A quick look at the Bluesfest lineup reveals numerous instances of cross-pollination. Hozier’s 2018 single ‘Nina Cried Power’ is boosted by guest vocals from Mavis Staples. Staples’ 2013 LP, One True Vine, features a cover of Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get to That’ from 1971’s, Maggot Brain.
Norah Jones and Jack White (appearing at Bluesfest with The Saboteurs) played the starring roles in Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi’s spaghetti western album, Rome. Jack Johnson and Ben Harper have teamed up multiple times over the years, most notably on Johnson’s debut single, ‘Flake’, in 2002.
Paul Kelly and Archie Roach have been comrades for 30 years. Kelly co-produced Roach’s 1990 debut, Charcoal Lane, and appears on Roach’s defiant 2012 single ‘We Won’t Cry’. Kelly is also credited as a co-writer on Yothu Yindi’s legendary, ‘Treaty’, and frequently appears on Kasey Chambers albums.
Several Bluesfest artists also belong to strong musical families. From Yothu Yindi to Lukas Nelson, Music Feeds highlights the significance of these family ties.
Yothu Yindi & the Treaty Project
Yothu Yindi’s two most famous members, Mandawuy Yunupingu and Gurrumul Yunupingu, are sadly no long with us. Founder, frontman and songwriter Mandawuy was Gurrumul’s uncle and the two started playing music together years before the band’s breakout success.
Gurrumul provided keyboard, guitar and percussion on the majority of Yothu Yindi’s albums, including 1991’s career defining, Tribal Voice. He formed the Saltwater Band in the late-’90s before applying his spellbinding voice to four solo albums – his ultimate release, Djarimirri, claimed this year’s Australian Music Prize.
Yothu Yindi & the Treaty Project is led by vocalist and dancer Witiyana Marika, the father of rising songwriter Yirrmal. Yirrmal is one of several First Nations vocalists joining the Treaty Project at Bluesfest. Mandawuy’s daughter, solo artist Dhapanbal Yunupingu, is also on board.
Mavis Staples became a recording artist in her teens. Guided by their father, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, Mavis and her sisters, Cleotha and Yvonne, formed The Staple Singers in Chicago in the early 1950s. The group became closely involved with Martin Luther King Jr. in the mid-’60s and their spiritual music played a significant role in the civil rights movement.
Initially a stripped back gospel trio, the Staple Singers signed with Stax Records in the late 1960s and collaborated with Al Bell and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on the timeless soul numbers, ‘I’ll Take You There’ and ‘Respect Yourself’.
Mavis has released 11 solo albums over the last 50 years. The latest, 2017’s If All I Was Was Black, is her second to be produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. It’s a politically motivated record that reinstalls Mavis as a voice of hope and fortitude.
The daughter of Indian musician Ravi Shankar and US concert producer Sue Jones, Norah Jones has been tied up in music her whole life. Her father is synonymously associated with the sitar and largely responsible for bringing global attention to Hindustani classical music.
Shankar’s music made a major impression on The Beatles’ George Harrison. After adding some rudimentary sitar to The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’, Harrison travelled to India to meet Shankar and study with him for six weeks.
Jones was raised predominantly by her mother, but she reconnected with Shankar prior to his death and wrote some of her 2009 album, The Fall, during a visit to New Delhi.
Jones’ half sister, British-Indian musician Anoushka Shankar, is also a noted sitar player and revivalist of Indian classical music. Jones appears on Anoushka’s 2013 LP, Traces Of You, providing vocals on three songs and co-writing the album’s closing track, ‘Unsaid’.
Jones hasn’t rested on her famous family connections during her two-decade solo career, mind you. Across six solo albums she’s traversed modern jazz, pop and folk and collaborated with the likes of Willie Nelson, Outkast and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.
There are deep musical roots in Paul Kelly’s family, namely in the world of opera. The Australian rock and folk icon’s maternal grandfather was Count Ercole Filippini. The Argentine-born Filippini was the leading baritone for Milan’s La Scala opera company before relocating to Australia at the beginning of World War I.
After establishing an opera school in Sydney, Filippini married his student Anne McPharland, who went on to become Australia’s first female symphony orchestra conductor. The couple were passionate about increasing opera’s accessibility in Australia and in the 1920s founded the Italo-Australian Opera Company.
Paul’s nephew, meanwhile, is singer/songwriter Dan Kelly who has released two albums with backing band the Alpha Males and two more as a solo artist. Kelly’s latest, Leisure Panic, was nominated for the 2015 Australian Music Prize. Dan frequently contributes to his uncle’s music, often performing together as a duo. Paul’s daughters, Maddy and Memphis, are members of Dan Kelly’s Dream Band and Memphis forms one half of electro-pop outfit, Saatsuma.
Guitarist and songwriter Lukas Nelson is the son of country music guru, Willie Nelson. Willie was a central figure in the outlaw country movement of the 70s and 80s, consciously distancing himself from the perceived sterility of the Nashville sound.
Lukas has fronted the country rock and soul band Promise of the Real since 2008, releasing four long players and achieving significant US sales success. In recent years Promise of the Real have become sought after backing musicians. Neil Young recruited Nelson and co. for the political records, The Monsanto Years (2015) and The Visitor (2017).
The band that plays with Young also includes Lukas’ younger brother Micah on guitar. Micah isn’t a Promise of the Real regular, though, as his primary focus is the solo project, Particle Kid.
Lukas, Micah and their Promise of the Real band mates recently contributed to an unfinished Tom Petty recording alongside their father and other famous sons, Dhani Harrison and Jakob Dylan.
Bluesfest kicks off Thursday, 18th April and will run through until Monday, 22nd April. Keep up to date with all the latest Bluesfest news here, and check the full list of Bluesfest artist sideshows here.