“Though I never got a formal training, singing came naturally to me. It was something that I inherited from my Nan (mother), who has a beautiful voice,” Melbourne-based indigenous vocalist Emma Donovan says with a big smile. On February 18, she and the members of the Australian Funk group The Putbacks, Michael Meagher and Tom Martin, performed at the event “Australian Indigenous Creativity Showcase” at the Australian High Commission, New Delhi. The event was organised to celebrate the musical and culinary talent of indigenous Australians. The trio had also performed at the Salaam Baalak Trust DMRC Children Home, Tis Hazari earlier the same week.
Born in Sydney, this was 34-year-old Donovan’s first visit to India. The eldest among the 27 grandchildren, Donovan started her musical career by singing gospel music, when she was just seven years old. She was a part of her family band “The Donovans”, which was started by her grandparents Micko and Aileen Donovan, who used to sing in the church and also wrote gospel music. The band was the go-to band for any event that would take place in the community.
From gospel music, Donovan then shifted to country music, a big thing within the Aboriginal community in Australia. However, in her teens she no longer found country music “cool enough” and started exploring other genres. She formed the vocal acoustic band Stiff Gins in 1999, and was its member till 2003. Till now, Donovan has sung songs in the genres R&B, Soul, Country and Reggae, and has also performed at the opening of the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.
In 2007 when she was invited to be a part of The Black Arm Band, an Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander music theatre organisation, which has both white and black singers and was started with the aim of forming an aboriginal orchestra. Donovan was the part of the first performance Murandak/Alive and sang songs about the aboriginal protest.
It was while touring with the Black Arm Band, she met the Putback band members Meagher and McDougall (drummer) and was invited to sing with the band. Their first collaboration “Dawn” (2014) featured songs about the personal stories that she wanted to share and issues she felt strongly about. “One of the album songs Black Woman is about being in a bad relationship with violence between a man and a woman and has a message for the women in the patriarchal Aboriginal community,” says Donovan, who doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist but feels she is a voice for the younger women in her community who don’t get to speak their minds. She believes that through her music she can says things that would otherwise remain hidden.
Currently, Donovan is working on another album that is connected to her culture, a second collaboration with The Putbacks, which can be expected to come out by the year end.