An artist, activist and academic, Wiradjuri and Gadigal woman Akala Newman is a triple threat with a love for storytelling.

Newman is based on Dharug Country with family ties to Wiradjuri Country in central-west New South Wales and on Gadigal Country in Sydney.

An established singer-songwriter, she is also assistant producer with Moogahlin Performing Arts, an artist educator at the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MCA), an intimacy co-ordinator at Key Intimate Scenes Australia and a research assistant at the University of NSW.

“Everything in my life has led to me being here,” Newman told NIT.

In 2019, Newman graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in Performance and Art Theory and in 2020, she received first class honours for her thesis on Indigenous Performance, Identity and Healing.

“Performance is enriching, empowering. It’s a way to navigate identity,” she said.

“People need to understand that we perform not because we want to, it is part of who we are. It’s in our DNA.”

Newman is a graduate of Newtown Performing Arts High School, somewhere she says solidified her path to the arts.

“I did dance, drama, art and music there — everyone is so creative, and I was surrounded by so much talent,” she said.

“It really encourages you to think about who you are as an artist; everybody is so confidently themselves.”

Newtown High also gave her the opportunity to connect with community.

“I’d be at school and people would do Acknowledgements of Country in language, they would sing in language.”

Newman was also selected for the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company, a program facilitated by the NSW Department of Education and Bangarra Dance Company.

“At such a young age, I was able to sing those songs and perform those songs from my Ancestors on Country. It was such a moment in my life that really changed me.”

Akala Newman performing at Yarning Country. Photo supplied.

Newman kept dancing, performing in the Gawura Dance Company who took out second at the 2020 Dance Rites competition.

She is drawn most to creating music.

“We’re wrestling with all these things and living between two worlds. How difficult it must have been for our Old People to navigate those two worlds … music is a space for me to do that,” she said.

“Storytelling has allowed me to connect to culture and community. It has enabled to me to strengthen my sense of self and identity.”

After releasing her successful single Burnt for You in 2020, Newman came back stronger and released Spell On Me on July 11, collaborating with BLAXC, Bundjalung man Kyle Shilling.

Spell on Me, it’s just fun. I wrote it in a time where everything was crazy … Now we’re in lockdown it seems like the perfect moment to bring it out and to have Kyle Shilling (BLAXC) Bundjalung man, feature on it was a no brainer for me,” she said.

“Everything that I am writing now is really strong and grounded in who I am … I wouldn’t be able to say that without the support of my family and community.”

With 2021 already past the half-way mark, Newman said she’s dedicating the rest of the year to “writing about who we are, inspiring others to do the same and share their stories”.

By Rachael Knowles