In a joyous celebration of female musicianship, acclaimed Melbourne music director, singer and violinist Xani Kolac will bring together a stellar ensemble of female instrumentalists for Stand by Your Woman, a show like no other at Arts Centre Melbourne on Sunday 21 May. A passion project of Kolac’s, the show was born out of her desire to support and showcase the multitude of talented female musicians in Melbourne. Kolac shared her thoughts on the current state of affairs in the arts industry and it’s treatment of women, equality and diversity, and how she put together this exciting new opportunity.

“I’ve always had a passion for creating more opportunities for women in music. I have enjoyed opportunities performing as part of then Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival over the years and have sought to put together ensembles and bands consisting either considerably, or entirely, of women” she said.

“The idea for “Stand By Your Woman” came about last year after being invited a few times to perform as part of shows celebrating female singer/songwriters. I started to wonder why, despite being an event to give women more opportunities to play; I wasn’t being backed by a female house band! Wonderful, talented men were supporting me, but I want to see more women on instruments getting the gig. So rather than waiting for it to happen, I decided to make it happen!”

“The female house band is made up of extremely impressive talent.” I have played music with most of these women for years, not because they’re women, but because they’re amazing musicians. There are also a bunch of women who I’ve never played with but who came highly recommended you other women I trust” Kolac said.

“We have rehearsed quite a few times already and all of these women are super talented. I talked with the guest artists we have singing for this show about which songs we would play. More often than not, I’d choose one and then they would choose their second song. I’ve then arranged all of these songs so that they’re a little bit different (or even quite a lot different) to the originals”.

It’s important to her to showcase female performers and female works because it doesn’t happen enough yet.

“Female singer/songwriters are getting more and more recognition which is wonderful. They’re winning awards for songwriting, performing, producing and the role models young girls have to inspire them to be singer/song writers is ever-increasing. However, we don’t see many women playing instruments. Beyoncé obviously thinks it’s important, as did people like Prince and Michael Jackson”.

“I know for a fact that there a many, many amazing female instrumentalists out here, but they’re not always given the gigs. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just because a lot of singers, songwriters and music directors just don’t know who they are. Well, hopefully this show can go towards changing that” she said.

She sees the industry moving closer towards equality, diversity and acceptance, and she thinks it’s definitely changing for the better.

“There are still so many roadblocks for women. Sometimes, it’s even other women creating these roadblocks because it is so competitive. It is very rare to hear of a female guitarist getting a recording session job for an artist, for example. And we still don’t see an equal representation for female artists on many Australian music festivals, especially electronic dance festivals. I despair every year when triple j’s hottest 100 comes around and female artists are under-represented. There are always only a handful of bands consisting of female instrumentalists on those charts. But we will get there. It just takes time” she said.

You’ve worked with men and women alike in the industry – do you see differences in this, in performance style, presence, confidence, etc?

She’s of course worked with men and woman alike in the industry, but she sees differences in the work style, and the performance styles, in confidence, in prescence… all of the same issues exist in the music business as they do in real life.

“However, I will say this. In my decade of experience as a songwriter, violinist, performer and composer, I have had so much support. And that support has mainly come from men in the industry working as performers, music directors and managers. These days, however, I have noticed that I get to deal with more women in the industry booking venues and running publicity campaigns”.

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“I want a night to celebrate women playing instruments. I hope that this night might encourage new collaborations, get the ladies some more gigs and just generally show people that women are definitely out there making music on drums and guitar and bass and saxophone etc. etc., and that they’re doing a damn good job” she said.

This is the biggest show she has ever done.

“There have been some nights where I haven’t slept, I have to keep track of a million USBs backing everything up, I have transcribed more music than ever and have had to be super organised. Arranging music for a fourteen-piece band and then hoping for the approval of each guest artist has been exhilarating and terrifying”

“I have learnt so much and it has been such an amazing experience. I’ve also realised that I absolutely can do it! If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my male counterparts in this biz, it’s that you’ve just got bite off the biggest chunk and get in with chewing. The biggest lesson I’ll take away from this whole experience is trusting your musicians. I have charted everything up and written horn parts and string parts and the like, but when I’m stuck, these women have been there to help. They’re all incredible and I know that together, we’re gonna make this show magical” she said.

Her vision for this project is to start from scratch in each city.

“I’d love to head up to Sydney and find female instrumentalists up there to work with and keep taking the show around Australia. Then, imagine how many female instrumentalists will have performed together! I think I’m gonna try and make it happen” said Kolac.

But the next plan for her is to just have a tall glass of champagne after the show.

Produced by the creative minds behind RocKwiz, The Last Waltz Revisited and Last Night When We Were Young- catch Stand By Your Woman for one night only at the Arts Centre on Sunday May 21. Tickets from www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

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