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Ancestress / Teila Watson

May 20, 2019

Songwriter / Singer / Writer / Actor / Poet

Queensland-born, multidisciplinary artist, Teila Watson, was presented with the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award at the 10th National Indigenous Arts Awards on Saturday, 27 May 2017.

Teila Watson is a Birri Gubba and Kungalu/Gangalu Murri woman born and raised in Brisbane. An established performing artist – singer, poet and lyricist (known as ‘Ancestress’), 25 year-old Teila is also a writer, actor and youth arts professional. Her respect and understanding of Murri knowledges, First Nations self-determination, and the preservation of culture, informs her artistic endeavours and fuels her many passions.

Teila’s art practices revolve around: climate change; decolonising to create sustainable futures; the impact that First Nations knowledges and practice has on country and people; and consequently the importance of Land Rights and First Nations sovereignty when considering environmental and social issues.

These insights have been passed down to Teila by her family and other members of the Murri community in Brisbane where she grew up.

Despite growing up in an expanding city, Teila spent much of her time around a fire, listening to her elders tell stories about growing up in central Queensland on the Dawson River, in her Grandmother’s country. One of Teila’s Aunties, the late Maureen Watson – an esteemed, world-recognised educator, poet, storyteller, artist, playwright and author – remains one of the most influential people for Teila. Aunty Maureen’s community work, coupled with her passion for the arts, paved the way for not only Teila, but many other Aboriginal people, members of the wider community and women in the arts.

Inextricably linked with Teila’s art practice is the importance of cultural authenticity and she communicates often with family and community elders to identify protocols and deepen her understanding of cultural knowledge, logic and Murri terms of reference. Her strong sense of identity, grounded in Aboriginal philosophy, is ever present throughout her artistry.

Growing up, Teila was constantly surrounded by political discussion. Her father, the late Dr Ross Watson, was a political activist and the founding editor of Black Nations Newspaper from 1982-85, which published indigenous perspectives at a time when issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not covered by mainstream media. He was also a key founder of ‘The Murri School’ in Brisbane, and the Murri radio station ‘989fm’. Much of Teila’s political and academic knowledge stems from time spent with her father, when he was preparing his PHD.

Over the past 12 years Teila has established strong Aboriginal and arts community connections through involvement in various organisations, events, festivals, schools and political groups. She has been trained to plan and facilitate workshops to assist participants with scriptwriting, song writing, performance, percussion, movement, stage presence, presentation or knowledge; and has engaged countless young people to learn and perform Indigenous contemporary dance, music, poetry and Hip-hop.

At 15, Teila took up studies at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA), Australia’s largest Indigenous arts training organisation, and performed many times with them, including at the Garma Festival in Gove in the Northern Territory in 2009, opening for Black Arm Band at the Brisbane Festival in 2008 and in Reflections: 40 Years and to the Future, directed by Leah Purcell, as singer and actress in 2007 and again for the remount in 2008.

In 2013, Teila portrayed ‘Olivia’ in the development showing of ‘Twelve‘ a hip-hop theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night‘ written and directed by Black Honey Company Artistic Director Candy Bowers for the Queensland Theatre Company. A previous collaboration with Bowers in 2009 saw Teila contribute to the development showing of ‘Arden‘ a hip-hop version of ‘As You Like It’, as a writer, and actor and dancer in the role of “Celia” for Bell Shakespeare at the Casula Powerhouse, Sydney.

A career and performance highlight for Teila is the release of a film clip for her original song

Worthy‘, accompanied by a blog titled ‘Are Aboriginal people in a violent and abusive relationship with the occupation of “Australia”?’ published through Medium in 2016.

Another highlight was the ‘Idle No More Invasion Day Mixtape’ in collaboration with Guerrilla Republic and ten other political Hip-hop artists worldwide, released on January 26th, 2013. Her song ‘Bring Buildings Down’ was featured on the ‘Indigenous Leadership Forum Mixtape‘, in connection with the Indigenous Nationhood Movement in Turtle Island, Canada.

Teila has continued to work with some of the most exciting artists in the country, including her niece Kaiyu Bayles, Provocalz, Lorna Munro (Yilinhi), Triks and many others.

Teila’s lyrics from her collaboration with Provocalz, Rize Up, released on his album ‘Only Built for Koori Linx‘, were published in ‘Paper Dreaming Our Stories, Our Way‘ compiled and edited by Lorna Munro for Cambridge University Press in 2015.

In addition to her music, acting and writing pursuits, Teila is also a visual artist and has established a business called Bimbi Love with her sister Gaala Watson.

Teila intends to use the Dreaming Award funding to create, record and release an album of original songs based on the Murri perspective of humanness and the importance of respecting and valuing Elders, land, culture, knowledge, history and future in a way that she hopes will engage youth and the wider community.

She intends to work closely with Elders to ensure that the cultural, scientific, social, political and historical knowledge she portrays through her music is appropriately expressed and accurate from a Murri perspective. Teila intends to highlight the importance of cultural perspectives, the current situation of First Nations people and the effects that climate change and the destruction of land are having on humanity, while simultaneously acknowledging the power people have to be a part of the solutions.

“I want my album to be very insightful and thought-provoking, but I also want it to be relatable and something you can dance to and sing over the top of.”

Teila Watson has also been short-listed for The Carol Lloyd Award, presented by Queensland Music Festival and supported by APRA AMCOS and Hutchinson Builders and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.This award will be presented to an emerging female singer-songwriter, who was either born in, or resides in, Queensland, at the Festival’s launch on May 30.