Shout Sister Shout: Maria Mitar (IWD 2021)
Approx. 8 minute read
Maria Mitar has a gift for weaving the diverse music threads of Western Sydney together in to a beautiful tapestry of sound, colour, culture, dance and celebration. As a co-founder of the Cultural Arts Collective, along with partner Richard Petkovic, Maria brings communities together to explore and bridge the space between heritage, ethnicity, religion, genre and gender.
It is so apt share part of the Maria’s story here in the Shout Sister Shout series because she does so much to find new pathways and different ways of approaching festivals to support performing women with children, as well as artists from diverse immigrant communities. Read on to discover more about her fantastic work.
Sonia de Freitas: Can you tell me about your journey in music? When did you know that you were going to make music your career?
Maria Mitar: My journey in music started as an avid writer of poetry, and I was always a performer – I enjoyed dancing. Then it occurred to me that if I could learn how to sing I could combine the two worlds (writing and performing, with singing). It was clear in high school that I enjoyed these areas of expression and I knew I couldn’t handle an office job, that I had to somehow honour my creative spirit. I started singing lessons in and continued these after high school. I then enrolled in a Bachelor or Arts at uni but dropped out to join an independent pop/rock band and through various ensembles I discovered my own voice and sound. I would say that I truly blossomed in my thirties, as that is when I understood the type of music I wanted to create and who I was as an artist.
I also studied music production at TAFE so I could learn how to record and write music independently. Then my partner and I set up our indie arts business – The Cultural Arts Collective – to work with artists from Western and Greater Sydney – to help artists organise gigs, write and record music. We are in the process of setting up our own record label.
My biggest inspiration as a musician and the biggest impact on my journey has been meeting and working with artists from diverse cultural backgrounds in my own neighbourhood of Western Sydney. Growing up in a bi-cultural world (my parents were migrants from Croatia) and from working in the community arts sector as a community arts officer and creative producer – I met the most amazing artists from diverse music genres and backgrounds, from refugee, to new and emerging and older migrant communities – this has influenced the artists I want to play with in my band, Blue Mary, and the music Richard and I now make as part of the Cultural Arts Collective. It is amazing to see my own multicultural neighbourhood reflected on the stages and programs in the events we organise, and online via our music releases. I always felt on the outside growing up, but the arts has provided a space to create visibility of diversity.
SdF: Who is your sounding board? There must be someone that you trust to give you brutally honest feedback on your music. How do they fit into the process?
MM: My song writing partner and producer – Richard Petkovic. We co-founded the Cultural Arts Collective and met in a rock band in the 90’s and have been best friends, life and song writing partners ever since. We challenge each other with our brutal honesty regularly – which can be overwhelming at times but is necessary in all areas of song writing, music production and projects. We have both evolved as songwriters and producers throughout the years together, and are both deeply committed to profiling and celebrating diversity, and empowering minority voices in contemporary Australian music.
SdF: Have you experienced particular challenges as a female musician? How did you overcome these challenges and what do you think needs to change for others to avoid these challenges in the future?
MM: I found it extremely difficult to navigate the music business after having children for various reasons. It was difficult and expensive to find carers for my children during rehearsals and gigs, which were primarily during the evening and the venues weren’t always kid friendly. Now that the kids are older, it is more manageable. The impact it had on me was to stop performing consistently and I didn’t develop much new material for years. I pivoted to trying to work with other artists or support Richard in managing other projects, without the pressure to gig and tour on myself when the kids were young.
In terms of supporting women in the future to avoid these challenges, I set up the Women’s Music Festival at Bankstown Arts Centre to support independent women in music, with the aim of it being a family friendly series of concerts which highlighted grass roots female artists that audiences may not be aware of. The music is performed outdoors in the courtyard where children can run and play, and the event hours are set for an early afternoon/evening program to better suit families with children. It has been beautiful for children to see a diverse range of wonderful artists and to be comfortable at a gig – without having to be quiet or sit in a seat for hours. We have a kids arts and craft corner for them to explore their creativity while listening to music, facilitated by the fabulous Julie Overton – who works environmental themes in the arts and crafts she facilitates.
SdF: So, what’s on the horizon for you? Any projects you’re working on or new releases to share?
MM: We are launching a new live music venue which will feature original live music every second night by diverse artists at Pratten Park Bowling Club. The line up will represent women music nights, First Nations artists, refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse artists across diverse music genres.
We are working in partnership with Metro Assist- to support their catering social enterprise initiative which is run by the local refugee community who will serve small bites for dinner. And the local bowling club volunteers will be running the bar, with the aim of raising money for the club. We received funding from Live Music Australia to present concerts every second Saturday for the year.
I will be performing in the second half of the year at the venue, with my band, Blue Mary. I will also be releasing 2 new singles and video clips – very exciting times. I currently have my single I AM up on Spotify and I will also be uploading my completed EP on Spotify in the second half of the year so watch this space!
SdF: What is your most memorable performance and why?
MM: I thoroughly enjoyed the Blue Mary acoustic performance at the Sydney Sacred Music Festival’s women’s gathering event held in the Ashfield Town Hall in 2019 where we launched the single – I AM. We performed with the local seniors choir on this song, under the music direction of the amazing Linda Marr – it brought tears to my eyes to hear a chorus of enthusiastic community members sing the lyrics to my song so beautifully. And to hear the choir members personal feedback about how much they enjoyed the song and how much they loved the video clip (it features diverse female dancers who hold up inspiring quotes), was really mind blowing. To know the impact your music can have on people is affirming as my intention is to heal and inspire through music. It also reinforces the principles of collaboration and community which guide me in my music practice, and a deep sense of inclusivity and connection – no matter what age, what background or what style of music you are into, music brings people together and we all have a place in it. Take a look at the ABC Compass program where I was interviewed about the Sacred Music Festival.
SdF: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or departed, who would it be and why?
MM: There are so many but I will go with Jeff Buckley for now – his voice is totally captivating and he is an amazing songwriter and musician, and his short lived life and death was devastating. He knows how to work with bands to produce deep ranging dynamics with layers of subtlety to more powerful and energetic movements. He was also a master of melodies and harmonies. I imagine that he would be totally open to a jam with the world music artists we have discovered through the Cultural Arts Collective and western indie rock artists, as he loved listening to and playing Nasrat Ali Khan and a broad range of diverse music genres – so the possibilities are endless, we would produce some amazing music together. Both Richard and I would listen to his music in our twenties at band parties, we absolutely fell in love with his album GRACE, and would mime to his lyrics and were huge fans of the eloquence and soulfulness he exuded through his blues rock music.
SdF: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians out there?
MM: Never give up on your sound, your message. Continue to be authentic to yourself and collaborate with others who resonate with your music visions and principles.
To learn more about Maria Mitar visit: bluemarymusic.com
To buy Maria Mitar’s music visit: bluemary.bandcamp.com
For more information on International Women’s Day visit: internationalwomensday.com
Keep an eye out for my next interview in the Shout Sister Shout series where I interview Athésia.
Did you miss the previous Shout Sister Shout instalment? Read Miriam Lieberman’s interview here.