Presented by Puma ROOKIE WINNER

Barkaa
Acclaim Allstars 2020

It was just 5 months ago when go-getter Barkaa charged onto the scene with horns out and nostrils flaring. Her punching, ravenous bars of her debut single ‘For My Titta’s’ zeroed down an unmistakable message of solidarity, one that called for a unification of her sister girls, and for a pride in who you are and where you come from, a sentiment in which Barkaa’s music revolves.

Many found it hard not to listen as Barkaa spat lines like, ‘Black woman in a white man’s world/It’s tough/Being sexualized is all we learnt/That’s enough’ and ‘I’m a proud black sista, don’t ever get it twisted’. It was with this veracity that illuminated a promising path in the months to come. Now, with singles like ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and ‘Our Lives Matter’, the latter of which was pronounced by GQ as the rallying cry of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, Barkaa began attracting the taste buds of heavyweight Australian rap staples like Briggs, joining the roster for his label, Bad Apples Music.

With a talent devoid of shyness in message, Barkaa is set to light up in 2021 with whispers of a debut EP. Before then, however, we caught up with the talented rapper to talk musical inspirations, dream collaborations and repping it for First Nations musicians.

“As long as there’s issues around my people I feel like I’ll forever be talking about those issues.”

So ‘For My Titta’s’ was the first single you released in June, it was obviously released in a really prominent time in 2020, but first I just wanted to ask about your music history, about whether music had always been an outlet for you growing up?
Yeah, music’s always been a big part of my existence, it’s helped me through a lot of rough times in my life. Music’s been a massive outlet for me since I can remember. I’ve been writing songs, not necessarily rapping but I’d make up songs, and I’d sing them, just by myself. Later on, I realized that I don’t have a singing voice. I got told that off a few people, “Just shut up!” [laughs]. Then I started rapping when I was about 14 years old. In high school, I started writing little raps with my friends and then I’d go to in my teens and in my adolescence to Blacktown and have freestyle rap battles, and rap battle people for my sister girls who were very like, “my sister will rip you in a rap battle”, and so I would. But that was a rough time in my life, so the music I was writing wasn’t necessarily good for my soul or empowering at all, it was pretty sad, I guess, and dark.

And when you released ‘For My Titta’s’, was the inspiration around that to put out a song of empowerment for women around you?
Yeah, there’s not a high representation of women in the industry, also First Nations’ women, there’s not many of us, so I wanted to give back to my community, all communities of sister girls and generations of matriarchy of women. I kind of wanted to give a testament to my sister girls, let them know how special they are and how appreciative I am of them. Basically, it’s a song about First Nations women empowerment, and I’m really glad it’s hit other women also, which is really beautiful.

At the start of the video I love how you say “never be ashamed of who you are” as you’re painting your daughters face, it seems like a big message in your music, “don’t be ashamed of who you are”, “stand true to who you are”. Is being unapologetically truthful something important to you?
Yeah, growing up in Aboriginal communities we have this thing called “shame job”, or you know, “that’s shame, don’t do that” or “that’s really shame, I can’t do that”, and I think that’s a boundary that was made through intergenerational trauma. Shame is something that’s been passed down to our mob, cause there’s no word in our language that translates to being ashamed, so I guess that was a big part of me. Also, decolonising and telling my daughters never be ashamed or if people tell you “that’s shame” not to be ashamed, cause it’s holding you back. I think there was a lot of meaning behind me saying that to her and saying it to my fellow aboriginal brothers and sisters, and aunties and uncles, don’t be ashamed cause there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

And since you dropped that single, it seems like the last six months have been pretty busy for you. What’s it been like? Has it been a bit of a whirlwind?
It’s been crazy! I honestly didn’t think it would, even when people ask, “what are your dreams for the future?” I’m kind of like, “Well, I’m living in it, so I don’t really know what my dreams for the future are,” cause it’s like this is more than what I expected. I think it’s been really good, I think Covid’s been a blessing, not for everybody, it’s sad times, even during the pandemic I feel like I’ve had time to sit back and plan things, which has been really nice. The whole experience has been an honour, and I’m really humbled by it. It’s surreal!

“I wanted to give a testament to my sister girls, let them know how special they are and how appreciative I am of them. Basically, it’s a song about First Nations women empowerment, and I’m really glad it’s hit other women also, which is really beautiful.”

