The Northern Territory is home to a large hive of creative talent, much of which still remains untapped. Still considered to be an isolated hub for Australian musicians and artists to thrive, the NT has an advantage of geographical difficulty, its true: through these obstacles, ambition is concentrated and the drive to create powerful works to break onto the radars of cousins down south is unparalleled.
This where projects like MusicNT’s Desert Divas come into play and really highlight the level of potential still to flourish and be explored up in the Top End. Established to celebrate the talent existing in the NT’s remote communities, the Desert Divas program doesn’t influence young songwriters to form their artistry around the perceptions of ‘success’ that the wider music industry may hold. Instead, the program offers support to Indigenous women and encourages their individual stories to be told in their own honest and unique way. Throughout the program, the selected songwriters are paired with mentors to learn about the music industry, while working in a creative space with some of Australia’s best ladies in the business.
This year saw Nai Palm, Leah Flanagan, Dallas Frasca and Ursula Yovich come together with the eight Divas to create the final result – the collaborative album, Desert Divas Volume II.
For young Larrakia woman Shana Ray, the opportunity to explore the possibilities working in a professional recording environment was one she particularly thrived on as part of the Desert Divas experience.
“I am so grateful for the skill development workshops we endeavoured and professional guidance we were given,” she says. “The biggest highlight from being a part of the Desert Divas album was walking into a professional recording studio everyday for a week , working with a mentor who starred alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia.”
“Being a part of Desert Divas has given me an insight on what it is like to be working as a full time musician,” Shana adds. “I have been working with industry professionals and communicating with journalists. Desert Divas gives artists a taste of what work is involved behind the music industry scene. It has given me the initiative and confidence to pursue my music career to further [explore those] boundaries.”
For an artist like Shana, who has been writing songs since age 12 out of Darwin, the opportunity to connect with the likes of Ursula Yovich and other mentors and learn more about her own burgeoning musicianship, the creative avenue the Desert Divas program has provided has been an invaluable one.
Similarly for fellow Diva and Darwin musician Kiriz Oliver, the experience has been eye opening and encouraging.
“To be part of something as amazing as Desert Divas is something I still cannot believe is happening to me,” she admits. “I honestly feel so privileged to have met a talented group of women who share a similar passion for music.”
“The best part about this program was meeting some really awesome mentors who knew exactly what we needed to have the perfect outcome for our different tastes in music. My taste in music has always been diverse; growing up, I listened to a lot of artists but for me, my favourite of all would have to be Evanescence. They are the entire reason I wanted to be creative and motivated within my style of music.”
Along with the six other Divas (Eleanor Dixon, Jillian Moody, Bronwyn Stuart, Miranda Garling, Rita Tomlins and Casii Williams), both Shana and Kiriz have now been set on the next step of their creative journeys – performing live remains a solid and very viable chapter of their careers to further explore, while music videos and further songwriting opportunities are now on the horizon.
“I’m currently working on getting a music video together for “Flowers Will Bloom”,” Shana says. “I also have in the works an updated remix version of the song and plans to put my own album together.”
“As for me, I am not sure about the years ahead,” Kiriz mentions. “I hope someday I can write and perform my own songs the way I want and maybe form or be in a band, otherwise perform solo.”
As far as the recent studio sessions at Alice Springs’ CAAMA Studios have proven, both these young talents have exceeded already and have bright futures ahead of them. With all proceeds from the Desert Divas Volume II album sales going towards further mentoring programs and the promotion of MusicNT’s already successful programs in effect, there seems to be a growing wave of talent coming through from communities right across the expansive NT. The trickle down effect that is positioned to hit us in the southern states is an exciting one, one we’re definitely keeping a keen eye on.
Desert Divas Volume II is out now.