MIRRAH: Reflecting Perceptions of Self
Mirrah is an incandescent performer and human being. Performing with acts like L-Fresh the Lion and bringing out her own EP in 2016, Mirrah has lived through the evolution of the hip-hop scene in Sydney, from it's humble beginnings to where the scene is now.
THE PIN. Can you tell me about where you grew up?
MIRRAH. My background is such a beautiful mixture, I call myself a child of the world. I am Indonesian, and at sixteen found out that I have African descent in there too.
I was born in Indonesia (Yogyakarta), and adopted at four months old by a caucasian couple. My mother is Australian and my father is an Irish-New Yorker. I grew up in California ‘til about eight years old. We moved to South America and then fast-forward to Australia. I’ve been an Australian citizen for many years. I’m very much a Sydney girl.
Growing up in multiple countries, was there a culture inside your home that made your home a constant while you were moving?
M. Definitely, my mum is a very strong woman. I knew I was adopted by the time I could speak. People would ignorantly say, ‘Oh, your mum is white and you’re brown’, and I would just say as a young kid that I was adopted. My family always allowed me to know that I was proud and different, and that the love was so intact.
When you were growing up, was race an issue for you at all, and how did you and your family approach it?
M. I did not know I was a person of colour until I was nineteen years old. The reason being I moved from Australia to England - as you do, in that gap year in life - and all of a sudden, I was in a different country where they only saw colour. I had to justify myself, my foundation and at times it felt I had to justify why I am human.
Being in such a conflicted situation made me question who I was. Then finding out and still trying to learn what it is to be a mixed young person. Realising I’m in a white family, I’m Asian, but I’ve been told I have African descent. Then thinking, okay, am I supposed to act a certain way, am I supposed to talk a certain way, am I supposed to be a certain religion? What is this identity I am supposed to be?
Fast forward to 27 years of age and it occurred to me that…I am me. I am supposed to be me and I am supposed to be the best of me.
It’s like when I work with L-Fresh the Lion, I acknowledge his Sikh background but I also acknowledge he is very much a born and bred Australian - south-west Sydney, from Liverpool, and proud of that. Then I look at the band we have, it is full of multiculturalism. We encompass that. We just celebrate life and one another.
How much was music involved in your life when you were growing up and how did it evolve to where you are now?
M. Well this is interesting, because growing up with a caucasian family I grew up with a different sound to what you’d expect. I grew up to folk music; Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mamas and the Papas, the Carpenters.
I was four years of age and I met hip hop because B-boys were popping in California. I just watched in awe and listened to the pulse. The pulse just went YES, this is your language, this is your frequency.
What was it like coming through as a band, with people from everywhere, in the Sydney music scene and then gaining prominence?
M. Hip hop has been in Sydney since the ‘80s; there have always been people who are representing, but moving it to now, I finally see the beautiful support of Sydney. It’s this new generation of people willing to build together. I think that comes with maturity. Yeah, they may be influenced by the American hip hop scene and lifestyle and may take on the accent and certain things, but now it’s our time on the Sydney scene to educate one another and be proud. To figure out how we can represent ourselves in the Sydney scene. Music allows you to try and learn who you are.
With your MC’ing, what is the role of an MC? How have you brought your personal character and self to that role?
M. In the ‘80s when it all started, the DJ controlled the party. MC’s didn’t come till later, which is a Master of Ceremony. The MC is the one that controls the room and lets people know...you know, if the music is moving and I feel like you need to put your hands in the air, I guide you. That became the storyteller, vocally, of an MC.
Then freestyle came in and that's where an MC is usually known for thinking off the top of their head, freestyling lyrics to compliment what’s going on in the atmosphere. I started like that but I don’t freestyle anymore. So as an MC I am a performer (and I really use that word as respectfully as I can), because I make sure I can be a mic controller and control the room and the energy that I wish to provide for that night. Whereas a rapper, they’ll only deliver lyrics and their story in the way they wish.
Do you get asked where you are from?
M. EVERY DAY I GET ASKED. Because I get my hair done. My natural hair is straight or wavy. When it’s straight I look totally Indonesian, or what we call Blasian- black and Asian - but when I get my hair done with braids, it gives me a different style. It totally morphs me. That’s why my name is an interesting metaphor because it’s ‘mirror’, and I reflect many different perceptions of myself.
I get asked all the time! It’s weird, instead of the nice question of ‘what's your ethnicity’, it’s ‘What are you?’...Wow, really? I’m human. I usually answer with ‘I’m human’. Then they say, ‘Where are you from?’. And I’ll mess with them. ‘I’m Australian, I’ve got an Australian passport so I’m Australian!’.
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?
MIRRAH. Listen. Stop and listen. And remember to believe in yourself.
- This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo credit: Chris Woe