Diverse contributions of women in the Australian music industry

Her Sound, Her Story is an independent documentary unveiling the experiences of women in the Australian music industry. Featuring more than 45 artists and spanning six decades, its narrative brims with rage, strength, beauty and triumph. It’s as much about social justice as music. Featuring concert footage (a three-day concert was staged in Melbourne as part of the process) and conversations with artists including Tina Arena, Renée Geyer, Jen Cloher, Mojo Juju, Simona Castricum, Emma Donovan, Nai Palm, Mama Kin and Okenyo, the film shines a light on gender inequality and prejudice.

Okenyo Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder
Okenyo Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Her Sound, Her Story was directed by Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore in collaboration with photographer Michelle Grace Hunder, whose series of 88 portraits of female musicians was foundational for the project. Following a Brisbane premiere at the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards on October 9, the film premiered in Sydney at Event Cinemas George Street on October 17.

At the Q&A session after the screening, one young audience member said: “The film made me feel loved. It’s the kind of film I’d want to watch again and again.”

“What you see on the screen is a whole lot of women engaging in authentic and vulnerable conversation,” said special guest Mama Kin. “That happened with the very first email [from the filmmakers]. Claudia’s gentle, constant nudging [was effective]. I’d say, ‘I’m coming to Melbourne, I’ll meet with you.’ Once the time came, it was easy just to speak from the heart.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen [the film],” said Okenyo, also a special guest at the Q&A. “Why did I agree to be part of this? I had just been waiting for someone to ask me.”

Mama Kin: “The [concert] was amazing because it was the first time I’d been backstage where the majority of people were women. It was a really special event, really special for the audience. All that stuff you see – people holding hands and crying – these are not highlights, that was the whole thing, people saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re here, and how good was that thing you did!’ It was very sweet.”

Mama Kin Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Mama Kin Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Okenyo: “I wrote ‘Woman’s World’ [the song which opens the film] whilst playing a character in a play. I had almost understood the character, but not quite. I realised I was intimidated by her, I wanted to be her. I needed to believe in myself. And then I walked into rehearsals the next day and bam, I was there. ‘I’m a very busy woman’ – that’s where that tag-line comes from. ‘Woman’s World’ always came from a place of self-empowerment. When we empower ourselves we empower each other. I know the message got across – it was used for the Women’s Basketball League and that was really cool for me.”

Nai Palm  Photo Michelle Grace Hunder

Nai Palm Photo Michelle Grace Hunder

Mama Kin: “I didn’t release music until after the birth of my second child, so there was really no blueprint for a career like that. I was determined that my children would see an ‘expressed’ mother and an ‘expressed’ father. I’d built a whole lot of stories about why I couldn’t do it. When I actually grew up and took responsibility for my own life, everyone was like, oh fuck yeah, of course. People hold a flame for you, waiting for you, and when you actually get there, the energy is in so many places. It was astounding. It’s up to you to take that step towards yourself, for all of that to ignite.”

Emma Donovan Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Emma Donovan Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Okenyo: “I’ve always been supported by my family and loved ones. But what’s been interesting, the older I get in the entertainment industry, I’m told I can’t do things. I didn’t properly realise until my mid-20s that me being a performer is inherently political. I felt alone, I felt uneducated. Now I have to try to understand my own blackness. It’s been a really strange backwards journey – being really confident then losing confidence. This film is about things changing. We’re having so many conversations about gender, sexuality and race, there’s so much more language about that now, which is great …”

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