More than a woman, more than an entertainer, more than a singer-songwriter, Christine Anu is an Australian institution nominated for 17 ARIA Awards (winning 5), gold and platinum albums to her name and a career covering music, theatre, dance, film, radio and television, where she remains naturally, perpetually and authentically herself.
"You really appreciate the fact that you create music; and on the other hand, when you deliver it to a live audience, it just makes the music even more real," Christine says.
"I've been missing all you guys. So who's going to be joining me? Every beautiful face that's going to come to watch Blues On Broadbeach – that's who's going to be joining me. That's who I've been missing – and I cannot wait to get there."
Alluring vocal textures of liquid caramel oscillate between deep, golden syrupy tones with her indelible range soaring to lofty heights; those penetrating high notes are an enduring Christine Anu musical signature; rays of sunshine on a rainy day – if you will. After all, the higher the note, the closer to God.
And those very same golden syrupy tones will be coming to the Gold Coast's Blues On Broadbeach
music festival (20-23 May), featuring alongside a dazzling line-up with guitar god Tommy Emmanuel, NZ's The Black Seeds, The Lachy Doley Group, Blues Arcadia, Caiti Baker, 19-Twenty, Bearfoot and many more.
"I need to fangirl about this," Anu muses over the line-up. "My wonderful partner bought me a Maton for Christmas because I just go on and on about the guitar skills of Tommy Emmanuel. And it's like 'Oh my God, I'm on the same bill as Tommy Emmanuel!'"
As one of Australia's largest free events and in a post-pandemic age, this festival will be a massive foray into the new world of COVID-safe experiences. Anu reflects on what it means following a year of a global lockdown that bought the music industry to the brink.
"Really, not to take things for granted," Anu says, "to appreciate the little things in life. It's such a cliché: 'Stop and smell the roses', but seriously, there's beauty in things you've never noticed before and they've always been under your nose. They are much more meaningful than they've ever been."
Anu brings her critically acclaimed Aretha Franklin Songbook to Blues On Broadbeach for an exclusive performance. "I love Aretha," Anu proclaims, "who doesn't? She's got so many hits, and it's not really that hard to please a crowd when people know her songs and love them. I'm fulfilling my own satisfaction of her music by being able to perform them.
"Ultimately, I think I found my voice once I put her songs into my repertoire. I hadn't realised there was all of this texture in my vocal; this ability to sing with the angels. She's a stupidly amazing singer. I sing all of her songs in her original keys – that's no mean feat. It's massively challenging – it's like going to church. It's wonderful."
But how did adding Aretha's tracks to her repertoire help Anu find her voice? "A way of describing that is you can go online and subscribe to all of these acting classes or cooking classes.
"For me, Aretha Franklin has been the ultimate masterclass in singing and storytelling and interpreting how she does it with her inflections.
"She does all of these versions of people's songs [from 'Eleanor Rigby' to 'Son Of A Preacher Man' or 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'] and she Aretha-tises them. That is what is attractive – her ability to sing any genre and make it her own. To me, there is such rawness that is flawless – and I want to embody that."
Christine Anu is simply a national treasure, where she herself transcends race and colour to embody many things for many people. It's her gift to Australia – and her legacy.
“I leave an inspirational direction to emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists," Anu declares, "with the 'no holds barred' attitude of creating something and exploring things.
"Where I make no excuses for being proud of my heritage and displaying that with contemporary and traditional sounds; creating something commercial where there hasn't been that space before.
"This is the legacy of opening up doors and slinging them wide open so the next generation can be fearless in the ways they create music.
"The exploration is boundless. You can go into your heritage without exploitation and always put it out there with honesty and pride – and it's not a crime.
"Get out there and explore it. I think that's what I've done. That's my legacy: Making no excuses for being original – and for being me."2021 Blues On Broadbeach (Gold Coast) takes place 20-23 May.