide workshops and mentorship are incredibly important.

APRA AMCOS also is a hugely important resource for artists starting out and trying to get their heads around the many facets of the industry, which we utilise as often as possible.

Can you share a bit about your own pathway into the music industry? What would you tell someone else starting out?

We were playing instruments all our lives, and for myself and my brother, we spent a lot of time in the African music scenes as kids, as well as getting into rap and hip-hop as teenagers. Music workshops locally (Campbelltown) introduced us to the process required to record and make music, and from there we took it upon ourselves to skill up.

We were already involved in the various music scenes we were interested in, and actively went to shows, meeting people, jamming, collaborating and organising our own shows. We formed a record label from that, which was our first introduction to the music industry side, not just the artistic side, and eventually decided to release music independently.

We were always very hands on and DIY at the start as we didn’t know any other way or have the sort of financial funding that many artists tend to have (whether industry or private). We up-skilled massively, learning how to run and promote shows, do our own publicity, organise tours, and everything in between. It’s a lot of work but in the journey to making this our jobs and with very little industry support we had to survive or drop out, so we pushed on.

After touring nationally for years, we got the opportunity to play overseas, and began international touring throughout Europe and Africa. This was huge for us as we realised that the Australian music scene was only one part of a bigger puzzle, and that there were other approaches and ways of doing things that we were unaware of. There was also a totally different attitude and support to CALD artists, we weren’t ‘hard to place,’ we were just artists amongst a world of other artists as diverse and as different as us.

Just before our first European tours we had some success with our single 'The World is Ours' appearing on the Spotify Viral world charts for weeks, hitting #1 in the UK and #4 globally, our first independent release.

Eventually we moved to Berlin two years ago, and have been touring all around the world for the last four years, based between Berlin and Sydney.

How can APRA AMCOS do more to support culturally and linguistically diverse music creators – from joining to programs and initiatives?

I think the more we can acknowledge, firstly, that we exist, second that we are diverse within ourselves and also that our experience is not the same as your average Australian.

We face extra barriers as artists of colour that are very often overlooked, so I'd say at the heart its really about having the conversations and time to get to understand what that means for CALD artists, and from there working out strategies to address those barriers.

Indigenous artists in Australia have been addressing similar issues for a long time, and I think including them in the conversation to work out what has previously been tried and tested, acknowledging the work that has already been done as well as improving on past programs and initiatives based on feedback.

How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting culturally and linguistically diverse music creators? What work will need to be done once we get through this difficult period?

The pandemic is affecting artists and industry across the board, I wish I had an easy answer, but for the most part it's very hard to tell.

Staying connected with your friends and family is number one for now.

Keeping the conversation going with organisations and people in the industry, collaborating with other artists also locked down, connecting online and banking up content and music, and self-care would be the first things that I think of.

When things start to return to normal, the more prepared you can be the better, it’s a great time to write healing music to aid the hard times and recovery we are facing - not just locally but globally.

Staying healthy is definitely the number one priority, and given the existential stress, being forgiving as well if you’re not able to be as productive as you are when there’s not a global crisis going on.

Once we get through this it's hard to tell how things will come back, what will survive and thrive and what will go, the main thing is insuring that when it does, we are healthy, focused and able to adapt as much as possible as things develop.

If you're an African-Australian music creator looking for further information, please contact Vuli about his music industry resources kit.

If you would like to get in touch with us to talk about how APRA AMCOS can better engage culturally diverse communities, please contact [email protected].

True Vibenation - The World is Ours