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FROCKUP chats w/ Emma Donovan

Emma Donovan and The Putbacks' much anticipated new album Crossover was released this month to high praise. The album is a beautifully honest and soulful ride through the past, reflecting on family, legacy, connection to culture and the continuing fight for justice. Crossover fuses classic American soul with elements from Indigenous protest music and contemporary funk to create an album that speaks to the times we find ourselves in, while exploring Emma’s own culture and history. It was PBS’ album of the week, and the single Pink Skirt, about Emma’s late grandmother, could be heard all over radio when it was released in September. To celebrate the album’s release, as well as NAIDOC week, Sean talked to Emma about the album, her collaboration with the Putbacks, and the other talented Indigenous acts that she’s been listening to.

(Photo by: Wilk. Design by: Kano)

Emma Donovan is no newcomer to the world of music. From her early roots singing as a child in the traveling family band The Donavan’s alongside her mother, uncles and grandparents, to her work in the seminal Black Arm Band musical theater company, Emma’s powerful voice and tender songwriting has been turning heads. Her breakthrough album Dawn brought her to national attention back in 2014 when she paired up with the prolific Melbourne band The Putbacks, who’s rhythm section has been behind such bands as Hiatus Kayote, The Bombay Royale and The Black Arm Band, where they and Emma originally met. Since then Emma has toured with Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Paul Kelly while the Putbacks released their own debut self-titled album back in 2018.

After the huge success of Dawn, life changed dramatically for Emma. Birth, death, breakups and relocation all coincided in the 6-year gap between albums. Emma became a mother of two while her own hugely influential mother Agnes, herself a talented musician, passed away. Agnes inspired the album’s title track Crossover, a yearning and heartfelt tribute to their connection and ongoing spirit. Meanwhile, the ongoing fight for Indigenous rights and justice continued and grew around Australia. A proud Indigenous woman of Naaguja and Yamatji heritage on her father's side and Gumbainggir/Danggali heritage on her mothers, Emma's music both expresses and celebrates her culture while championing the Indigenous protest movement. She also continued as a member of the Black Arm Band, a musical theater troupe celebrating Indigenous talent, history and language. The album reflects these changes. The Putbacks' intricate grooves coalesce beautifully with Emma’s soulful song writing, creating an album that embraces a variety of different styles, themes and moods. It was an absolute pleasure listening to it, and a privilege to be able to speak to Emma about it. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Crossover is now out via Hopestreet Recordings and can be purchased through Bandcamp

Written and interviewed by Sean Ruse

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