In 2011, Danielle Caruana – a.k.a. the woman behind Australian band Mama Kin – graced the Ottawa Bluesfest for the first time. It was an early afternoon time slot, and the sun was blazing down on her and and her band. It was one of those rare scorching days, but Mama Kin was unfazed. Caruana and her band seemed to be at home, as if they were playing in front of long-time fans, friends, and family. Instead, for the vast majority of us, Mama Kin was new. Their old-school, pop-infused folk energized us and had us moving, building even more of a sweat in the summer heat.
That was my introduction to Mama Kin. Seeing how I still remember the show from four years ago must mean Caruana and Mama Kin left an impression, which of course they did. Armed with a critically acclaimed album, The Magician’s Daughter, Mama Kin makes her long-awaited return to the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on Tuesday, July 14 (7:00 PM, Monster Energy Stage). This time, she has an evening time slot, where her music will meld perfectly with the setting sun.
Audiences will surely be moved by the majesty of The Magician’s Daughter. An album dedicated to her mother, whose father was an actual magician and for whom she served as his assistant, and to her current family, The Magician’s Daughter seems like fantasy yet the music that Caruana has concocted is true. In many ways, music is Caruna’s magic, where she’s able to craft images in our minds of places forgotten or to come.
Her creativity, though, doesn’t reside solely in the guitar she strums or the lyrics she writes. As I found out first hand in a Q&A with the Mama Kin, Caruna is always finding imaginative and often allegorical ways to communicate. Even the sharing of an experience is communicated through a little tune or the recalling of an event expressed with pure emotion. This, as such, made for one delightful interview.
Q&A with Mama Kin’s Danielle Caruana
Revue: Hi Danielle! First, congratulations on being named the Artist of the Year at the prestigious Port Fairy Folk Festival. What was your reaction when you learned of the award? And is there anyone you would like to thank that you forgot to mention when receiving the award?
Danielle Caruana: I was really stunned. I really do not expect this kind of thing at all. In fact, most of the time I feel like I am flying under the radar, so this really shocked me. To be honest, I initially just felt like a fraud. Like I didn’t feel like I deserved it, as the calibre of the other musicians who have been awarded this honour in the past were peers that I admired. Anyway, that is probably a walk a bit too deep into the forest of my mind.
As for my thank you speech, I think I did a pretty good job. I talked about my journey from not even daring to dream of expressing my music to the point of receiving this award. Mostly I am grateful to the audience. They came, they saw, they liked and they came back for more. As an artist, that is the ultimate nod!
Since I understand you have a great sense of humour, I have to ask this question. In your op-ed for Yahoo Australia, you wrote, “I’m married to the guy I first met as I jumped out of said Kombi on High Street, Fremantle (I asked him for directions to Gino’s)”. Was it love at first sight when you first laid eyes on John?
DC: I remember thinking he was pretty hot. I mentioned this to my friend as we walked away from him. But love at first sight? Nah! We bumped into each other the next day and the day after that again, and I remember thinking that there was something about him that I liked and was drawn to. But back then, I was so busy being cool and aloof I wouldn’t have noticed love at first sight if it shimmying its ass in my face!
Was it love at first sight when you visited Margaret River?
DC: No! We have been visiting Margaret River for years doing gigs, and I never really connected with the place until I actually went and started hanging out at the actual river there! Then I was hooked. Everyone else moves to Margaret River for the amazing surf, but I am a fresh water woman, and I am in love with that river. Now that was love at first sight!
Nice! Back to John, have you two thought about doing a Sonny & Cher-like collaboration?
DC: Oh God! John’s Mum is always telling me I remind her of Cher and that she wants us to do a Sonny and Cher thing. I shudder, honestly I shudder. No disrespect but for some reason it gives me the heebie jeebies! You know, I am shit at writing unabashed love songs, and I think of singing that kind of love song with John and I get a bit gaggy!
Sonny and Cher aside, John and I do have a side project called Brave and the Bird. It isn’t anything yet but a handful of songs and a name. It is in the pipelines for the future when we can find the time to record it. I love singing with John. I love writing with him also. We are just both so busy at the moment with our own projects and raising our kids that it keeps falling to the bottom of the list. Turn the list upside down I say!
Let’s hope it happens soon! Ok, if not a record, what about another impromptu busking performance when you’re both at Ottawa Bluesfest?
