On Saturday 26 May, weave your way through the Art Gallery of WA (AGWA) to discover a place where the worlds of art, fashion and music collide to create ART BALL, a high-end spectacle that was voted by The West Australian as one of the Top Ten Events of 2016 and 2017.
Kira caught up with ART BALL performer Ofa Fotu // aka Odette Mercy // to talk about The Brass Cartel, the Perth creative scene and what’s next for Odette Mercy and her Soul Atomics!
Hi Ofa, we last interviewed you back in 2012 – catch us up! What’s been happening?
Odette Mercy and her Soul Atomics are set to release an album this year. Jon Fernandes, Musical Director and Co-writer in the band has been busy shaping and recording the album. I’m crazily thankful to have someone who has been in on this partnership from the beginning. We’re excited to release that and to tour it!!! It was the first band I started all of my firsts. Singing, front woman, writing with Jon… all of it began with The Soul Atomics.
And in 2014 I joined as part of the ensemble a show called Hot Brown Honey, which has been touring nationally and internationally. Going from humble and raw beginnings to a theatre extravaganza!
Speaking of which, we saw you in Hot Brown Honey, which was an incredibly powerful and entertaining Fringe World show. Why was it important to you to do the show, and what’s the journey been like?
People who know me in the industry or as ‘Odette Mercy’ know I have tried to enact and action accountability, love, equality and support through the things I do. On a small scale, at a roots level, this can change inequalities or unfair treatment over time, which can have big effects. However, sometimes with the things I experience on the daily, such as microaggressions, it can take a long time for people to understand, and it begins to chip away at you and one grows tired.
Hot Brown Honey (‘HBH’) has been the equivalent of understanding and releasing a lot of things I have pushed down deep over time. For example, not correcting people on how to pronounce my real name; asking strangers not to touch my hair; asking where I’m ‘really’ from, and the list goes on. When you’re told you’re the ‘other’ over and over, you try not to rock the boat in fear of rejection or ridicule. HBH helped me realise that there are other women of colour who feel the same. Who have used humour over the years to suppress it. And now we use humour in HBH as a way to educate and laugh all together.
Personally, it’s been a huge journey, and HBH has taken me all over the world! London, Edinburgh, Seychelles, Ireland, Canada, and we’ve performed in every state except Tasmania now.
So now you’re not only playing at ART BALL but you’ve formed an 11-piece brass outfit, The Brass Cartel, featuring guest vocals by Ali Bodycoat and Quentin Thony. What inspired you to get the band together, and what process did you go through to make it happen?
Muse Bureau PR have a huge amount to do with it. They’ve seen my performances in different shows at Fringe World over the years and initially, I was helping them find an act that would fit what they were looking for. But they are such a supportive, beautiful company, they kept asking if I would still sing in the project. It is so rare these days that someone will come to you and say something like, what would you do with horns at AGWA for ART BALL?
I wanted a mix of people. Some I’ve worked a little bit with, some I haven’t, and some I’ve aspired to work with. Brendan Grey-Scott is the MD and arranger, he is amazing. He’s helped to put together a band of awesome musos. They are a mix in terms of experience, as well as emerging and ones to watch. And our featured vocalists are people I am super excited about sharing the stage with.
First up is someone renowned in the Jazz world: Ali Bodycoat. I remember seeing her and hearing her perform for the first time. I was completely spellbound. She is put together so immaculately and then on stage, she is so poised, with elegance and style, and her voice reflects this – so much control. I think in comparison I feel like a muppet. Crazy furry hair, uncontrollable facials, and maybe I offer too much to the audience. Whereas to me, where Ali chooses to place notes, phrasing and how much she chooses to reveal is such a mysterious and mesmerising art.
Which leaves me now to talk about Quentin Thony. And what is there to say about this performer except he is the epitome of Extravaganza Eleganza and he can sing!! Best known as the front person of Soukouss Internationale, he’s often the ‘vibe coordinator’ which involves a lot of dancing (SO MUCH DANCING), but he has such a beautiful tone to his voice, added with his accent, and I feel it’s a shame people don’t hear it more often. So, ART BALL will be his opportunity to flex his vocal abilities and dance skills all together.
What can audiences expect at The Brass Cartel’s ART BALL gig?
I think it’s such an amazing event. We’re encouraging people to hear songs they may already know in a different way. The feature is our five-piece horn section ready to take you through a musical journey through free jazz, New Orleans street band, Big Band styled arrangements of popular songs from across the decades. ART BALL encourages people to experience the exhibition, performance art and
art in so many different ways. We’ve taken that challenge on to be reflected in our set for the evening.
What are the other must-do experiences at ART BALL this year?
Bands-wise, of course, you should check out headliners Architecture In Helsinki! They’re absolutely brilliant. Southern River Band are going to melt your faces off and cheekily steal your hearts. There are roving performances, live drawing classes that you can participate within or watch from a comfortable distance. That’s what I love about ART BALL, there is something for everyone and definitely something that will challenge everyone in a good way.
We know you’re a champion of all forms of art and an ambassador of the creative community in Perth. What does ‘art’ mean to you?
My colleague Kim Busty Beatz Bowers says something that I wholeheartedly believe in: Art has the capacity to change the world. It can encourage the voiceless to be heard. Or those with platforms to help amplify the unheard. To affect, inspire and to make people just stop, even for a moment.
Who are some of your favourite Perth artists and creatives right now?
Some of my favourites at the moment are Em Burrows, JFK, Abbe May, Artists – Wade Taylor; Matthew Wright and Mason Kimber. Ofa
Walk the red carpet into a world of mystery, mythology and decadence at AGWA’s annual flagship gala, ART BALL on 26 May 2018. Revolving around The Corsini Collection, AGWA will be transformed into an opulent realm of wonder and discovery with sensory experiences of palatial proportions. Tickets are $250 and include all drinks, food and entertainment from 7pm to midnight.