In a dark room in the Melbourne Arts Centre, as an even darker beat sampled from an Ella Fitzgerald song plays aloud, a group of young women are planning an Australian musical revolution.
“I’m having a visual of, like, people walking in the street for a cause,” Akimera Burckhardt-Bedeau tells a group of women sitting around her.
“We are building a community out there, of women, who are out there doing it in hip-hop,” she told News Breakfast later on.
Ms Burckhardt-Bedeau is lead facilitator at Sisters on the Mic — a program for women learning the hip-hop ropes — but she prefers to go with just Akimera on stage.
Hip-hop and rap originated from the inner cities of the US and has found deep roots in Australia, with the Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso leading the local charge.
The Sisters on the Mic group has lead to some notable breakouts in the local music scene. (ABC News)
“It can be lyrically complex, like a riddle, or straight down the line. The freedom in it is unique,” Ms Burckhardt-Bedeau said.
But while it is a global movement, the often testosterone-fuelled lyrics have stopped many gifted women getting involved.
The art centre’s creative producer of Youth Outreach, Charlotte Childer, said they discovered this the hard way when it first started a hip-hop program called Dig Deep.
“There was a gender imbalance,” she said.
“We were targeting community groups, youth centres and marginalised young people, because we know they have the interests and skills but don’t have the support.
“But hip-hop has always been male dominated, and girls have been intimidated by that.”
Girls on the Mic was started to give interested young women a safe place to shine and develop.
The five-hour workshops cover vocal training, rhyming and writing skills, DJ work, and stage craft, in a facility that includes a performance space and recording studios.
Graduates are taking the lead
Dozens of women have gone through the program, and it has expanded to include other genres like poetry and neo-soul.
Its members and graduates are also taking lead roles in Melbourne’s music scene.
“Some of the young women learnt DJ skills and one of them is DJ-ing at club and hosting her own events” Ms Hilder said.
“And Kaiite [Waup] — one of [the] young leaders in the program — she’s been signed by a label and is off making her first music video.”
The 19-year-old — who rates singer Lauryn Hill as a role model and has a tattoo to prove it — said the program opened the world for her.
“It was like, this is what I’ve been looking for,” Ms Waup said.
“I was just super lost for ages.
“But having the studio, the facilities here, the mentors, producers, they are all small little aspects that have pushed me towards what I have always wanted to do.
“I’m now just doing heaps of gigs, with live bands. It feels liberating.”