FUSING east and west, jazz and classical, the inclusion of WA bass player Kate Pass’s Kohesia Ensemble in the National Folk Festival line-up is a clear signal of directions for the future in an increasingly diverse Australia.
And not just that, as festival director Pam Merrigan points out, she comes from one of the two focus states/territories for 2019 – the other is the ACT.
The Easter festival has an estimated attendance of up to 55,000 people with 21 international performers from 14 countries, 40 Canberra and 11 acts from WA and 13 artists for the popular KidzFest.
Pass leads the eight-piece Kate Pass Kohesia Ensemble and, talking by phone from Perth, explains how she first came to know Persian music, now the mainstay of her band.
Six years ago while studying jazz at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, she found herself playing in a band that featured Tehran-born singer Tara Tiba, who had migrated to Perth in 2012.
“I really fell in love with the sound and the expressive nature of the music,” Pass says.
“The modes are different to Western scales and sounds, but the good thing about jazz is you can go between styles of music, there are different things, different genres I quite enjoy that.
“We fit into the jazz festival scene, the world music scene and the folk music scene, so there are three prongs.
“Here in Perth there are not many venues that cater to an eight-piece band so festivals have become our chief focus, the more festivals the better, I say.”
She says that there is no doubt the double bass works with Persian music.
“As an ensemble we worked on getting the right sounds and the right modes to fit in with the Persian music, where there are a lot of microtones in the instrumentation,” she says.
“Traditional Persian musicians are very happy playing those microtones and so it’s an interesting compositional challenge to try and solve those problems.”
“I really like playing the festival stages. We’re used to being nice and cosy on stage, but it will be great to play to a big audience – you can feel the energy from the audience and its life.”
A VERY different tradition of music informs Taiwan-born Canberra vocalist Kim Yang.
An aspiring songwriter, she’s performed cover songs at markets, pubs, cafes and weddings, but increasingly she is incorporating Taiwanese elements into her own Australian-made songs.
“I came here from Taipei with my Australian husband in 2012,” she says.
“At that time I wasn’t a professional musician; I used to sing on YouTube and jam around when I was a student, but when I moved to Australia I wanted to do something with my life so I started to write songs.”
Invited to play at events mostly doing cover songs, Yang felt she needed to write about her own life story through original songs.
“I never really shared some of my experiences to people, so I thought I could write a song to put down my idea,” she says.
One song, called “Missed Chance”, is in praise of a kind woman, a cancer sufferer, who wrote an encouraging email after she’d been on a talent show on Taiwanese TV, but whom she never met.
“Homesickness is another important feature in my songs so I’ve written a funny one called ‘Merry Christmas, Mama’ where I sing: ‘Look mum, I miss you, I didn’t call you enough but I still miss you’.”
Yang enjoys living amid two different cultures in her Australian family, helped by the fact that her husband speaks Chinese and she works at the ANU in a research centre, but tries to go back once a year.
She is adamant that she is not a pop singer, saying: “I still have my standards”.
However, she admits to having been inspired by Canadian singer Sarah Ann McLachlan,
Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor and Joan Baez, and after attending a music course at CIT where she studied jazz and blues standards, she is branching out.
But home thoughts beckon, and one famous Taiwanese song she loves doing is “The Spring Breeze”, written during Japanese colonisation in the 1930s, but it has a sad note.
“Taiwanese people just don’t have identity, we’ve been colonised by the Europeans, colonised by Japan, colonised by Chinese, so who are we?” she asks.
Yang is looking forward to the folk festival, where she will promote her debut EP.
National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park in Canberra, April 18-22, bookings and all program details to folkfestival.org.au