Christine Anu is one very busy lady. Her career crosses a variety of genres including music, theatre, film, dance, television and even children’s entertainment. Her latest album and tour, ‘Rewind – The Aretha Franklin Songbook’ is, she says, not just an album of the Soul Queen’s classics, but essentially a tribute to Aretha Franklin.
“Most of my work lately has been in the corporate world,” Christine explains “and I needed to get my music out to where the fans are. I guess, for me, a good way to do it was to introduce myself as a vocalist in a vocal style that I think really shows a side of me that people have never heard before; a side of myself that I’ve been growing into and that demonstrates my vocal style and ability.”
Certainly, Aretha’s songs are a stretch for any vocalist but Christine was ready and willing – and well equipped – to take on the challenge. “The only way to do an Aretha song is to be confident in who you are, in the uniqueness of your sound and draw from the qualities. It’s been like a whole new singing lesson all over again. It’s like unleashing something inside that was always wanting to come out. And that would never happen if we don’t challenge ourselves.”
Christine had been performing Aretha Franklin songs as part of her set list for some time so it seemed somehow appropriate that she should record an album of this ‘pre-loved’ material as she puts it. “I’ve just been singing songs that I know and love. I already have that relationship with these songs. They were already in my repertoire so what was the problem? The problem was that you put such a big name alongside this and all of a sudden, there’s this idea that singers and musicians out there are going to go ‘Oh God, she’s just annihilated an Aretha Franklin song!’ So there’s this huge judgement. But, if you’re not wearing your heart on your sleeve and you’re not telling your own story, then you’re not being the artist that you are.” And, for Christine, that was it. “It’s not an Aretha Franklin record,” she points out. “It’s a Christine Anu record and I’m paying tribute to The Queen of Singers that generations followed.”
Since the tour opened in May, Christine has been amazed by the wide range of ages among the audience; music fans of all ages who revere Aretha Franklin as their idol. “You know, the thing that I find about younger singers that I listen to is that that one sounds like Amy Winehouse and this one sounds like Adele and they’re all trying to make someone sound like someone else and, although I’ve loved and idolised Aretha, I think what I was trying to get out of this was not to sound like Aretha because that was near impossible, given the ghastly five ranges that she had. For me, it’s that you can hear that she’s lived life, the way that she sings. And I think that’s the quality I wanted to get out of an Aretha sound.”
Audiences are clearly loving the show. As Christine tells me, the response has been ‘wonderful.’ And, at the end of the night, she gets to spend time with the fans at the merchandising counter, giving her an opportunity to hear from the people themselves exactly what the music means to them and how much they enjoyed the performance. “It’s great,” she says. “Those are the sort of moments that make me feel fulfilled.”
Not only is Christine a multi skilled entertainer, but she is also quite a savvy business woman. “I’ve always wanted to do a bit of this and a bit of that and see where it takes me. I’d put a bit of money aside and I wanted to put it into something that I’d never done before.” Christine had an idea that was based on her own childhood and built around a 10 year old child. “We called the project Chrissy’s Island Familyand put out a CD of family music, not just children’s music and that was nominated (for an ARIA) in the first year that it was put out, alongside The Wiggles. Of course, The Wiggles took out the award but it was just such a wonderful opportunity to venture out into something new.” While she is still working on the evolution of Chrissy’s Island Family, the singer is also involved in producing other projects within her business, Stylin’ Up Entertainment. “One of those projects,” she explains “is Women of Soul, which has evolved from up and coming young indigenous women, providing gigs for them to do together so that we can fill the entertainment circuit out there. Basically, any work that I can’t do passes on to Women of Soul. I’m also involved in getting the girls’ costumes and helping them with their repertoire. Anything that comes up, I do. I do not just a producer role but a director role as well.” Another show that is part of Stylin’ Up Entertainment, is Ladies of Jazz. The show brought Christine together with Paulini, Grace Knight and Monica Trapaga to collaborate and put together a jazz show. Now that both Monica and Grace have left the combo to concentrate on their own careers, the project has been placed on the backburner until Christine winds up her own current touring commitments which, as it happens, are rather hectic.
This coming week, Christine will be starting rehearsals for South Pacific, where she will be filling in for Kate Ceberano. The much-loved musical will be on the road through til February 2013 so it looks like Christine will be kept rather busy for a while yet. “Yes,” she agrees. “I’m exhausted. I need some down time.” The singer will take a short break with her family over Christmas. “And then I have to go back to work after that. I finish that show in February and then it’s on to the next project.” And with her fingers in so many different pies, just what exactly that project will be is anyone’s guess.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2012 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved.