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Interview: KATH BUCKELL

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The Jammin’ Divas are four very talented women hailing from various corners of the Globe, who have come together to create a unique blend of music and they are currently kicking off their international tour in Australia, homeland of singer Kath Buckell. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kath recently to find out a bit more about the group, how they came to be and what Australians can look forward to on this tour.

“It’s a really lovely story actually,” Kath tells me. “I first met Aoife in Israel a few years ago. I was actually living there for three years and we just hit it off. We had great chemistry both personally and also musically. And she said ‘If you ever come to the United States, give me a call because I’d love to do something with you,’ so a few years later I came across and we connected in Massachusetts and we did a couple of shows together and there was actually one in particular that Women in Docs was supposed to do and Women in Docs couldn’t make this show so they called up Aoife and said ‘Aoife are you available?’ And she said ‘Yes, I am and I have Kath with me,’ and (former member) Becky Chase came on board and and we got Jemma. And just two hours before the show, we had to think of a name and think of what music we were going to do and so we brought together each other’s music and coloured it with some harmonies and it was just a huge success. We had to figure out a name and we just thought ‘Well, we’re jammin’ and, jokingly, we’re all divas in our own right,” she laughs. “It was meant to be for only one show but the name just stuck with us. It really happened organically and naturally because we were already good friends so we are just happy that it came about that way.”

Unfortunately, Becky was not in a position to tour internationally so the Jammin’ Divas now have a new member. “Nicole is the new American member,” explains Kath. “She’s a phenomenal vocalist. She actually came on board just a few months ago so she brought in her new material and we recorded our CD ‘November Wings‘ with her. She’s been a real trooper to come on board like that.”

The girls have released the album here in Australia first because this was the first leg of their tour. They will be heading back to New York next month and will then be releasing it there. “We’re based in New York and one of the members lives in Massachusetts,” explains Kath. “It’s exciting starting the tour in Australia. This is the first time I’ve shared my music here. I left here when I was 21 to go to Israel so I never really built a career here musically. I was studying improvisational drumming at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and then I left and went to Israel so this is just a really fantastic opportunity that we’ve been able to have. I really love Australia. I’ve travelled a lot and I’m just really excited to bring, not only my music but all of the girls’ music into the unified sound of the Jammin’ Divas to Australia and share it with the Aussie crowd.”

“I guess we fall under that World Music umbrella,” says Kath. “Also there’s a blend of what we call roots music and we’re singer/songwriters as well so it’s just an amalgamation of all of these styles but I guess it’s under a broader umbrella called World Music. Because we come from these different cultures, even though we sing in English, we have blended some of those traditional sounds as well.”

“Each of us has been heavily influenced by or grown up surrounded by different genres of music. I grew up in rural Australia where it’s primarily country, rock and blues so I love the blues and rock; Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Australian artists like Renee Geyer and John Farnham. And then Aoife has grown up in Ireland surrounded by the traditional music there and the ballads she used to sing with her father. He was a member of The Clancy Brothers which is a very famous group that popularised traditional Irish music back in the sixties. They influenced Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Judy Collins in America and so she’s grown up singing with her father and her uncles. She’s also been influenced a lot by some jazz too. Nicole is actually trained as an opera singer and she loves improvisational music as well from singers like Nina Simone. We’ve all come from such various backgrounds influenced by music that comes from each of our cultures. We really have a unique flavour. We’re lucky that we found that blend. We could balance each other’s distinct voices and influences.”

So what was the catalyst for going to Israel? “Love,” she laughs. “I was actually with an Israeli and I had always wanted to explore the world. I had itchy feet and I didn’t feel like I wanted to settle in Australia. I wanted to live somewhere, not just travel. I’d done some travelling before that in Hong Kong and Southern Asia. Israel was just a magical time. I travelled and explored the traditions of both the Jewish and Arabic cultures. That actually was the thing that sparked me to want to understand more about the Australian culture; both the Anglicised Australian culture and the Indigenous culture. I was wondering what makes Australia unique and I found that in the traditional Australian poetry, especially from Henry Lawson, Dame Mary Gilmore and Andrew Barton Paterson I was able to see what people went through in establishing Australia as a nation and that’s really what sparked me to want to preserve some of this poetry because I felt that I identified with the theme.”

But Kath was also interested in finding out more about the Indigenous culture in Australia. “I wrote a song called ‘Orphaned by the Colour of My Skin‘,” she explains. “The song was actually entered in a competition called the Mid Atlantic Song Competition in the U.S. and I won an honourable mention for it. It was based on a book that was written by Mary Terszak who I actually had the fortune of meeting. She is an Indigenous Australian. She was a part of the stolen generation and she found an interview online that I’d done in L.A. and had seen that I’d written a song about her. She got in touch with me and we connected in Melbourne. I was back here visiting and she told me her whole story. It was just one of those really magical moments where I wrote the song trying to imagine what it would be like going through such a thing and not seeing your mum. It was really touching so I just explored all the different elements of the culture here and was fortunate to meet such a woman and also learn about the poetry. It’s a really powerful song. Growing up, I didn’t hear a lot of stories of what people had gone through. I just wasn’t exposed to a lot of it and it made me understand another side of what people have gone through. She doesn’t blame anyone. She just feels that education is important and that this is a part of our history so this is something that people should be aware of.”

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © 2014 Sharyn Hamey. All Rights Reserved

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