You’ve been signed recently to Briggs’ label Bad Apples Music, so congratulations for that, that’s amazing! How did that come about and have you done much music-making with the label yet?
Yeah! We’ve been working behind the scenes and working on a few things that I can’t wait to bring out. It happened when I put out this rap where I was just rapping in my room, it was just throwaway bars, and someone just tagged Briggs, and he commented on it, and he started following me back. He ended up asking me to come be a part of his music video. I was like, “Yeah, for sure!” and then he was like, “Also, are you bringing out an album or what’s the go with future plans?” and I said, “Yeah I want to bring out an album or an EP, I just don’t know how to go about it”, and he’s like, “Would you want to bring it out with Bad Apples Music?” And I cried, but I didn’t tell him that. I was just shocked, and I was like “Yes, for sure!” So It doesn’t feel necessarily like a label as such, I feel like we’re close, like we’re looking out for each other and that’s Briggs, Briggs has just been a massive support for me. I got to pick his brain on music stuff, so he’s been a massive support! It feels like the right fit.

Your song “Our Lives Matter” was described by GQ as a rallying cry for the 2020 BLM Movement. What does hearing something like that make you feel?
I guess it’s just coming from a song that was filled with so much pain. Having one of my Uncles a part of Bla(c)k Deaths in Custody, you know, it was just I guess coming from my heart and also the voices of other mobs. I guess it was triggering writing that song, that song was draining on my soul, it was draining a lot, and I remember writing it and going back and looking up causes of death. I was just upset. I wrote that song last year when police shot Kumanjayi Walker. When I released that song, it was while all the rallies were going on and I felt like my people needed it. I felt like they were saying all the causes of death in custody were from natural causes, so I wanted to put out a song where it’s like, “No, there’s actual brutality that’s happening here, there are injustices that are happening here, there’s racism and discrimination that’s happening here, this is not just from natural causes”, and even then with natural causes well your medical systems aren’t up to par with closing the gap. So when I released that song hearing that from GQ was an honour, but also I guess hearing it from my people, and them saying, “thank you sis” and hearing people say thank you from the Dungay family, and the Walker family, was just payment in itself, or me paying back to my community in myself. It was massive.

Are you thinking about doing any collaborations at all in the future?
Yeah, I really want to collab with a whole bunch of First Nations artists and just do something really dope. I want to do a Bad Apples collaboration, all of us, I reckon that would be dope. There are a few cards on the table there.

Are there any artists locally or internationally that you’re kind of loving at the moment or have been influencing your sound?
I really love Briggs. I love Kobie Dee, he’s bringing out some really dope music that’s always inspiring. JK-47 brings out some dope music. I love Ziggy Ramos. Probably my favourite international artist at the moment would be Sa Roc, she sings the song ‘Forever’. It’s a song that’s been able to wake me up and be confident in who I am, know what I’m doing and I guess it’s got that whole Queen vibe. She’s just a real strong woman, so she’s dope, but my idol is Lauren Hill.

I love all the girls on the scene now, I love how women are being unapologetically themselves lately like with Cardi and Meg [laughs], I think it’s super dope and I love how they stir the pot, it’s like we’re taking back that empowerment. I’m getting inspired by a lot of different music that resonates with me in different ways.

Where are you hoping to take your music in the future?
I’ve been writing some more versatile stuff. I’m trying to show my fun and happy side, you know, muck around tongue-in-cheek sort of stuff, so I kind of want to be more versatile but I also came on the scene to say something, I guess. So my sound right now would be stuff that’s really really embedded into me and affecting me. I mean as long as there’s issues around my people I feel like I’ll forever be talking about those issues. I mean my sound, cause I sat on it for so long, I was like this is me, but the label have even been getting me to play around with some tongue in cheek stuff which feels good too. So yeah, some more fun playful stuff but I probably will always have a political message embedded in there somewhere.

Is there a debut EP or Album on the way?
Yes, maybe… [laughs]

Is it a bit of a secret?
It’s under wraps cause I want to perfect it. I’ve become a bit of a perfectionist. But there’s something definitely coming either at the end of this year or the start of next year, hopefully. It’s so up in the air, I’ve got the perfectionist thing going. I guess I want people to get the best part of it so I want it to hit hard. So some hard-hitting stuff on the way.

So just one last thing, is there a message you’d like to leave your fans with just to end the interview?
Yeah, I guess I’m really humbled and thankful for everybody’s support coming from a young First Nation’s girl growing up in South West Sydney. I didn’t really have much hope and I guess that my main message would be to dream big, success is the best revenge, and keep doing you, don’t worry about those outside noises. Love you cause that’s who you’ve got to spend the rest of your life with, so invest in yourself cause it’s a good investment.

“My main message would be to dream big, success is the best revenge, and keep doing you, don’t worry about those outside noises. Love you cause that’s who you’ve got to spend the rest of your life with, so invest in yourself cause it’s a good investment.”

Follow Barkaa here for more.

Words: Julie Fenwick
Photography: Sly Morikawa