The Indigenous rhythms linking the NT and Milwaukee

When Eleanor Dixon and her father Raymond played a gig to a high-powered audience at the US consulate in Perth last year, their backing band was none other than American alternative rock band Violent Femmes.

It was another chapter in a relationship that blossomed three years ago between the Dixons and the Femmes, effectively linking a small remote community in the Northern Territory with the Femmes’ hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It was really beautiful. They are beautiful people,” Eleanor, 25, says of the Violent Femmes. “They were really open to our music.

“It was funny because it was just me and my dad doing stuff at the time. My brothers wanted to do other things and me and Dad continued to do it on our own.

“We didn’t actually have our (whole) band together, but we had the Violent Femmes back us up, which was pretty amazing.

The Dixons’ full band is called Rayella and its members met Femmes founder and bass guitarist Brian Ritchie at a Bush Bands Business workshop.

This month Rayella, which also includes Eleanor’s brother Tyrone and cousins Ethan and Adrian, will tour Australia as the support band for Violent Femmes.

It will be a chance for the band to showcase some of the songs from its new digital EP – out this week.

The Dixons come from the Marlinja community, which has a population of about 30 people. Their music is filled with stories about life on the Mudburra people’s homeland.

Eleanor says she grew up singing around the campfire to her father’s guitar accompaniment.

In the ’80s and ’90s, Raymond Dixon was a guitarist with the Aboriginal rock band Kulumindini, which released three successful albums and sang in both Mudburra and English — a tradition Rayella has continued.

“We write about country,” Eleanor says. “We write about situations. I write songs about empowering women and songs about situations at home. Me and Dad, we really like to tell stories basically.

“The songs have a beautiful memory of home, or of our family and being at home.

“It’s really beautiful because people get to hear that side of the story of our experiences living out bush, out on homeland.”

On its EP, recorded at remote Tennant Creek, Rayella is accompanied by the Opera Australia Chamber Orchestra. The two groups performed together on Territory Day last year and are working towards a joint Australian tour next year.

Eleanor says it’s important for her to set an example through her music for other women.

“I just want to provide more opportunity for girls that are living out bush,” she says. “Through music, I’m really passionate about standing up and talking about the importance for women of culture and language and how women should be treated and given more opportunities.

“It was hard for me to begin with. I’ve come a long way, but I’m at a point where I can stand up and I can be a rolemodel. It took me a while to take on that role.

“I’m going to continue to do the right thing by every other woman.”

Eleanor says there is a sea of talented singers among Indigenous women, all with stories to tell.

“There are a lots of women, a lot of friends that I have, who are musicians too,” she says.

“Indigenous singers. These women are beautiful singers. They have stories and I feel that is important. People need to hear this. They need to hear our stories. These beautiful women, because all of us speak different languages …

“I think it’s important for women to actually showcase that part of our culture. It’s where everything is. The community relies on every single mother back home.

“People need to know that we are giving life. Every day we are making sure everything is alright, every day.

“Those stories need to be heard. Every single woman has a story. The things we do as Indigenous women, we gather all the time, we talk about life, we talk about experiences, we talk about being mothers, we empower each other by being together.

“We need to showcase that to the rest of Australia.”

By Wendy Caccetta

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