In Arts + Entertainment

Mama Kin: Making Music From The World’s Most Isolated Capital

It may be a small city by comparison, but Perth can be credited for pumping out just as many big anthems as its eastern counterparts, and for the rise of some of the most prolific musical acts in the country. AC/DC, Little Birdy, John Butler, The Waifs, Tame Impala and Troye Sivan are just a handful of Western Australia’s most successful musical exports that have, and still are, putting Perth and its talent up on the global stage.

Despite a modest population and the title of ‘the world’s most isolated capital city’, Perth has been heralded as having one of the most vibrant music scenes in all of the country. Partly attributed to the freedom that comes with working within a less flooded market, and also to the incredibly tight-knit and supportive industry, the flourishing music scene in the west is a product of the exact same things that pose as challenges to it.

Both a blessing and a hurdle, the isolation and smaller community are what Fremantle songstress Danielle Caruana (known as Mama Kin on stage) believes makes Perth one of the best Australian capital cities to cut your teeth in the music industry.

“When you are first starting out in the industry, there can be so many examples of other people who are doing a similar thing to what you are – I think it is about not being crushed by comparison over here. It is almost like the market is flooded in other places,” says Caruana.

“So, I think in a place like Perth or WA, there is just more space. There is more space to be experimental.”

Growing up in a large, musical family, it wasn’t until after the birth of her second child that Caruana’s urge to be up on stage overtook her fear of being in the spotlight. After releasing her first EP in 2008, Caruana went on to support the likes of John Butler, Gurrumul and The Cat Empire, before releasing her debut album ‘Beat and Holler’ in 2010. Her second album ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ was released in 2013, and was the same year nominated for an ARIA award for Best Blues and Roots Album.

Having been through the process of building a successful musical career from Perth, Caruana has dealt first-hand with the challenges that come with it; but she is also an advocate for the positive effect that these challenges can have on a budding musician.

“If you think about it at a ‘per capita’ level, we have a relatively small population as a capital city; and per capita I think we are producing not just a great quantity of work, but we are producing such a great quality of work too,” she says.

“I think isolation is a component of that, and just that you have to be really good to compete for the small audiences that there are over here. So, there is something in that that drives a really great quality of musical artistry.”

Although competition for an audience is fierce, there is also a strong sense of camaraderie amongst West Australian artists. ‘It also helps that the community is small and tight knit; it feels very supportive,’ said Caruana.

And that support comes not just from peers, but from organisations dedicated to the development of the contemporary music scene in Western Australia too. According to Caruana, the capabilities and importance of these organisations to artists in the west cannot be underestimated.

Just one example of such an organisation – and the most notable one – is the not-for-profit Western Australian Music (WAM), who work together with industry leaders to support West Australian artists throughout their career.

Bringing together taste makers and stakeholders from around the globe, WAM is an integral part of the success of the West Australian music industry, and an institution that Caruana says is “absolutely crucial in fostering the first round of relationships that support the artist in their establishment phase; and in creating inroads for established artists to be recognised within their state, the industry and internationally.”

As well as their ongoing advocacy and development, WAM hosts several events each year in support of West Australian music. Taking place on WA Day on June 4th, State of The Art Festival (SOTA) champions West Australian artists and opens up access to world class acts for all.

“State of the art festival is such an amazing opportunity. It is a high-level spectacle delivered for free, so it really opens the music market up to people who don’t usually go and see live music that is at a world class level; or for those who may not be inclined to go normally,” says Caruana.

“It is such an amazing way to celebrate what is happening culturally in WA.”

Caruana believes that this year’s SOTA Festival line-up really speaks to the quality of music coming out of Perth.

“Stella Donnelly, Birds of Tokyo, San Cisco, Downsyde – The bands that are performing at SOTA are all either commencing or have had considerable international success. I think that tells a pretty amazing story in itself,” she says.

Caruana will also be joining the lineup in the afternoon, performing with Tommy Spender and the WAAPA Gospel Choir under her new moniker ‘Mama Kin Spender’.

Published 30 May, 2018