The Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA) was founded in 2018 by industry veteran, Vicki Gordon, after a 2017 research report Skipping A Beat found gender inequality to be rife in the Australian music industry. Women represent only one-fifth of songwriters and composers registered with APRA, despite making up over 45% of all qualified musicians.
The first annual AWMA was staged in October 2018, with Helen Reddy as the inaugural inductee into their honour roll. A second event followed in 2019, adding Judith Durham as an inductee, but planned events in 2020 and 2021 were unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. However, this year the AWMAs was back, bigger and better, with a well-received ceremony staged in the delightful Tivoli Theatre. The aims of this year’s event were not only to recognise the achievements and contributions of women across all areas of the Australian music industry, but to attempt to redress the under-representation of women in the sector, highlighting their value, achievements and contributions.
The style of the awards program consists of a conference with a show case event and forum over a day and a half, leading up to a glittering awards ceremony on the final evening. The ceremony was focused around the themes of diversity and inclusion with a total of 19 awards covering categories including the Honour Roll recipient, a Lifetime Achievement Award and an Artistic Excellence Award. Awards also covered diversity, song writing, journalism and photography, areas of production, film and image making, as well as an emerging artist, music and creative leadership awards and a classical music award. The awards cover areas as diverse and inclusive as the industry itself.
A moving Welcome to Country from local elder Maroochy Barambah was followed by introductions from the MCs for the evening, broadcaster and author Yumi Stynes and indigenous hip-hop artist, Dizzy Doolan. They had an easy going yet polished style while Stynes’ infectious humour was used to great effect in creating a positive atmosphere in the room. Presented in blocks of three, the awards were mostly introduced by the various sponsors with video clips announcing the finalists and the presenter then reading the name of the winner. The impact was mixed as it often seemed hurried, in part due to the whole being moved along at a very brisk pace to get through the many awards. The video clips only mentioned the names of the finalists and no information was given on who they were or what they had done to merit their selection, while the glossy printed program contained no information either. The recipients accepted their awards, with short thank you speeches, some with interesting comments about their struggles for equity and support in the industry. For various reasons, given these are national awards, a third of the winners did not attend, though some provided short acceptance videos. Those who did not have videos missed out on recognition, which was a great pity.
Production values were high and musical interludes were woven around each of the blocks of awards. These included Queensland pop and folk artist Sahara Beck singing her own composition Nothing Wrong With That and ARIA Award-winner Montaigne, who performed her own Technicolour, both to rapturous applause.
A marvelous piece of classic music by Japanese/Australian artist Satsuki Odamura was played on the koto, a 13-stringed traditional instrument akin to a zither. The playing was exquisite and delicate, the sounds melodic and sensual. Odamura was accompanied by Sandy Evans on a soprano saxophone, exactly the right instrument to snake above the koto and add an ethereal quality to the piece.
Elena Kats-Chernin was commissioned by AWMA to write a new piece especially for the ceremony and she created a work for piano and trumpet, entitled Jubilissima. This rousing world premiere, as its name suggests, was jubilant and celebratory, with a trademark energetic jazz-like quality that was rhythmic and lively. With Kats-Chernin on piano and the excellent polyphonic trumpet of Leanne Sullivan, this was a joyous and heart-warming piece.
Dame Olivia Newton-John was inducted into the Honour Roll, introduced by the Shadow Arts Minister, Tony Burke, in an effusive but well-considered speech about her value to the industry and Australian music. Newton-John sent a lovely acceptance video, followed by Tina Arena’s tribute to her in a moving and beautifully sung I Honestly Love You. Yorta Yorta woman, Deborah Cheetham received the Life Achievement Award in recognition of her pioneering leadership role over decades in Australian music, as a composer, educator, artistic director and singer. Kats-Chernin won the Artistic Excellence Award, recognised for her overall individual artistic and international standing, as an inspiration to many other female composers, while classical musician and virtuoso recorder player, Genevieve Lacey, received The Excellence in Classical Music Award, in recognition of her illustrious career and extensive work as a soloist.
Deena Lynch and Tamara Georgopoulos received Change Maker Awards, not listed in the program, but given to them for their bravery in standing up to harassment and bullying in the face of obvious discrimination and worse. They spoke passionately and well, and many in the audience seemed to share their pain and understand the issues. Obviously, these awards are important on so many levels to try and create a level playing field, as was indicated by an impassioned speech from founder and Program Director, Vicki Gordon. The very real support of the Queensland Government, with Premier, Anastacia Palaszczuk, and her Arts Minister, Leanne Enoch, both in attendance and introducing some awards was also very welcome.
Indigenous hip-hop artists, Emma Donovan and Kee Áhn, followed by BARKAA and Dizzy Dolan, brought the proceedings to a celebratory close in an enthusiastic, stylish rendition of their music.