Ripple Effect are an eight-piece girl group who want to tour Australia and the world. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
It’s a Saturday night and Ripple Effect are singing, dancing and hyping themselves up backstage.
The band is about to front one of its biggest live audiences at Barunga Festival, the annual Indigenous music, sport and cultural festival that draws large crowds each year.
“We’ve been travelling a long way, it took us eight hours,” one band member shouted as they took to the stage.
“And tonight … everyone enjoy and have fun,” she said, to an eruption of cheers from people who’d travelled to see them.
Over the three-day festival, the stage was shared by some of the most well-known contemporary Indigenous bands to emerge from the Northern Territory — Yirrmal, Lonely Boys, B2M and more.
And with a few notable exceptions, many of the performers have been men.
Ripple Effect is a group of seven Maningrida women led by manager Jodie Kell, who is based in Sydney but has lived in the West Arnhem community.
Its songs switch between a handful of Indigenous languages and members swap instruments between songs.
And while an eight-person Indigenous girl group is something of a rarity, the formula seems to be working; it’s grabbing the attention of tastemakers, getting some airtime on triple j, and will release an EP in coming months.
‘They thought we were a choir’
The band’s first performance as Ripple Effect was at last year’s Ramingining Bak’bididi Festival, where the sight of an all-girl group caught some audience members by surprise.
“They thought we were a choir,” guitarist, vocalist and manager Jodie Kell said.
“When we got up on the instruments, I think Tara you were getting up on the drums first, and everyone’s kind of going: ‘What are you doing?’
“And then when we started they screamed and ran to the stage.”
Barunga Festival draws crowds from all over the Northern Territory and beyond. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
The women have been playing music since their early teens and formed Frontstreet Girls in the mid-2000s when Ms Kell was a teacher at their high school.
But they soon split because of family and cultural reasons that, the women say, could prevent more all-girl groups forming.
“I had to stop back in Maningrida because I had my little baby,” vocalist Marita Wilton said.
“It can be really difficult as women, as mothers, to leave your children,” Ms Kell added.
Ten years had passed and most of the women had stopped performing by the time Ms Kell returned to the community last year.
But they missed playing and were keen to pick up their instruments again.
Enter Paul Mac
They had another taste of the ups and downs of band life when they travelled to Sydney last year to record a four-track EP, which will be launched at the Darwin Fringe Festival in July.
Clint Bracknell, a Noongar man and musician who works with Ms Kell at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, had helped organise their trip.
He also sent a message to alumni and producer Paul Mac.
“Clint sent him a message and said, ‘Hey Paul, do you want to work with an all-women’s band from Arnhem Land?’,” Ms Kell said.
“Within 10 seconds the reply came back: ‘Hell yeah!’ And he was in.”
The Maningrida women felt the Sydney cold, navigated the city’s public transport and got lost in shopping centres.
“It was hard for us, away from family, but we made it through,” Ms Wilton said.
“We were all homesick but we had to do our music.”
Asked about future plans for Ripple Effect after the show, the women weren’t short on ambition.
“When we’re on the stage, we’re all proud of ourselves and we all understand that young women out there want to feel confidence and enjoy, live and respect each other as women,” Tara Rostron said.
“We’re all happy with joy, we smile and we dance when we’re on the stage — it’s so inspiring and so amazing.”
“My dream is if … we’re all gonna be old ladies, we’ll keep on playing,” keyboard player and vocalist Patricia Gibson added.
They also want to tour to remote communities, Darwin and beyond.
“My dream is we wanna go perform in New York City,” drummer and vocalist Stephanie James said.