KATE CEBERANO: Meals and melodies
Foreword from Nkechi Anele:
As a child, I used to crank songs like Pash, Bedroom Eyes and Everything’s Alright in the kitchen, singing along and trying to keep up with the dynamic vocals and energy that Kate Ceberano brings to every track. For me then, as it is for me now, her vibrant personality and lust for life pushed through the typical throws of race and colour politics. So as you can imagine, it was a great pleasure to talk to the artist herself for The Pin.
Typical of growing up in a large family Kate Ceberano's cultural identity and connection centres around food, laughter and music.
Individually Kate Ceberano is a kick arse Australian musician of the highest degree with ARIA nominated, chart-topping albums and singles reaching platinum status time and time again. So it is no understatement to say that Ceberano’s voice rises above most and stands out loud and lovingly proud in the landscape of the Australian soundtrack.
MEET KATE CEBERANO
KATE CEBERANO…Right from the get-go, I love to eat, it comes with the communal elements of my upbringing, you know!? The Hawaiian upbringing. It’s the beginning of my singing experience, around family events. My dad was from Hawaii, and he came to Australia with a ukulele, an autoharp, and a surfboard...that was all he brought with him to Australia.
THE PIN. Do you feel that when you were growing up both of your parent's cultures of Hawaiian and Australian were present?
KC: We lived in an area that had a lot of mixed marriages out in Templestowe (VIC). My best friends were half Indonesian and half Australian. My mother came from Adelaide, and she’s of Swedish descent. She met my father very young and was living in Hawaii for pretty much the four years that she popped all three of us out. She was very dedicated, and I think as an Australian white woman she found it very romantic to be with a “coloured” person.
I’m going to talk and sound like I’m from the 1960's because let’s face it, that’s the era we are talking about. I think my mother found it very romantic, she’d come from watching musicals of the 50’s that were the South Pacific and the King and I. It always talked about these loving relationships between the West and the East. My mum was really committed to keeping the Hawaiian-ness in the family. We would dig a pit in the backyard, and he would cook pigs, she would learn how to use a wok eventually, and my grandmother - a little woman at 4 ft 5 - would learn how to master teriyaki chicken. I would say that his - the food and the music - was dominant in the house but the literacy and the cinematic history came from my mum.
You say that you grew up in quite a diverse community, but did you feel that it was good to have two other siblings (and later on, another brother)? Did that help you understand your point of origin?
KC. Yeah, we were a tour de force, it’s true. We had three sets of little whities in my aunties children. They were seriously so blonde they were like little powder puffs. And we were these chocolatey other children. I remember my mother telling me this story of how we all went through the turnstile to go to the Melbourne show, and we went through, the first little three, and then the little white ones went later, and someone made mention ‘what happened here, someone opened the door and let the sunshine in’ [laughs].To be honest with you I think we were blessed to have big families. When a single child, like my daughter who is multiracial, it seems to be more of a difference for her because she’s alone. When there is a group it bleeds out and becomes a very mutual beige, everyone is who they are. Gypsy is in a summer camp in America at the moment, and she’s released because she says, ‘mum the colour, and the size and the shape, and the width and the height’ she says, ‘I feel like I’ve finally found my home’.
Your career started off when you were 14, if not younger, was there a point within that where your race was brought up?
KC. It was only considered a probable positive, I was in a jazz band, and I felt like an ancient, I felt like I came from another time. I probably wanted to be blacker than I was. I wished that I would be one or the other. Even the plays I was auditioning for at the time, it was either to be a Spanish girl or to be a light-skinned Black American. Neither which, I really identified with. That was always hard, so I said, ‘fuck musical theatre, I’m just going to be in a punk band and shave my hair and do something radical that would make me colourless’. The irony of that is I then got into a band that then had a double fronted band of two little chocolate m ’n’ m’s. We garnered a lot of attention, probably being multiracial, so we just banged that drum really hard. We charged ahead.
Have you had people try and guess what you are? What are some of the ones that have just made you think ‘what the hell?!’
KC. Ye-ap, when my dad’s people immigrated to Hawaii our original name was Seberano with an ‘s’. We were Spanish of the Filipino Spaniards. Pearl Harbour blew up, and we registered, and it sort of became an Italian name with the ‘c’, so I have a lot of Italians who are pretty convinced I am Italian. I was into that thing of La Dolce Vita, dressing in Dolce Gabbana and driving around in the little sports cars. Like a Fellini actress...but I get Greek, I get Sri Lankan, Mauritius, when the Filipinos come up they know I’m a flip and they’re thrilled. I’ve never met a Filipino who can’t sing...I'm quite average in their view because every Filipino is a fuck-off, dynamic, amazing singer. So I feel like they’re always very proud.
You have a daughter, do you find yourself wanting her to understand the full gamut of her cultural inheritance?
KC. It’s a good question because the colour bleeds out, I think we’re becoming more of the international colour now - like the future race of the world. In only 80 - 100 years or so everyone is going to have a touch of everything. So I think I’ve given her more the mantle to be whatever she wants to be.
Who are some of the people you looked to when you were growing up or was there freedom in not really looking like anyone?
KC. Absolutely. It wasn’t up to a team of stylists in the 80's to deliver you with a look, it was more about what you wanted to say at the time.
I worked with Malcolm McLaren, he was the founder of the Sex Pistols, he had an artist called Annabella Lwin, and she was a half Asian signer, so I sort of went fuck if she can do it then I’m totally going to get in her slipstream. I was chasing known people that I could see a portion of myself in and be pursuing their ambition as well. I actually think you have to imagine yourself in the shoes or skin of the people you most want to be and from that place you notice the differences and similarities and start to own your own brand as it were.
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?
KATE CEBERANO: Don’t try to please everyone all the time. Actually, I’ll do one better. Don’t seek to be liked by everyone all the time. Have the courage to accept that someone might not like you - get over and get on with it. It’s the only time an artist can fail if they're looking over their shoulder to see if someone is watching or listening to them, it's that backward glance...and then they trip over and smash their chin on the asphalt [laughs].
You don’t want to do that [laughs]. I’d rather see someone who is obscenely ambitious and going forward with strong views.
Kurt Cobain actually said this and there isn’t any quote better than this...'better to be hated for who you are, then to be loved for who you’re not’.