Photo credit: Caroline McCredie
Queensland songwriter and lead singer of the hit indie band The Medics, Kahl Wallis, was the 2015 recipient of the Dreaming Award.
The Dreaming Award provides $20,000 to a young artist aged 18-26 to create a major body of work through mentoring or partnerships. Kahl, aged 25, was the first musician to win the annual Dreaming Award since it began in 2012.
Kahl’s project, working with family members in Cairns, is the recording of his first full-length solo album, infused with his traditional language, songs and stories, and make an accompanying documentary about this journey into his Indigenous heritage.
His Uncle Jimmy Wallis, cultural contributor to this project, is the last of Kahl’s family to speak their Wuthathi language. His Uncle, Bunna Lawrie, is another of Kahl’s cultural and musical mentors: he was the original frontman and songwriter for the band Coloured Stone. Kahl says Bunna’s mentorship provides the project with cultural integrity and diversity, vast experience in the recording and production process and expertise in additional instruments, song and language.
Bunna’s two sons, Kahl’s cousins are also involved in his project. Filmmaker Arruna Lawrie will contribute while Jhindu Lawrie, a fellow musician with Kahl in The Medics, will provide drums, percussion and backup vocals.
‘My uncle Jim Wallis introduced me to Wuthathi country and shared stories and culture and my uncle Bunna Lawrie has always been a huge spiritual mentor and music educator in my career,’ says Kahl. ‘My father Warwick and mother Gillian raised me in a home always filled with music like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Michael Jackson, just to name a few.’
‘My Wuthathi mob come from the white sands of Shelburne Bay, Cape York, while I live over 2,000 kms away in Brisbane, disconnected geographically but intrinsically linked through culture, song and bloodlines.’
‘As a young Aboriginal man living in an urban city, music has been the way in which I stay connected to my heritage and share my heritage with others.’
In April this year a hearing in Cairns acknowledged that some 1,200 kilometres in and around Shelburne Bay, one of Cape York’s most breathtaking dune landscapes, was the land of the Wuthathii people. Kahl’s people were removed from the land in the 1930s and have been fighting for possession of their homeland for nearly four decades.
Kahl Wallis, cousin Jhindu and friends Andrew Thomson and Charles Thomas have had a spectacular rise with The Medics, since their first release, This Boat We call Love, five years ago. Other singles followed – Beggars, Joseph, Griffin and Slowburn, all scoring frequent plays on the national broadcaster Triple J, which originally “Unearthed” the band.
The Medics won their first Deadly Award in 2010 but their stunning debut album Foundation two years later was a turning point. J Mag described the new album as an ‘epic vision realised’, Indie Shuffle called it ‘a truly brilliant album’, Rolling Stone Australia crowned them ‘Best New Talent’ and the boys won Best Album, Best New Talent and Song of the Year at the 2012 National Indigenous Awards.
The Medics’ considerable fan base on social media helped in January to make a hit out of their rousing protest song, Wake Up for Australia Day. The band is on track to release their second full album next year.
Winning the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award offered Kahl Wallis an exciting solo opportunity.
‘I’m truly honored to receive this award,’ says the young singer. ‘It’s given me the opportunity and freedom to explore music on a deep, cultural level. The guidance from family and mentors has helped shape the music I’m now able to record. The body of music I’ve been writing as a solo artist can now be fully realised, supported and nurtured to its potential.’
Kahl is committed to recording his album and most of the documentary in Cairns. It’s home to many of his family members and also to sound engineer and frequent collaborator Mark Myers and his recording studio Big Sister Studios.
‘I believe the cultural and environmental integrity of the project will be greatly enhanced if created in the right space and Cairns is a quiet, yet energetically potent, tropical location much closer to my family’s native land than any other major city.’
‘Recording this project in Cairns will also help promote the continual development of music in regional parts of Australia.’
While Kahl credits many mentors in his life, the songwriter and self-described environmental activist is himself a mentor to others. He is looking now for a young Indigenous musician just starting out who would like to join his project. And in remote communities, especially in the Northern Territory, Kahl also works as a music facillitator for the Jimmy Little Foundation.
‘Kahl has travelled to the Arnhem Land communities of Milingimbi, Galiwinku, Gapuwiyak and Ramingining under the Thumbs up! banner to conduct music workshops with school children and perform concerts and he has also recently represented the Foundation at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair,’ says the Foundation’s CEO Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup.
‘He has displayed superb leadership qualities in his work with the school children in Aboriginal communities and in my opinion Kahl has all the qualities needed to inspire younger artists to achieve their potential.’
Kahl Wallis, it seems, is a young man to watch.