Category Archives: Interview

Mahalia Barnes – Live at Bar36

Revered as one of Australia’s premier female vocalist, soulful songstress Mahalia Barnes returns to Cairns to perform over two nights at Bar36 in the Reef Hotel Casino on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th June. With support by her uncle John Swan (aka Swanee), Mahalia will also be performing with an all-star band including her husband Ben Rodgers and world renowned blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher for both free entry shows.

Having being born into a legendary musical family, Mahalia has forged a career of her own performing support for acts such as Lionel Ritchie, The Roots and James Morrison as well as regularly touring the world as a backing singer and session musician for Joe Bonamassa, Jade McCrae and her father Jimmy Barnes to name a few.

Speaking to Mahalia recently, I asked her about her musical upbringing.

“I guess it is a bit different to most people’s upbringings. I feel that I have been very lucky to be surrounded by music and being able to travel. Dad and Mum have both always been so supportive and encouraging of us to do whatever it is we want to do” said Mahalia.

The Sydney based singers most recent release ’Ooh Yea! – The Betty Davis Songbook’ was recorded with her band ‘The Soul Mates’ and legendary blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa, who she has been working with for the past few years.

“He’s amazing and I’ve actually been working with him ever since. He’s worked a bit with Dad and his producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Journey, Silverchair, Mr Big) we actually know quite well. I was actually hanging out in the studio while Joe was recording a track (for Jimmy Barnes) and I showed them a song by Betty Davis. Who is one of my favourite artists but they were not familiar with her work at all. Which I think a lot of people aren’t, everyone knows the song ‘Betty Davis Eyes’ (by Kim Carnes ) but it’s not Betty Davis at all (laughter).”

“A few weeks later I got a call from Kevin saying that he and Joe wanted to record a Betty Davis tribute album and they wanted me to sing it. Joe had about a week and half break between tours so he flew out to Australia, and we recorded with my band over 4 days. It happened really quickly and was a really amazing opportunity and experience for us.”

Having appeared on The Voice in 2012, I was interested to hear Mahalia’s opinion on reality TV singing contests and how they affect the Australian music industry.

“The industry is tough and it’s very hard to get your foot in the door. I can say that I’ve been very lucky to have some exposure because of the family I come from, but at the same time I can say I’ve had an equal amount of doors closed because of that. The Australian music industry unfortunately looks overseas a lot for new artists and inspirations, overlooking a lot of really amazing home grown talent. A lot of it goes unnoticed because the American and European artists have such a big influence, it is very hard to compete with as an Australian artist. So I don’t thinks it so surprising there are so many TV reality singing shows, because it is tough to get a break in the industry.”

“The reality is there are pre conceptions and stigmas with these shows, but you do get the opportunity to get out there and sing in front of a big audience. If you know who you are, and you are able to be yourself in that context, you get the opportunity to get out there and make a connection through singing. I understand wanting to give that a try and The Voice was for me when I gave it a go. Personally it was very different to anything I’ve ever done and not the most comfortable feeling being in TV world. But I had an amazingly overwhelming positive response from the audience and got a lot of support which was really great”.

With a new release scheduled to begin recording in late June, Mahalia’s band will also feature world renowned blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher for both Bar36 shows, before the group hit the studio in the Sydney in the following weeks.

MAHALIA BARNES performs at BAR36 at Reef Hotel Casino on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th June. Support from Swanee (aka John Swan). 8.30pm till late. Both shows are Free Entry.

Mitch Sullivan

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