Kee'ahn & Emma Donovan Interview Each Other
The pair chat about The Archie Roach Foundation’s mentoring experience helping emerging First Nations artists, Singing Our Futures
Image credit: Jacinta Keefe
A year on from the passing of legendary Gunditjmara and Bundjalung elder, singer-songwriter and activist Archie Roach, The Archie Roach Foundation’s Singing Our Futures program recently made its powerful debut with a collaborative single from rising star Kee’ahn and ARIA-nominated singer-songwriter Emma Donovan, in the form of Take No More (that we had in our 10 best tunes of the week on release).
Led by Candice Lorrae (The Merindas), Singing Our Futures was devised pre-COVID and was one of the leading programs of The Archie Roach Foundation and has evolved into a burgeoning initiative for “emerging artists and storytelling that spans genres and generations”. Lorrae explains “Uncle Archie wanted to establish a program that supported our young artists in their songwriting and recording journeys. The program builds important connections for the young artists within the music industry. Singing Our Futures has seen five emerging artists receive mentoring from some of the country’s leading First Nations legends including Emily Wurramurra, Dan Sultan, Emma Donovan and Dobby. Kee’ahn, Kiwat Kennell, Ridzy Ray, Maylene Yinarr and Madi Colville-Walker have each recorded stunning new works through the Singing Our Futures program and together have supported and performed alongside each other, sharing their musical journey’s, culture, and their dreams for the future at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, BIGSOUND, St Kilda Festival and Byron Bay Bluesfest. We are super excited to be releasing an EP through Cooking Vinyl Australia scheduled for later this year.”
A soulful cut of reggae-inspired sounds, Take No More is a commanding & catchy anthem that champions solidarity and strength. Beginning life through yarns over cups of tea before being taken into the studio, Kee’ahn explains “We started writing Take No More around Invasion Day Jan 26th. Both of us were feeling a lot of emotions that come with the date and feeling inspired by grassroots mob who organise to educate and liberate our peoples. We spoke about how our leaders across generations stand strong and staunch against ongoing challenges, the act of carrying the torch forward passed down from your elders so our future generations can do the same or ideally won’t have to at all. We spoke about solidarity and how liberation is a joint fight with many hands needed. It also feels like this song has grown over the year, during which time beautiful Black leaders and changemakers have passed on into dreaming - this song feels dedicated to them. To Uncle Archie Roach and Aunty Ruby Hunter and to Uncle Jack Charles. They inspire me/us to sing our truth for our past, present and futures.”
To celebrate the release of Take No More and to find out more about the Singing Our Futures program as well as Kee'ahn & Emma Donovan as artists, we were lucky enough to have the pair interview each other for Pilerats!
Emma is represented in italics
Kee'ahn is represented in bold
What did you mostly want to get out of the mentoring and relationship with Singing our Futures?
I was keen to learn a lot, aye. I wanted to gain insight into other First Nations peoples' creative processes, their inspiration, lyric writing, melody composition, the whole world of painting a song and how connected it is to their cultures as it is to mine. With you Emma, it was amazing to see how you’ve harnessed your energy when writing that you’re really in tune with yourself and your words. I loved seeing which melodies and rhythms felt natural to you. Just even yarning and having cuppas with you it felt genuine to be on the same wavelength and talk about what we were feeling with this project. It was so clear with just how Take No More as a chant rang through Emma’s mind over my chords. I feel like I got everything I wanted out of the experience and now I have great memories and lifelong relationships with Emma and the other Mentees Maylene, Madi, Kiwat and Ridzy.
What was your experience like as a mentor Emma? What did you learn from the experience?
I always get a bit nervous going into these roles as a mentor, but I’m learning to grow more too, I really love Kee’ahn’s music style and voice so it’s interesting spending more time with them and understanding their process for writing, I get a lot of confidence too as a writer in these experiences. I’ve been in a tight music bubble with members from The Putbacks for so long it’s just so refreshing working alongside another Aboriginal person like me, I loved every moment.
What advice could you give another Artist joining the Singing our Futures project?
The advice I’d give to future participants of the program is to just enjoy and engage with it all as much as you can. Build friendships, sing together, write together, document it all, make notes. Lean into it all. It’s an opportunity to really grow as an artist but as a person and community member.
What about you Emma? What advice would you give other mentors? Have you had any mentors in your artistry and what have you learnt from them that you’re passing forward?
My advice would be maybe having a few ideas ready even if it’s just a small idea or a concept of thoughts to kick off how you both feel to start with.
How much has Uncle Archie's music and story shaped and inspired you as an artist? How much has the Singing Our Futures community impacted you and your music also?
I think Uncle Archie’s honesty, vulnerability and integrity has hugely inspired me. His music sings what needs to be said, what needs to be felt, what everyone needs to grow and heal and understand when living on Aboriginal land. I hope to sing truth like him.
Emma, what inspires you about Uncle Archie? You had many memories with him, do you have one that stands out the most?
I just am so inspired by all his writing and his perspective on his stories and how he tells stories always stood out for me, I always pick apart how clever he is in delivering a message, his music was for all people connecting a lot of Aboriginal families but bringing the rest of our communities together, special listeners, the right people came together, he was special that he could do that, studio time with him was always extremely special, I’ll never forget it. I also admire his commitment to his people especially through connecting to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians. Which is what this program is built exactly on - that core value he had of connecting mob through music. Strength in vulnerability and truth telling through art, together.
What are your main messages and purpose as a musician? And what visions or agenda musically do you have to continue contributing to Black Australian Music?
I think my main message is to sing my truth, sing my story, for myself, for my ancestors and matriarchs. I think about my matriarchs who were vilified for their culture and for their fire, and I feel I carry them with me - I’m here because of them and I feel a commitment to carrying their energy of wanting the world to be a better place for me and my generation- so I wanna do the same for the next. I also carry their love and joy from their fire so bringing people together to celebrate is honouring them too. I think that’s my vision and what I want to contribute. And I feel like Take No More and the Singing Our Futures EP shines that same sentiment.
Sis Emma, what’s your message been as an artist? Has it changed? How has it connected to Take No More
Most of my messages and stories have always been my own experiences, I want anyone from any background to connect with my messages, I try to write songs that reflect memories and places to make my kids and family & community have that connection to the song too, recognising certain places , it has changed since I had my own my kids, lots of my songs are for them. Take No More is written mostly for the mob and how proud we are to see us not backing down at anything, nationally when we have our injustices or rally or gatherings to speak up and show support, we Turn Up, Show Up, we are Black at The Heart, was trying to connect mostly to what our mob do to unite together.