Peacemakers and Shakers

Mama Kin by Lisa Businovski

Peacemakers and Shakers

Sandra Conte

1 October 2013


There are things in this life, I would rather not sacrifice - John Butler Trio

From ‘Losing You’ re-recorded as a single by John Butler & Mama Kin in support of the ‘Save the Kimberley’ campaign.

Two captivating, independent artists take to numerous international stages, playing festivals and touring with an unflagging commitment to their music. John Butler and Mama Kin also connect as singer/songwriter musicians, more recently in duo spots and even guerilla gigs under their ‘Brave and the Bird’ moniker. Under that banner, their first official performance took place in 2011 at the ‘Gimme Shelter’ annual fundraiser for the homeless in the outdoors of the Fremantle Arts Centre, Western Australia. It is indication of where the priorities lie for these highly successful musos.

Since then, they have produced live recordings from festivals, recorded and released a ‘single’ to raise awareness for an environmental issue, and Butler recently played on three tracks of Mama Kin’s latest, mesmerising album, ‘The Magician’s Daughter’.

These artists share far beyond the stages of their respective gigs where they join each other for one or two songs,  sometimes to a sea of followers of seemingly biblical proportions - take a look at the cover of John Butler Trio’s ‘Live at Red Rocks’ album or, if you were part of the Woodford Folk Festival 2012/13, the trek toward the chosen venue was an experience akin to ‘The Great Crusade’. While nothing religious was happening, there was a palpable, spiritual connection between the singer/songwriters and with their followers.

At both ‘Red Rocks’ and Woodford, Mama Kin graced the  stage for one or two duets with John Butler and similarly, Mama Kin has invited Butler to guest spots during her live performances; they are always sensitive, spirited deliveries such as at the Port Fairy Folk Festival or what has been referred to as an ‘Ottawa Guerilla Busk’ - when weather had destroyed the Ottawa Bluesfest stage and the event was cancelled, the artists took it to the streets so as not to disappoint revellers. Be warned though, if you Google the fan base internet uploads of such duets, you’re best to set aside a few hours as you become entranced and thread through pop-up performances dotting the world wide web map.

Singularly or together, these artists have their fingers firmly planted on a universal pulse; their convergences being a treat of combined energy and lyricism  with strong social content embedded in their musical messages – their only-original song choices often deliver an empassioned plea, Butler for the environment and Mama Kin exploring the social landscape.

Australian-resident, with varied cultural backgrounds, Mama Kin (aka Danielle Caruana) is of Maltese heritage and Butler was born in the USA, they embrace a globe trotting life without borders. Mama Kin has played to international audiences across Europe, USA,  Canada, New Zealand and nationally. She has also supported The Cat Empire, Gurrumul, The Waifs, and of course, John Butler Trio. So, too, has she recently played the Darwin Festival and been overseas joining artists on their tours, along with winding up her own second album, ‘The Magician’s Daughter’, national tour followed by an October 4 gig at the Caloundra Music Festival. Who can resist Mama Kin’s conjuring powers? Certainly not Butler – he is companioned with a strong, determined and beautifully articulate fellow singer/songwriter who weaves a magical stage presence with uniquely delivered lyrics, combining a strength and vulnerability  that cuts to the core of the human condition.

Meanwhile, the John Butler Trio has not long wrapped up a United States tour with Mama Kin along for some of the songs and their offspring for part of the ride.

Both artists have since returned to their homebase in Western Australia to quietly savour the environment’s ‘win’ in that the government has backed away from its original plans for a  gas refinery construction at James Price Point in the Kimberley region. Indeed, when the decision was freshly handed down, the message was the masthead of the John Butler Trio website*, such is the musician’s connectivity to the fight for justice for the environment.

In advocating for global harmony, peace and environmental protection, the artist’s involvement with causes such as The Wilderness Society, the Save Ningaloo Reef campaign and the Save the Kimberley campaign, lend a high profile hand including participating in protests and peaceful marches, (again in relation to the proposed gas refinery construction at James Price Point).

During consecutive headlining performances by the John Butler Trio at Red Rocks, Butler has worn his environmental ethic on his sleeve, highlighting the “Save the Kimberley” campaign and how a particular American company was partnering in the proposed refinery. The captive audience could partake of petitions available for signature at every entrance and exit point of the venue. There in 2011, Butler was joined by Mama Kin for a two-song encore including ‘Losing You’ which they recorded as a duet and released via iTunes to raise awareness around that pristine Kimberley region and the environmental flash point, (which interestingly was only some 60 kilometres from Broome, where the two first met). Sales from the release contributed toward the Broome Community No Gas Campaign, to bolster protection of the region from exploitation.

John Butler and Mama Kin, separately and together, make music that stands up and often fights for something to be heard. The lyrics of Butler’s ‘Treat your Mama’ or ‘Kimberley’ and their joint recording of ‘Losing You’, highlight their respective passions – his for the environment and hers for plumbing the depths of the human condition. The latter is underscored in the joint composition ‘Jenny’, which continues to see them engage intimately with audiences, big and small, around the world – eARTh’s current cover photograph by Kester Sappho, shows the artists during a performance of the song at the Woodford Folk Festival in December 2012.

As Independent artists and as a duo, they are unstoppable. When ‘duetting’ on the stage or in the studio supported by band members, they make a certain kind of peace by shaking the tree regarding social conscience. They’ve composed and sung for the plight of the environment while also addressing the needs of the social and musical landscape, as is evidenced in their 2005 co-founding and establishment funding of the JB Seed grant program, which from 2010 became known as The Seed. Their co-directorial mission is that of the other supporters for The Seed – to encourage social, cultural and artistic diversity in Australian society. Indeed, The Seed is one of few Australian philanthropic organisations able to make grants to individuals, especially on an annual basis.

Whatever the setting, Red Rocks, the banks of the Hudson River, the streets of Ottawa or the outdoors of Fremantle, performing as their Brave and the Bird duo, Butler and Caruana are dedicated peacemakers who happen to be ‘man and wife’.  Music is their artistry and, perhaps, their alchemy.

* In April 2013 the public announcement came that the Woodside corporation would no longer be developing a gas processing plant at James Price Point in Western Australia. For an interesting ‘read’ in relation to the process go to

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