DAVID Leha was struck by the realisation while he stood in rehearsals for singer-songwriter Archie Roach’s tour.
“I noticed I was the only one who couldn’t understand what everyone was saying in terms of the musical direction,” said Leha, who was a member of the choir.
“They were just speaking the language of music and I was so impressed that I had to walk out of the space, get onto the phone and call the University of Newcastle (UON) and ask them to change me – I was a few weeks away from beginning a degree in environmental science – and put me into music.”
What Leha describes as “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made” has taken on new significance, after he was named on Thursday as the first solo artist tied to UON’s new record label concept, Baraya Records.
“It’s an honour,” he said.
The label will launch with Leha’s Louder Than Words inspired by the environment and produced with DJ KLP; his collaboration with UON choir Echology called Yanaya which means returning; and stroke survivor choir BrainWaves’ track Aphasia.
Head of School of Creative Industries Paul Egglestone said Baraya would connect emerging musicians with mentors and help them lay foundations for promising careers, plus act as a launchpad for them to pursue a commercial record label deal or venture out as an independent artist.
He said it aimed to provide an opportunity to those who may not have otherwise published their work and create a “pipeline” of artists.
“Silverchair started out as a group of Newcastle kids who met at school and got their first break by winning a national demo competition,” he said.
“We want to be that first break for other promising artists.
“Let’s understand how the Spotify algorithm works so we better understand how to service content on digital platforms, let’s work out the skills we need beyond being able to play our instruments right and record songs.
“Studio time, track mastering, photo shoots and video clips are resources that are out of reach for many emerging artists but are vital in building a following and ultimately attracting the attention of a commercial label. That’s where Baraya Records will play a key role.”
Director of UON’s Wollotuka Institute Leah Armstrong said the label – Baraya means sing in the Gathang language – was the culmination of its strong relationship with the school.
“Baraya Records has a foundation of respect for Indigenous knowledge, traditions and contemporary cultural practices,” she said.
“We hope to bring together all Australians to share pride in the unique cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Leha, whose style encompasses soul, rap and spoken word, said he wanted to write songs about Dreamtime stories, as well as in the Indigenous language of his mother, a Kamilaroi woman.
“For everyone who has tried to help in terms of Indigenous artists and telling their stories and how they think things can change, there’s a few terrible statistics that haven’t and maybe even gotten worse,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that if I can get back to our spirituality maybe within those stories are the lessons we really need to be listening to.”
He said music was a “tool” to reconnect with his culture and speak to communities about important issues.
It is expected Baraya will hold two submission periods each year for aspiring artists to vie for consideration.
It plans to broaden its scope beyond UON music students from 2019.
Professor Egglestone said UON would eventually allow students across the creative industries – including aspiring designers, animators, video producers, journalists and public relations professionals – to ‘work’ under the label.
UON will host a gig called Baraya from 8pm on Thursday at The Cambridge. It will have an 80 per cent Indigenous line up including Leha. Details: https://thecambridgehotel.com.au/baraya