Six years ago I was huddled backstage with a prominent world musician at an iconic Sydney music venue, gripped by a familiar sense of dread. My stomach churned and a thought passed through my mind. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I was about to walk on stage and stand in front of a group of absolute strangers who would sit quietly, between the photographs of musical greats that lined the walls, staring at me while I sang. What a weird thing to do! I thought, I could be at home on my couch, in my pajamas, watching TV – comfortable, inconspicuous, safe. Not for the first time, I chastised myself. Think of all those times you were doing just that, wishing you could be here doing this! A year later, backstage at a concert hall in Northern Ireland, terrified to walk on stage and sing with a world renowned legend, I gave myself a proverbial slap on the face (you cannot miss this opportunity!) and pushed myself out into the spotlight.
The truth is, the thought that terrifies me more than anything, more than performing on TV, or being in the studio with musical giants, or singing live in front of 20,000 people (which I did when I was thirteen – too young to know how nervous I should have been), is the thought of not getting the opportunity to do those things. The truth is, the thought of sitting on the couch every evening, watching TV until I suddenly realize I’m 30 years older is the single most terrifying thought I own.
I don’t write music to make money (but that’d be nice). I don’t write to get famous or to gain power or because one day I want to have my own clothing line or an eponymous perfume. I write because it’s the only way I know to make sense of the bizarre, crazy, tumultuous, traumatic and beautiful events of my life. I write to fight oppression, I write to challenge injustices, I write to offer solace. I write because of that first time I was inspired by someone who was standing up on stage telling the truth. Because it made me realise I am not alone and that if somebody else got through it, then maybe I can too. I write now, to bring that message to others. Again and again, I stand up – tall and determined – and I write it and I sing it and I tell it. And it frees me and it connects and it’s selfless and it’s selfish and it’s healing. I do it with anger, I do it with love, I do it with compassion. And in order to do it in an unforgiving, exploitative industry that feels like it is constantly kicking musicians in the face, I do it to be fearless.
When it comes to performing, I have to be honest. It’s not all for you. When I was eleven I played my flute in the forest, unaware of the fifty or so campers below the ridge until they clapped when I came to the last note of my piece. The feeling I experienced playing music alone in nature, connecting with the part of me that plays purely for the joy, for nurturing the sorrow, for opening my heart to beauty, vulnerability, and possibility – I need that feeling. That raw and honest form of expression is how I’ve survived. Truth be told, and I have no doubt there is many a musician (actor/writer/painter/poet) who shares this truth, there were many times when having a creative expression through which to channel my experience of the world saved my life.
That forest feeling, I bring it on stage with me. I bring it into my meditation practice, I breathe through it in yoga. I push myself to do the things that scare me, because if I get to do them at all I’m lucky. When it comes to the music industry, I focus more on the ocean than the sharks. I focus more on what I’m saying than how I look saying it. When the business kicks me down I get back up. I might even write about it.
Aminah Hughes is an Australian songwriter and musician. Described as “a strong, soulful singer” (All About Jazz), “a powerful musical force” (Robert James) and “the archetype of a strong woman” (AVALON Magazine, USA), she has toured internationally, drawing her audiences into nostalgia and calling them to remember the beauty and rebelliousness of an analogue world. After appearing on a number of acclaimed albums in Australia and Europe, Aminah produced her debut album, Blue Wooden Boat. Recorded in Ireland, USA, Australia and Germany, the album is due for release in 2017. Sign up at www.aminah.com.au to stay informed.