REMINISCING with Christine Anu
2015 will see Christine Anu celebrating the 20th Anniversary of her ARIA Award winning album, Stylin’ Up with a National tour. In a two hour show, Christine will perform the songs that drew in fans from around the globe and cemented her place as an iconic Australian performer. Not only did Stylin’ Up position Christine as a major player in the Australian Music Industry, it paved the way for many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporaries. Christine is enthralled about the opportunity to revisit Stylin’ Up in a national tour and to reconnect with the fans who have made it all happen.
We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with Christine prior to her embarking on her tour and talk about her life and career.
Your career is incredibly multi-faceted – singer, performer, dancer, recording artist, songwriter, stage, film and television actor. If someone who didn’t know you asked you what you spent your days doing – what would you say? I spend most of my days preparing for the next gig, to be honest. Paying bills, getting ready for the next show, rehearsing show tunes, learning scripts and responding to emails. I am always juggling a lot of balls and there always seems to be a lot to do.
What is your favourite way to spend a day? Watching movies! I love watching movies – and everything in particular!
Tell us about your childhood? What is your best childhood memory? In what way (if any) did your childhood prepare you for life in the music industry? I think if you look hard enough there are so many moments and memories that you take with you through your professional and personal life. I have so many great memories that are worthy of a book. Most of them involve my mum – stories with my mum, fishing with my mum, cooking with my mum. My favorite childhood memories are around Christmas time, learning the cultural dances and performing them at special occasions. The excitement of connecting with an audience I guess started then.
You were lucky enough to be asked to appear on “Who do you think you are?” What did you learn about your heritage that you didn’t already know? What did you learn about yourself through this process? I learnt that the archives for our people are spread across the world, in places I never knew archives existed. For example 7 floors below ground at the British Library in London. This is where the cylinders which have the sound recordings of the very first recording device invented and those sounds are songs recorded of my people singing. I did not know that this early recording device was being tested for the first time by Alfred Court Hadden on his expedition to the Torres Strait.
I also did not know that one of my ancestors was recruited as a priest. One of the reports written by one of the clergy described him as being 'difficult to convert' which is funny to read.
I was also very excited at discovering my own grandfather’s voice recorded and stored in an archive in Canberra. It was recorded back in the 50’s and that was nice to be in a darkened room with just his voice. It was like listening to the ghost of heaven and it took me straight back to my childhood. It was very special.
It must have been great to be able to pass on your family story to your own children – has having a family of your own influenced your music and/or career? In what way? While having my career has influenced me and my family, it has also given me a strong will to preserve a legacy for them. More than ever, because they will have children one day. What I have done in my life is something for them to show and pass on. It is also driven by sharing of my culture to the rest of the world. The more I do, the more I want them to be involved. As they grew up, they inspired me and still do.
It’s now 20 years since your first album debuted… but your professional career started way before that. When and how did you get your first big break? My first break was joining a band. I never envisaged it would happen and I had no idea when or how that would happen but when it did, I felt as If I was moving in the direction I wanted my career to take. Until then I was a graduating dance student of 5 years. To join a band with someone who gave me my signature song, and then to join the same label and same management team felt wonderful. It was all the right place and right time – it was 1992.
In 1993, I released Last Train to Heaven which was my first single (with Paul Kelly) and that was my first ARIA nomination as Debut Artist. After that there was a nomination every year for the next few years. APRA song of the year (1994) and when the album Stylin' Up did get released (1995) there were four singles released from it so I toured it for 2 years. So many doors opened after that – across musical theatre, television and movies. So there was a six-year break between first and second album, where I was laying down foundations for my future career.
You must have seen so many changes in the music industry over the last 20 years – what do you think has been the most profound change? The digital age has made a profound difference in how we listen to and purchase music. It is not something we own or have a need to own. The digital age has changed what sort of music we listen to, how we purchase and what sort of music we purchase. It's opened up a very different way to how we enjoy and own music. Touring is also harder than it’s ever been but still the best place for me to sell my CDs. It's my favorite thing because it is still wonderful to connect with people that love your music, love to hear live music and support Australian music. There is nothing like selling physical CDs after a show and audiences wanting to connect with you again and again.
What advice would you give to the young Christine – about to embark on her career? Take it slow! Get the right team around you, discuss and talk and understand your brand. Be PR savvy! Media training is so important, get it behind you. As a performer, you just get better at it as the years go by, as does taking command of your vocals. But getting a good team around you is so hard because they have the right advice and connections and can make such a difference to your career. It's not what we know as performers and they can make such a big difference.
Know your voice and what music style works for you. Songwriting and the writing process is not something that I ever mastered and I would love to go back, develop and understand that process for myself. It's all about the song, baby!
You are currently touring the country in celebration of your 20 years in the industry – what can audiences expect from your shows? They can expect a good yarn because I have 20 years of them to share! Audiences will also see and hear a vocalist in command of her own voice and stage presence. The songs will be brought to you in a way that you won’t hear on the recording. We don’t perform the same versions and it’s a celebration of the music of the last 20 years. It’s a great night out and I hope to see everyone there!
Christine will be playing at Lizotte’s Newcastle on Friday 14th August. Audiences will be entertained with Christine’s hit songs Island Home, Party, Monkey and the Turtle, and Wanem Time as well as the full repertoire of songs from the album that started it all! For tickets and more information visit www.lizottes.com.au