Header: Image by Dennis Vogelsang
With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions slowly but cautiously being lowered across Queensland, fans of live performing arts and culture have more and more to cheer about as producers and venues begin compiling their “welcome back” programs over the coming month. On Saturday 6 February 2021, the Brisbane Powerhouse will play host to MZAZA’s The Birth & Death of Stars, following its Brisbane Festival season.
Pitched as “sitting comfortably between music and theatre”, The Birth & Death of Stars is a collaboration between the minds of director Benjamin Knapton, Finnish animator Laura Matikainen, and writer Pauline Maudy, promising to treat your ears to “Balkan-French sounds”. This performance will feature Pauline Maudy on vocals, with music and additional vocals provided by Greta Kelly (Violin, shah Kaman), Ricardo Bona (Accordion), John Robertson (Guitar), Goran Gajic (Double-Bass) and Malindi Morris (Darabuka, cajon, tapan, cymbals).
Ahead of MZAZA’s performance in a couple of weeks, I was able to speak with Pauline Maudy around the topics of COVID-19’s impact on the industry, her advice for those looking to enter the music scene and get a hint of what we can expect to see next month. You can read the full interview, below:
There is always that idea floating around every so often that if you want culture, you move or travel to Sydney or Melbourne. Having been involved in the Queensland music scene for so long, how have you found the reception from Queensland audiences, and has it grown over the years?
The Queensland music scene is incredibly rich and has historically produced some great artists. One thing we have seen change over the years is the emergence of more diverse genres and musicians. As someone who grew up in the cultural explosion that is a big European city (Paris, France), I have really enjoyed seeing more culturally diverse artists gain momentum in recent years and I hope to see more. Personally, we like to use our music as a vessel for cultural harmony and to connect others with their ancestry. After all our music may seem exotic but it is a representation of modern Australia – people from many places pouring their histories together to create something new, with reverence to the land of which we stand today and its people.
As for our following… We love our Queensland audiences. We make music that is somewhat unusual for this landscape but we find that once introduced to it people express interest, curiosity, and appreciation if it is up their alley! We have had to work really hard to find our tribe and get our music to them because the networks for diverse music are few and far between, in many ways we have forged our own path.
One thing I would add it that there are things that can be done to support our artists and (very valuable) music industry, including the representation of more culturally or gender diverse artists in the media (print, radio and online), a top-down promotion of culture by our government as something that has the power to connect us and is valuable to us all, and a continued commitment to improving funding models so they lead to sustainable careers and our most talented artists aren’t having to work second or third jobs to survive. In a rich society I believe culture should be like sports – a part of daily life for most, ingrained in education and accessible to the public no matter what their socio-economic position. The societal, economic and health benefits of the arts are well documented, but it takes leadership to make the arts a prominent part of our culture so we can benefit from them.
COVID-19 was the big issue of 2020. Were you impacted at all, and if so, how did you adapt to suit our new “COVID-SAFE” normal?
COVID-19 and the shift and uncertainty the situation has spawned as affected all of us in some way. For us it meant the loss of hours of work and resources planning a European release and tour, the derailment of an export strategy we worked on for years and ongoing uncertainty. We charged ahead with an Australian album release and the creation of a brand new theatrical show. For that we were rewarded with a successful (and sold out) premiere season at Brisbane Festival and a Queensland regional tour. Devising the stage show was one of my silver linings in the midst of a tough year and I am so excited about sharing it once again at Brisbane Powerhouse. From the music, staging, visuals and more it features the contributions of amazing creatives I feel continually grateful to collaborate with.
It is important to know that COVID-19 is still the big issue of today, changing restrictions and border closures make it hard to plan tours and projects without the risk of losing everything if they are cancelled. It is important that everyone works together to put safety nets in place and find solutions that allow us to keep planning and doing. More than ever it is important for funding bodies to keep stepping in to create that safety net so we are not putting our artists in precarious positions. Artists are unbelievably resilient, they throw everything at their artistic work because it is a part of who they are. They pursue difficult careers where financial success is hard to reach. Many can’t get home loans yet they bring richness to our lives. But at what mental, physical and spiritual cost?
Your music crosses many genres and languages, some of which may not have really been experienced by those in their late-teens or early-20s. What would you say to someone who is on the fence about experiencing new styles of music outside the cliche options everyone hears on every radio station?
Well I would tell them that it is always worth a try and that good things come to those who step off the beaten track. It is like trying a new food and realising you love it… it makes your life richer. Of course you might also hate it, but then you will know! I think the real question is how can we make it easier for people to have more choice and exposure to diverse genres?
Personally I love that music tells stories about the people that make up our world, about ourselves and that there are so many ways that we can connect with the feelings it conveys. The genre doesn’t matter. I love that I can feel pumped from punk music, dance to funk, love to soul, feel sadness from a song in a language I don’t understand. Humanity is rich, our brains are amazing and music has a way of connecting with both.
What is your choice of music when it comes to winding down and relaxing?
My all time favourite is a Mexican-Canadian singer called Lhasa de Sela, but to be honest silence can als be very relaxing for me when my life is so filled with music.
What advice do you have for younger musicians who are looking to enter the music industry today, hoping to perhaps follow somewhat in your footsteps?
Well I can tell you what I would tell a young me and the things I repeat to myself as often as I can: musical experimentation leads to growth, connection with others is key, know what you want, face your fears and surround yourself with people who can support you and keep you on track whether it is peers, friends, family or a coach or mentor. Above all, look after yourself.
I design workshops as well as mentor and coach other artists. I have also had the chance to be coached and mentored myself. Having someone to talk to who is on your team can be incredibly valuable.
What can attendees at MZAZA: The Birth & Death of Stars at the Brisbane Powerhouse next month look forward to from MZAZA?
People who come along to the show can expect to be taken on a voyage featuring carefully crafted songs delivered by brilliant musicians and brought to life through text, staging, an amazing light show and unique visuals. The show was devised with some of Brisbane’s top creatives around MZAZA’s album of the same name, which we recorded in Greece. Both offer a reflection of humanity through glimpses of astronomy and mythology. Both sonically and visually we really wanted to build a dream universe, a journey that we could take people on to give them a break from the everyday for a communal experience that is enjoyable, deep yet uplifting and engaging. So far the audience feedback and media reviews seem to indicate we may have succeeded in doing just that! In any case we can guarantee that we are giving it our best shot and that you won’t see another show like this one, in Australia or elsewhere.
Thank you for the incredible team at Aruga for arranging this interview, and especially to Pauline Maudy for taking the time out of their schedule to field my questions. Are you interested in attending MZAZA’s The Birth & Death of Stars? Tickets can be purchased via the Brisbane Powerhouse official website for $45.00 (excl. transaction fee), with the show to commence at 7.30pm on Saturday 6 February 2021.
Expect to read more in the ‘A Conversation With…’ series over the coming weeks and months, with this joining Take That (In-Game) Snap as one of our feature series going forward. For a historical archive of The Otaku’s Study’s previous interviews, click HERE.