THE SAP­PHIRES

For her sec­ond film Jes­sica Mauboy ad­mits she had to swim hard, but with Hol­ly­wood call­ing, the singer turned ac­tress is glad she took the plunge, writes Neala John­son

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Jess Mauboy’s time to shine

SIT­TING in the hair and make- up chair on the set of her new mu­sic video Gotcha, Jes­sica Mauboy found her­self gripped by ’ 60s fever. ‘‘ More!’’ she shouted. ‘‘ Tease it more! Higher, higher! Vol­ume!’’ ‘‘ It was funny,’’ she says, look­ing back. ‘‘ I’ve never been a big fan of the whole bee­hive and teas­ing of the hair, the boof, the eye­liner, the flick . . . But be­ing on the film and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the style, it re­ally ed­u­cated me. I fell in love with it.’’

The film to which Mauboy refers is The Sap­phires , the story of an Abo­rig­i­nal singing group sent to en­ter­tain troops dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

Be­fore it’s even been re­leased, the movie has gained in­cred­i­ble buzz pre­mier­ing at Cannes and be­ing picked up for US dis­tri­bu­tion by Os­car- mag­nets The Weinstein Com­pany.

The Sap­phires is only Mauboy’s sec­ond film role but al­ready she’s shown a golden touch.

Her first movie, the mu­si­cal Bran Nue Dae, was the sec­ond- big­gest Aus­tralian- made film of 2010, pulling in $ 7.7 mil­lion.

In The Sap­phires, Mauboy plays ‘‘ a child with a child’’, the most tal­ented of her clan of singing sis­ters, de­ter­mined to make some­thing of her­self and sup­port her baby boy.

Mauboy knows ex­actly how she’s come to be where she is, mu­si­cally from her sea­son as an Aus­tralian Idol con­tes­tant to her nine Top 20 sin­gles.

But the movie suc­cess she doesn’t un­der­stand, be­yond it be­ing a stroke of luck that two of the most pop­ulist Aussie movie projects in re­cent years re­quired in­dige­nous per­form­ers who could sing.

‘‘ My motto is what­ever hap­pens will hap­pen, and that’s the way it’s gonna be,’’ she says.

‘‘ I got the call around two years ago for The Sap­phires. I had a meet­ing with Wayne [ Blair, di­rec­tor] and he said, ‘ We think you could do this part, would you like to au­di­tion?’.

‘‘ It wasn’t a turn- down, it was more just things were hap­pen­ing at the time . . . we said we’d come back to it.

‘‘ Then that year a lot of things hap­pened and I said, ‘ I hardly know my own cul­ture. This is part of my life, I need to be ed­u­cated on this era’. It was great for me to get in there cul­tur­ally and un­der­stand. I needed it. I re­ally needed it.’’

Set in 1968, The Sap­phires touches on is­sues from lighter- skinned Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren be­ing taken from their par­ents to the im­pact of the death of Martin Luther King.

But the mu­sic is the core of the film and that too, was an ed­u­ca­tion.

One song, Ngarra Burra Ferra, marks Dar­win- born Mauboy’s first time singing in an Abo­rig­i­nal lan­guage.

‘‘ I’d sung a bit of Tor­res Strait Is­lander mu­sic, but never had I learnt an Abo­rig­i­nal song. This par­tic­u­lar song was quite haunt­ing,’’ she says. ‘‘ When we were in the stu­dio I got quite choked up, I couldn’t sing. All those lit­tle things my mum’s gen­er­a­tion re­ally never got to know . . . part of do­ing this film was to know more about my clan. We’re re­ally now just find­ing the fam­ily tree.’’ But mostly, it was about soul mu­sic. The Sap­phires sound­track, fea­tur­ing Mauboy on lead vo­cals, is a pow­er­house of soul clas­sics: Land of a Thou­sand Dances, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, What a Man, I Can’t Help My­self, Who’s Lov­ing You?, I’ll Take You There.

As Chris O’Dowd ( play­ing the group’s man­ager) says in the film, this mu­sic should be sung with ‘‘ the tone of a woman who’s grasp­ing and fight­ing and des­per­ate to re­trieve what’s been taken from her’’.

Mauboy didn’t have to dig too deep to find that fight.

‘‘ Grow­ing up, that’s the mu­sic I re­ally re­lated to. A lot of my friends were lis­ten­ing to pop mu­sic, but I grew up fast in the community. I saw a lot of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

‘‘ So that’s where I con­nected with real lyrics, lyrics that hit my soul and my heart, that made me feel happy again.’’

It was also about dig­ging deeply into her char­ac­ter, Julie.

‘‘ I wanted Julie to be quite coura­geous and a risk taker. That was the most pow­er­ful thing, for Julie, to com­mu­ni­cate in song.

‘‘ I doubted it at first, do­ing the sound­track. Lis­ten­ing to the Aretha Franklin track, then lis­ten­ing to my track . . .

‘‘ But with the script in my head, I felt the con­nec­tion; know­ing the story, now I can sing this mu­sic. I lis­ten to it now and I can’t be­lieve I sound like that. It re­ally has changed me vo­cally. Ed­u­cated me. Feel it, not just fol­low it.’’

Mauboy poured that feel­ing into her orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion to sound­track, Gotcha.

Writ­ten with IIan Kidron of Pot­belleez and next- big- pop- writer Louis Schrool, it melds the ’ 60s vibe with a mod­ern, cut- up pace.

‘‘ I wanted some­thing re­ally feisty but sexy,’’ Mauboy says. ‘‘ It’s one of my all time favourites I’ve ever writ­ten.’’

She adds it’s just a ‘‘ mo­ment’’ they wanted to cap­ture; she doesn’t be­lieve her third al­bum, which she’s work­ing on now, ‘‘ will veer too much’’ from the R& B/ pop with which she’s made her name.

But she’s braver than she used to be, will­ing to give any­thing a go.

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