Livewire rapper to celebrate Aboriginal survival

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Dizzy Doolan flew in for Yabun early to mentor kids.

Yabun Festival
Featuring Dizzy Doolan
Saturday January 26, Sydney

When rapper Dizzy Doolan is asked whether her song "Women's Business" is inspired by the Aboriginal concept of secret women's business, she replies simply: "I was inspired to write 'Women's Business' purely because I was sick of seeing men disrespect women. I wanted to inspire women to be strong and to have a voice and be heard."

Men better take note, because the song lashes out like a swift kick to the cojones.

No matter what, I stay true to my words,
It's about time, us women get heard,
Sick of being treated like dirt, sick of being hurt
Put down your purse and make your body burst

Tiddle-tat tiddle-tat to my tidda girl
Mother Earth, it's a woman's world
Ya better bounce and show the tiddas respect
Ya better shout, let the rhythm take effect

I stand proud for my people I represent
I'm rappin' loud for all of my female friends
I'm bustin' out to all you hard-head men
Talkin' about women's business again

Strictly for my all my sistas
Strictly women's business
Strictly for all my tiddas
Strictly women's business

Growing up, Charmaine Doolan-Armstrong saw her mother suffer from abuse. It was partly what inspired her, later in life, to act in Danny Teece-Johnson’s powerful short film, "Mah".

"The concept of the movie is about domestic violence," she says. "It was the first time I'd done an acting role and I enjoyed it very much. It was also an emotional experience, having seen my mother suffer from domestic violence, as a child, by her ex-boyfriends, when my parents separated. I could relate to the story in a lot of ways. This is common in society and the message in this film is to be free from domestic violence and keep your family safe."

But it is her father who has been the musical influence in her life. "I was born in Townsville and grew up in both Townsville and Cairns," she says. "My mob are the Tjaka Laka, Wakka Wakka and Euroman people. My father is Shann Doolan, a musician and a former boxer, and my mother is Kerry Armstrong, who was an outstanding swimmer back in her day.

“My father's side of the family were all music oriented. I was influenced by a young age by my father and aunties and uncles and I fell in love with music. My Aunty Syvana Doolan is known as a grassroots Murri woman and pioneer of Indigenous contemporary music - she taught me a lot about singing. I would sing and rap to my close mates at lunchtime. I wrote my first song with my father when I was eight years old."

Dizzy will be getting her father up on stage with her this Saturday when she plays Sydney's Yabun Festival, an event that turns Australia Day into a celebration of Aboriginal people's survival of genocide.

Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. ACT Australian of The Year finalist Tom Calma wants a national debate on whether it should be moved to a more neutral date. This year's events are expected to attract 6 million people. But Yabun, meaning "music with a beat" is one of only a handful of happenings across the country that seek to offer an alternative take on the celebrations.

In Canberra, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will host an Invasion Day discussion at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The Darwin Aboriginal Rights Coalition has organised a Survival Day film screening at Fanny Bay. Protests hosted by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre will march to the lawns of Parliament House in Hobart. The annual Saltwater Freshwater festival will be held in Taree this year. In Perth, there will be a ceremony at the Nyoongar Tent Embassy and a Survival Day concert.

"I'm looking forward to Yabun," says Dizzy. "I performed there once before back in 2007. This festival means a great deal to me and I'm honoured to be a part of it once again. It's a day to remember our ancestors' courage and a day to celebrate our culture's survival. At this year's Yabun I will be performing with my dancers, Medika Thorpe and Jax Cornforth, along with two special guests - Amanda Manton and my father Shann Doolan. I'm very excited."

In her recent collaboration with Amanda Manton, the acoustic "Shadows", Dizzy's raw talent jumps from the speakers in her heart-crushing harmonies and the way her rap effortlessly leaps musical genres.

I'm walking down the dark road, surrounded by death
I close my eyes and I take a real deep breath
I've got a real strong, sharp pain in my chest
And I'm feeling real scared for what's coming next
See I don't know how long I've got left
And I don't know how I got myself into this mess

I've had too many losses and not enough wins
Please Lord forgive me for all of my sins
My wings have been burnt so many times
Been neglected and abused and told so many lies
No words can express the stress that I feel
I train till I feel pain so I can heal
It's been revealed, just follow the arrows
It's time for me to deal with the demons and the shadows

My blood is boiling but my body is frozen
My face is bleeding and my eyes keep closing
I want to be blessed to see the next tomorrow
Please bring me out of my dark, dark shadow

"'Shadows' is the most recent collaboration I have done," says Dizzy. "It's a beautiful acoustic song. Amanda came to me with a half-written song, so I put the final touch to it. We both are harmonising with each other and I'm rapping the deep lyrics as well. This song is about dealing with your demons in the shadows.

“Our shadow follows us everywhere we go, so we must protect it from bad energy. It's within the dark shadows we must bring the light. When I refer to demons, that could mean bad memories tormenting you, bad influences, bad energy, your demon could be your greatest fear - whatever is holding you back, let go of it and heal. That's basically what the concept is about."

Having battled her own demons, Dizzy is helping others do the same. She flew into Sydney a few days before Yabun to help with the Young, Black and Deadly hip-hop mentoring programme.

