As a kid, Zaachariaha Fielding would wander around Mimili, a small Aboriginal community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia, whistling and humming.
Nowadays he plays on a bigger stage as one half of Electric Fields, an electronic duo whose star has been on the rise since bursting onto the music scene a year ago with its unique blend of Anangu language, modern electronica and soul.
Later this month audiences at one of Australia’s biggest celebrations of First Nations culture, the Homeground Festival at the Sydney Opera House, will get the chance to see why Electric Fields — vocalist Fielding and producer Michael Ross — is now in big demand.
More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the free festival over the November 25-26 weekend where the music line up will include Yothu Yindi, Kahl Wallis and Mau Power. There will also be art markets, workshops, a film festival and the annual dance-off, ‘Dance Rites’.
Fielding says he’s never stopped to think too much about how his musical journey has happened, but he acknowledges it’s been quite a trip so far.
“I always hummed a lot and sang and whistled, but I didn’t think I was going to be a ‘singer’ singer,” he says.
“I’m more of an emotional energy that can sing and I want to give what I have, or a way of being to people, but also take from people who will help me and benefit me through music or sound or energy.
“I was that kind of kid. I was a loner, but it was fun because my imagination saved me – just creating a hum soundtrack for my life to get by.”
The eldest of nine siblings and a self-described “feminine brother”, Fielding says Jessica Mauboy was an early inspiration.
He says there was also a lot of Christian and reggae-type music in his community.
His own music with Electric Fields, and his distinctive androgynous voice, has been intriguingly described as a blend of “Daft Punk meets Nina Simone in the Deep Forest”.
Fielding says his family has always been supportive.
“My mother and father were very supportive and still are,” he says. “I come from a very female-dominating family, so I have this strong woman matriarchy upbringing.
“They were always protective. It is nice to have that.”
Fielding was 18 years old and had only just moved from tiny Mimili, 645km south of Alice Springs, when he auditioned for Network Ten’s The X Factor in 2011.
His rendition of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin Bout a Revolution’ didn’t get him over the line, but three years later he tried again on The Voice and made the finals.
“I still don’t believe how I did it,” Fielding says. “I don’t even know what made me go through it. I wasn’t emotionally attached with my body. I just knew deep down inside that I wanted to do it and I did it.
“Then I look back at it and I’m like ‘What did you do and why did you do it?’
“It was a feeling of being free. That I can do this and I’m going to do it, but without any thought.”
The music studies he’d started at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music at the Adelaide University fell by the wayside as Fielding turned his energy to performing.
“I ended up failing,” he says. “When I was at the university, that’s when I did the two shows and I kept getting off track by doing these reality shows and it led me to fail university.”
Fielding has also learned more about publicity.
During his time on The Voice, there was a much-publicised incident in which he was accused of snubbing pop princess Kylie Minogue by refusing to give her a hug on stage.
Fielding says he got death threats over the incident, which he says didn’t happen.
“That whole experience killed me, or almost,” he says. “There were death threats. All her fans really attacked me in an ugly way.
“I remember hugging Kylie Minogue. The snub was not real. I think it was edited in a smart way.
“I don’t know if it was a rating call or whatever. It looked like I did snub her, but I love Kylie Minogue.”
Fielding and Ross, who also appeared on X Factor in 2013, joined forces last year and haven’t looked back.
There have been performances in Scotland and China and around Australia. They also released their first album, INMA, in mid-2016.
Their songs often feature the traditional languages of the APY lands people alongside English lyrics.
Fielding says it happens organically.
“We didn’t do this on purpose,” he says. “It was an accident. A good accident, by the way.
“We were in the studio. I started chanting and singing Anangu language and it just fit.
“So slowly it’s grown. It just happened to work. Ever since, we just went on the ride of it all and being respectful to it being an ancient language and keeping it modern at the same time.”
- Electric Fields will perform on the forecourt at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday November 25 at 9.30pm. The one-hour concert is free. For the full Homeground program visit: https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/homeground.