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BARKAA The Matriarch

With her new EP Matriarchy quickly making its way over the horizon we chat to the upcoming rapper on industry lessons and standing on the shoulders of giants.

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The faint chirp of lorikeets and rustling of leaves behind her is the first thing I notice when Barkaa emerges on the other end of the phone line. “It sounds like you’re in the bush.” Barkaa, known also by her birth name Chloe Quayle, laughs, “No, I’m in Marylands but my mum grows trees, it’s nice to have the birds, it’s like a little oasis.” Unbeknownst to me, across from Barkaa sits said mum, her presence becoming known as we begin to discuss key First Nation artists that have paved the way for the rappers journey into the “so-called” Australian music scene. Her mum mouths off No Fixed Address, a band reaching success in the early 80’s, and Barkaa laughs, “I can’t read lips.”

It’s an introduction into Barkaa’s world that sits cosily in the imagination, highlighting the softer nature of her character. A side often dominated by the hard-hitting, unashamed persona present as a result of her first few releases, songs that stray far from the current scene of suburban delight. 

Raw, unmerciful and speaking truth rarely touched upon, Barkaa’s tracks play like history books documenting both past and present injustices for First Nations people, while also delivering hope with cries for unification and pride in identity. Beginning with ‘For My Titta’s’, a song that saw Barkaa atomic-bomb onto the scene with raps of female empowerment, Barkaa then, on the burgeoning coattails of the BLM Movement of 2020, came forward with tracks like ‘22Clan’, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and ‘OUR Lives Matter’, the last of which was crowned by GQ as the undoubted rallying cry of the national marches. 

Moving on to the present, Barkaa’s latest track, like the introduction to our phone call, seems to journey into yet another layer of the artist. This time one of tongue-and-cheek and humour-filled pettiness. It’s a change to the dark-natured tones of her first few releases yet a direction Baarka had been thinking about taking for a while. Titled ‘King Brown’, the track doubles as a diss to a past ex as well as an uplifting anthem for women around.

With a special place in ACCLAIM’s heart having won ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the 2020 Acclaim All-Stars, 8 months later we’ve caught up with the upcoming rapper to discuss what’s been happening since, what she’s learnt on her journey and her exciting upcoming EP Blak Matriarchy.

The last time I talked to you was about 8 months ago for The 2020 Acclaim All-Stars which you won Rookie of the Year for. What’s been happening since then?
I’ve just been flat out. Things have been really moving fast. It’s been quite surreal. It was really exciting to win Rookie of the year. When I found out, you might have seen the reaction video, but I was crying. It was really mind-blowing. I didn’t expect it, I was really honoured to be able to win that and then went on to take FBi radio award for Next Big Thing. It’s just been surreal. I can’t believe it’s all happening. Life right now, it’s really refreshing. I’ve had a few days when I’m like ‘I can’t do this’, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, so I mean, yeah I’ve got a really good management team behind me, and got a really dope booking agent, and the label’s just mad. I think I’m in a good place.

Yeah, you’re killing it!

So you’ve just released ‘King Brown’. It feels a lot different to your previous songs, I think there’s a bit of a Spanish flamenco element to it, which is different to the dark, new-york style beats of your first few songs. But I remember you saying last time that you wanted to release a few songs that were more upbeat and tongue-in-cheek. Has this single fulfilled that for you?
Yeah, yeah it has. Working with jaytee (jayteehazard) has really opened my mind to what I can be, and what I can succeed in my music range, with versatility and stuff. ‘Groovy’ was really cheeky and then ‘King Brown’ is really petty and cheeky, so it fulfilled my little petty spot but I’m looking forward to going back to my dark side.

What did you want to explore in the song, and what does the King Brown snake represent to you?
Well, King Browns and serpents are really prominent in our culture. Like the Rainbow Serpent, is what we call in Barkindji country language, Ngatji. And Ngatji is the creator of everything. So it was kind of like if you’re gonna call me these things you can call me King Brown. I want to be venomous, I don’t want to be stuffed with, like don’t touch me, don’t cross me, I’m ready to attack. Snake’s not an insult, but rather the creator of everything. I guess as a First Nations woman, it’s kind of like, I’ll be a snake.

Did you find there was a change in the writing process between this song ‘King Brown’ and your previous songs like ‘For my Tittas’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe’?
Yeah, I didn’t cry during the writing process. I smiled a lot. I laughed a lot. I kind of just wrote it as a throwaway to be silly. I didn’t expect it to really come out,  it just was kind of one of those ones where I write raps where I’ll just have fun with it. And then jaytee loved it. So yeah the writing process was a lot different to ‘For My Tittas’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and ‘22clan’, cause it wasn’t as heavy on my heart. It was from my heart but it was just something that was really fun to get in there and be cheeky.

This song’s like an act of revenge on an ex.
I mean yeah, yeah (laughs). I guess because it was a horrible relationship where I had things stolen. I think it was the nicest thing I could do, I didn’t say his name so he didn’t get that much clout. But yeah it was revenge, I mean I’m entitled to that, I think (laughs). This is my closure, in a way. And I feel like I can finally live a little, I can finally let go of that trauma that relationship caused me, and yeah I can live now, I can have fun, I can just breathe and feel like you’ve done me dirty and I get the last laugh. Yeah, it’s petty (laughs), the more I say it it’s like “wow sis”.

I love how you can take a subject like that and make it so filled with humour, and upbeat.
Thank you, no I think that’s with trauma. If you don’t laugh at things, if you don’t have a laugh or make fun, or make light of situations, it’ll just eat you up inside. I mean, I don’t know if it’s the healthiest tool ‘cause sometimes when it comes to being serious I just like to crack jokes, but it’s working for me and it’s healing, and yeah it would eat me up inside if I was to be upset about it. And I don’t need to be upset about it, I don’t need to be ashamed of going through it. And as long as one day you leave and you rise up and you regain your power then that’s all you can ask for.

