Christine Anu's powerful tribute to Aretha Franklin

Illustrious Australian pop singer Christine Anu talks music and heritage ahead of tribute performance for Aretha Franklin.

Bruna Aguiar
August 12, 2019
Arts & Events

This September, one of Australia’s most acclaimed entertainers, Christine Anu, will be returning to the west coast in a national tour celebrating legendary soul diva Aretha Franklin with her show REWIND - The Aretha Franklin Songbook.

With five ARIAs, gold and platinum albums under her belt, you know you are in for a phenomenally heartfelt performance from Christine as she revisits the Queen of Soul’s most memorable anthems.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Christine to chat about the upcoming show, her passion for Aretha’s music and her own experiences as an Indigenous woman in the music industry.

© Photo: Karen Watson

Would you say that Aretha Franklin has been your biggest influence? When did you first start listening to her music and what was it like for you?

One of them, absolutely. She has an awesome singing ability. I’d grown up listening to her music throughout the 70s during her time at Atlantic Records and I remember loving her perform Think in the Blues Brothers movie. Recently I have really dedicated myself to it more as I was recording her songs from her album and performing them live, and I became thoroughly interested when I could introduce the audience to a larger back catalogue of her songs that I didn’t know existed from her time at Columbia Records. She has been hugely influential, particularly at a time where there was a lot of unrest in terms of civil rights.

The day she passed was a devastating day in music, can you tell us how this affected you personally?

It was about 3:40am and I was in Perth when my daughter texts me from Sydney saying ‘Mum, our Queen has flown away’. It was really hard actually, I had to go get my hair and make up done that morning. I had a bit of a publicity call and decided not to talk to anyone about it or touch upon it at all, then my backing singer calls me and I head to a private corner and as soon as I answer it, she starts bawling her eyes out, so what do I start doing? I start bawling my eyes out. There were these photographers and all these other people waiting to do a photoshoot and I’ve got makeup smeared all over my face. It was pretty awful and also kind of embarrassing.

On another note, what differences have you noted over the years working in the music industry as an Indigenous woman? Do you think conditions have improved for Indigenous musicians or is there still a long way to go?

There’s definitely a long way to go. Until we have a law that says we need to play a certain amount of Australian content on our radio and TV platforms we will never get a go, as women or Indigenous artists. Although having said that, I have to acknowledge the massive amount of Indigenous musicians in and across every genre, how incredible that is. Just look at AB Original being recognised for the artistry that Briggs is performing and doing, and Baker Boy - how amazing is that? The passing of Dr G Yunupingu has brought forward so many performers and talent and it’s crazy. I think we have to recognise just how many Indigenous artists are out there in all genres of music, doing their thing, but we definitely do still have a long way to go.

Do you think that there is something that the government could do on a more local level to encourage Indigenous communities to get into the arts?

Our culture is a very celebrated culture. I think that largely we’re lacking funding for the arts everywhere and particularly in regards to Indigenous art and it’s important to get the whole of Australia involved. Especially if you’re new to this country, so that people who are new to this country from other lands can embrace the Indigenous culture and languages a little bit more as well.

What have been some of the most memorable moments of your career?

It’s all memorable - every opening night, the first time I did my first play, the first musical theatre performance I ever did, the first time I performed to Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the first time I got to be on the same billing as the same Australian artists that I grew up listening to - that was wacky, I was thinking, ‘oh my gosh, look at this, these are my peers now’. Having my children and being able to still be a working mum, and most of all just having sustained this career and livelihood on music, that’s gotta be memorable. 

You can catch Christine Anu’s glitzy and glamorous performance at Freo.Social on Saturday the 7th of September. Tickets from Moshtix.

Bruna Aguiar

Local music, fashion and arts lover on the hunt for all the best gigs, exhibitions and espresso martinis the west coast has to offer.