GABRIELA GEORGES: Same Same, but Different
Gabriela Georges is a singer and poet who combines the two art forms to create music about her inner musings and life experience. Her recent release Rise & Fall is a testament to her open nature and ability to overcome.
Growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne and attending a school made up of students from a similar background to her own, Georges learned of other cultures through her loved of R&B, a passion she shared with her older sisters.
It wasn't until university that Georges met people of different backgrounds, which helped her identity her place in modern Australia.
THE PIN. What is your family background?
GABRIELA GEORGES. My parents were born in Syria and I have Turkish ancestry as well, but of Syrian background.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
G. I had a pretty good childhood. I didn't grow up in a very mixed environment, I think I was pretty sheltered. After second grade my parents put me into a school that was made up of people from similar backgrounds to me. It was a private school and there were Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, and other people of Middle Eastern backgrounds. I was surrounded by people who had a similar culture to me and it was very easy to blend in. My sisters had a different experience and went to a school that was full of Anglo-Saxon Australia kids, they were the odd ones out.
Growing up, did you or your family embrace one culture over another?
G. It would depend on what parent you asked. My dad very much stuck to his roots but my mum was very contemporary. She embraced the Australian culture as well as her own. Mum was very openminded about coming to a new place, whereas Dad is stuck in the mentality that he grew up with. I think it was a bit of both for me.
What were the main ideas around race, culture and ethnicity in your household?
G. My mum was the biggest influence, she had acquaintances and friends of diverse cultural backgrounds and sexualities. The customers who came through the door each day came from all walks of life.
My dad has certain beliefs that I let go of when I went to university and met people of different backgrounds. I found the whole experience exciting, it was like, 'oh my goodness, there are people who come from different places, speak different languages', it was so different to my previous experience of school.
Has your perception of race and culture changed as you’ve gotten to know your partner's Motswana background?
G. Early on we discovered similarities, things like respect and labelling of elders as Aunty and Uncle.
We’ve also discovered differences between our cultures, but I think that is more specific to our families. I didn't grow up in Syrian culture, just with it’s influence, and am more influenced by western culture. Things such as time is a difference. We have Arabic time, but I've grown up with Australian culture so may only be five minutes late [laughs]. It's just an example, but Tumi [my partner] is dealing with not just the Arabic side of me, but the Australian side too.
Do you see race in your relationship?
G. It’s not a thing for me but I do notice it in terms of how other people perceive us.
Do you have role models who helped you to establish your own identity?
G. My identity is very much tied to my love of music, the people I look up to are artists I listen to, like Lauryn Hill and India Arie. During university I was listening to a lot of Lauryn Hill, her UNPLUGGED album was very anti-establishment and against the conventions of society. I really took that on board and sort of had an identity crisis.
India Arie creates very positive music, which has also influenced my perception of the world. It has made me mindful of how I perceive things and taught me to have a positive outlook. I learned that there is a lesson in hardships and in everything you experience. That has stuck with me.
What are some misconceptions that are made about you and have you ever used it to your advantage?
G. When I tell people I am Syrian, they automatically respond with, ‘oh, so you’re Muslim’, and I have to explain that no, I’m not Muslim, and that there are people from Middle Eastern backgrounds who aren’t. I don’t have an issue with it, I just try to explain or debunk the misconception. I guess the media promotes one image of the Middle East so it's the default assumption.
Do you get asked where you’re from?
G. Yes, a lot!
What’s your response?
G. I usually get them to guess. They very rarely get it. It actually happens to me overseas as well, even in places like Turkey, it happens a lot. When people guess they go through different cultures, they'll go Indian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Persian, sometimes French [laughs]. People think I am from so many different places, I am of the world.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
GABRIELA GEORGES. Don’t take yourself so seriously. I was a very serious kid and thought playing and having fun wasn't cool. I now realise I don’t have to take myself so seriously and I can just have fun.
- This interview has been edited and condensed