"I absolutely love working with the kids and teens, passing on my knowledge and teaching them the skills - that, I know, is very rewarding," she says. "These kids are our next generation, so I think it's very important that these workshops are available for them 'cause through music and dance we can connect with the young people and give them the opportunity to express themselves. I have done many workshops in remote communities as well and through my journeys I have seen so much amazing talent."

She also works as a mentor with Vibe 3on3 travelling workshops. "Vibe 3on3 is a national Indigenous 3on3 basketball and hip-hop challenge," she says. "It's a travelling festival which goes to many different places all around the country. The event is focused on our youth and getting them to engage in sports and creative activities such as rapping workshops, hip-hop and breakdancing lessons, art workshops, dance comps and a 3on3 basketball round robin.

"Vibe also has a health expo to promote healthy living. I've been working with Vibe over the past five years and it's been a great experience to travel with them. I didn't' have workshops when I was growing up. Kids are lucky these days."

As a teen, Dizzy found conquering her shyness a real challenge, a subject she tackles in one of her strongest songs, "No Shame".

"'No shame' was one of the first songs I wrote when I began getting serious about my career," she says. "In my teenage years I was very shy - at first - to perform in front of a big audience, so I decided to write this song to help me break out of my shell. I started singing about having no shame and eventually I had no shame to get to where I'm at today. Even though it's an old song, it's still one of my personal favourites."

I love to rage, I love to rap on stage
I love to write and put my pen to page
I'm cruizin' to the top on an elevator
Full damn speed on the accelerator

Comin' at ya fast like a terminator
Disappear like a freak, damn, see ya later
Better watch ya back when ya 'bout to speak
Coz Dizzy Doolan 'bout to make everybody freak

I'm gonna teach all you fellas a lesson
I'm gonna make sure that you won't be forgettin'
Dizzy Doolan with a capital D
Coz I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee

Now I'm up on stage rappin' and feeling free
Standing proud like a true black Murri

(Chorus)
Come on people
Don't be afraid
Move your body
Like you've got no shame
Feel the vibration
Runnin' through your veins
Shake shake your body
Like you've got no shame

Boo-chow, give the microphone
Dizzy comin' fast at ya like a cyclone
I've got the music in my blood
And a beat in my bones
I don't need a man
Cos I can make it on my own
Feel the music running through your veins
Move ya body like ya got no shame
I told you my name and I'm gonna say it again
Dizzy Doolan, Char-Char -maine
People keep on telling me that I can be a star
And all I've gotta do is listen to my heart
So come on everybody, you can be a star, too
I know you can do it, I've got faith in you

(Chorus)
Come on people
Don't be afraid
Move your body
Like you've got no shame
Feel the vibration
Runnin' through your veins
Shake shake your body
Like you've got no shame

John Wenitong, the uncle of Naomi and Joel Wenitong from multi-award-winning Aboriginal hip-hop group The Last Kinection, says "shame" is a word that has become synonymous with Indigenous Australians. John, a National Indigenous Education Development Officer, wrote: "Myself and many other articulate and educated indigenous Australians have used the word ‘shame’ in a self-derogatory sense every second sentence since I was a child. I could never understand what my people, who had survived around 50,000 years in one of the harshest environments in the world, the last ‘ice-age’, invasion, loss of country, slavery and attempted genocide, had to be ashamed about.

"It occurs to me that any people who could survive through this should be extremely proud to still exist and even prouder to have emerged as a minority population (albeit alienated) in their own land. We have survived humiliation, being conquered, being enslaved, being perceived as animals and we are still surviving."

Dizzy, who says she always has a blast whenever she gets together with John Wenitong's niece Naomi, puts her own ability to survive and thrive partly down to the fact she has a sting in her tail. On her arm is a tattoo of her intimidating star sign.

"The scorpion tattoo on my arm was designed by my aunty Karen Doolan, so it's very special to me," she says. "My attributes would have to be: I'm a perfectionist; I won't stop or give up till it's done right; at times I can be very critical of myself; I love the water; I am a visionary; I am courageous; it takes a lot to get on my bad side, but if I'm pushed to my limits, I definitely get even. I've also been bold I'm a hard head." She laughs. "But isn't every scorpio?"

On her track "Takin Over" she raps:

It's the D I double crooked and the Y taking over
Still getting dizzy even though I'm straight sober
If you want my attention then do what I told ya
So many freaky things that I gotta show ya
My 25th birthday is after October
8th of November, Scorpio soldier
Lean on me if you really need a shoulder
Cos I'm smarter, wiser, older...

But Dizzy, now 27, is conscious that time is ticking away. She says her track "Time's Running Out", which ends abruptly at 1 minute 20 seconds, is "about life being too short to waste".

"These days it just flies and the next thing you know another year has passed,” she says. “Time is precious and irreversible, so make the most of every day and embrace each special moment you have."

So why has this rapper - who could wipe the floor with a lot of multi-album artists out there - not got an album out yet? Joel Roc-West, who co-wrote "Takin Over" with Dizzy, calls her "an amazing talent" and it seems everyone who works with her is equally starstruck.

“Starstruck, that’s funny,” she says. But when pushed about the album, she laughs. "You can't rush perfection.” The rapper has signed a deal with urban record label TOTW Paper Chase. Asked what she will be releasing, she says only: "I will be releasing a masterpiece, so stay tuned."

More secret women's business, maybe. But this is one woman who shouldn’t be a secret for much longer.

From GLW issue 950