Definitely. I feel like a lot of people will be able to relate.
Yeah, I feel like a lot of sister-girls out there. I mean it’s Winter now so we’re all loved up at the moment cause it’s cold (laughs). But once Summer comes it’s like see ya. We’ve all had shitty exes.

One line that I love in the song is ‘there’s levels to this rap shit and sis went and created one’. I feel like there’s a message throughout all of your music where you refuse to be palatable just to fit in or sell records. In an industry that usually puts artists in boxes for those purposes, have you encountered any barriers to the types of music you make, or has the reception been mostly positive?
It’s been really positive. I mean there are some bits that I feel have been quite tokenistic, I don’t want to be put in this box where I’m just a good First Nations rapper. Even though I rap about First Nations issues, I want to be seen as on top of my game in general, in the league of rap and hip hop. But the reception has been really great, the love and support from you guys, and Universal, and from Triple J, and ABC, has been huge and I do love being called a First Nations female rapper but I just want to come in and be like, “I’m not to be messed with, not just as a First Nations rapper in the “so-called” Australian music industry but in general”. But all the love and support has been surreal. Like Chloe – me- is like “this is so exciting, what the hell is happening”, Barkaa’s like “Yeah, fuck yeah”.

You’ve been moving up in the industry for just over a year now, ‘For My Titta’s’ was released around a year and a half ago. What are some important lessons you’ve learnt since that release, and also since you’ve been getting bigger and bigger in the industry?
To have tough skin, you’re gonna have people that are gonna come for you. Just have the courage to be loved, I think as well because it’s like I don’t feel like I deserve certain things. Also, have the courage to be disliked. Have the courage to ruffle a few feathers. Just to have thick skin has been a big lesson for me because it’s like, at first I wanted to argue with every single racist but it’s now like they’re broken records. What is me going and commenting or replying back to you gonna do for me, it’s not gonna put food on my plate or put a roof over my kids’ heads. I‘m out here doing what I got to do to be unapologetically me and stay real and stay true to myself and just speak my mind. I think the industry has taught me to just keep your head up, and I’ve had a really great team behind me and I’m pretty staunch within myself. So I feel like it’s been really quite nice coming into the industry.

I definitely feel like there’s a movement where bla(c)k and First Nations artists are coming into the industry and actually saying what they want to say without worrying about being palatable, and that big record companies are actually backing that.
Yeah, but for us to be where we are now we had mob like Uncle Archie Roach, and Fred Leone, we’ve just had a whole bunch of elders that have really paved the way for us to be where we are today and for us to speak our truth, and I don’t think this would have been done without the generations before us, they made this path before us so we could stand on their shoulders. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and without them, we wouldn’t be able to be speaking our truth and being able to be saying what we want to say. So it’s just a full circle moment I think for First Nations people, in this industry. The feedback from Fred Leone, he was like “you fullas are doing us really proud. You’re making us really proud in the ways you just speak your truth and you aren’t scared anymore”. And I think we’ve had them protect us for us to be able to come in and do what we do and speak our truth.

Who to you were some of those artists that paved the way?
Uncle Archie Roach, Yothu Yindi, Tiddas, No Fixed Address, Coloured Stone. Yeah, even Midnight Oil ‘Beds Are Burning’, and Paul Kelly. Yeah, a lot of them mob have paved the way for us to be where we are. Briggs. I mean Briggs pretty much paved the way for us as First Nations rappers, once A.B. Original came out it was like “wow, we can say whatever the fuck we want” or “we can seek our truth”. So big movement, big changemaker. Emma Donovan, ‘Black Woman’ is a beautiful song. Yeah, a lot of mob off the top of my head and off the top of mums (laughs).

What’s been one of the best experiences you’ve had in the past year?
Performing with my daughter at the Opera House. Seeing her on stage, that was staunch. And having Riley up there, my niece as well. Just having the babies up there, the next generation, seeing how staunch and strong they’re gonna be, It was just a really proud moment, it gives me goosebumps and makes me tear up.

Is your daughter interested in rapping as well, is she going to follow in your footsteps?
She loves singing but she wants to be a scientist. I’m so for that, just changing the world. She loves science, and she loves writing and she loves animating, she draws a lot on her tablet, and my Instagram photo is what she draws me and she’s really dope at all that stuff, so I’d love to see where she goes artistically. She’s just got that creative bug in her, which seems to be hereditary in our woman and our boys too, but she’s really picked it up. 

One more question and then I’ll let you go, but I know that ‘King Brown’ is the first taste from your upcoming EP, what can we expect from that release and also you in the future?
This release I guess is the most upbeat track on it but Blak Matriarchy is going to be the EP, that‘s the title of it and it’s just highlighting lived experience as a black woman, paying homage to the matriarchy, paying homage to the woman that raised me, the woman in my life, the leaders of today. I’ve put my whole heart into this EP, I poured a lot of long nights, a lot of crying, a lot of anger, a lot of happiness, a  lot of love, I just put everything. Well not everything that I have cause I’m still writing and preparing to write my next EP, but I’ve put a lot of my soul into this EP, so I can’t wait for everyone to receive it and upset a few racists! 

Well I can’t wait to hear it. It’ll be like a bomb being dropped.
On parliament house (laughs) No, I’m joking — I’m not joking. I can’t wait for you all to hear it. I’ve read it out to my family and played it to a few friends, and just the emotional rollercoaster they go on through it, so it’s gonna be close to my heart and I can’t wait to share something so personal with everybody.

Follow Barkaa here for more.

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