DC: That busk was SO MUCH FUN! Were you there? We couldn’t believe how many people showed up! I was looking at some footage of it just the other day, and I got the warm and fuzzies . Are we doing it again? Not planned, but a great idea!
Unfortunately, I was not there to see that show, but the video looks great! Besides Ottawa, what are you favourite places to visit and perform in North America?
DC: I have never been to Nova Scotia, but as a kid I had a fascination with the name of the place. I used to say it to myself over and over again… Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia.. etc. I know, it’s weird and random. Anyway, I am pretty excited about finally going there. I am going to write a song about Nova Scotia. It is a pre-destined thing. I just need to go there first! Maybe my next album will be a concept album called Nova Scotia!
Brilliant idea! Those Nova Scotians love their music. Now, touring isn’t the only thing on your schedule when you come to North America. I was wondering if you could tell us what you have planned with producer Daniel Ledwell
DC: Well, Daniel was in Australia earlier this year with Jenn Grant, and I just love her latest album that he produced. Like really love it! So once we started talking about coming to Canada, I thought we should just jump in and do a couple of days together and see if there were sparky sparks! I’m pretty excited about it and also pretty scared, which is generally the way I feel before going into the studio.
Speaking of producing, people may not know that you’re also a producer, and you’ll be producing emerging singer-songwriter Valentina Brave‘s next album. What draws you to be working in the sound booth instead of in front of the mic?
DC: I’ve only worked on a couple of friends projects in the production role in the past, and so I am reticent to call myself a producer – although I think it sounds pretty sexy – but I do really enjoy the role. I love that I can still be creative while delving into other people’s works, seeing the piece from a different perspective. I find the role really challenging because I know how much is at stake when you are recording your works. Valentina Brave has been insistent that I produce for her. I have tried to wriggle out of it a few times and suggest much more experienced producers, but she won’t have it. Ultimately, I am just trusting that we will be a killer team! I’m looking forward to the challenge.
If you could produce any artist’s next album, who would it be?
DC: I honestly don’t feel like I deserve to produce anyone’s album!
You underestimate yourself. Anyway, a couple of final questions. You’ve had such an interesting and varied life. At this moment in time, what would you say is your fondest memory?
DC: Last summer, I was down at the river with my kids and husband, and we were all laying on the hot flat rocks in the late afternoon sun after swimming in the swimming hole. We decided to do the rounds of “3 things you love about everyone else and 1 thing you love about yourself”. Hearing what the kids had to say about us, each other, and themselves really moved me. It doesn’t get much better than that for me. The sense of gratitude, solidarity and love for each other was so present and particular I felt immersed with these beautiful beings in such a profound way.
And what’s your greatest achievement?
DC: This is actually hard to answer. I want to say giving birth to my two kids, and then I want to say walking 100kms for Oxfam Trailwalker. Then I want to say maintaining a growing, deep and loving relationship with my husband. But when it really comes down to it, I think, most of all, my greatest achievement is that I am a good friend to my family and friends. My greatest achievement is the wealth of relationships I have in my life. I have strong and loving relationships with really good people who I admire and adore. I feel very loved and supported, and I think I love well and am a supportive family member and friend.
Time to play “Feedback”, where I say a word and you respond in anyway you wish.
DC: Sounds like home!
DC: In the Supreme Court USA and hopefully soon in Australia!
We Two Thieves
DC:We are often trapped between two thieves, regret for the past or fear of the future.
DC: I’m Kelowna to getchya!
DC: What a dream boat!!
John Butler Trio
DC: What a dreaaammmmm boat!!
Blues & Roots
DC: Rues and bloots. Glue and newts. Obviously got a bit stuck on this one!
Red Wood River
DC: Oh my daughter, my angel daughter, in the red wood river broken bones and mud.
DC: “Melting into indigo ocean. Bye bye sun. Thank you for the fun.” That’s a little sunset chant that I have been doing with my kids since they were just babes… and we still all sing it together when we witness a sunset.
DC: Ma makin’ the music she needs to make!
Follow Mama Kin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and check out her website for updates. Mama Kin’s Canadian tour dates are below. Get The Magician’s Daughter on iTunes.
Mostly I am grateful to the audience. They came, they saw, they liked and they came back for more. As an artist, that is the ultimate nod!
Photos by Lisa Businovski
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