Breathing is natural. But different for Sahara Beck, she breathes through her ears. “I don’t sit down to write. I’ll sit down to play and then I’ll think ooo what's that, that’s nice, that's different’.” This 18-year-old songwriter/guitarist from the Gold Coast, now Brisbane based, moves through the world a little like the air that flows over the Sahara: with warmth, freedom, and purpose; feeling before thinking, gathering momentum as she moves. This momentum brought her to a nomination this year for Most Popular Artist, Queensland 2015. Sahara comments in between a thoughtful sideways glance and a direct smile.
“Some artists feel like they are owed fame instantly instead of just giving their music to the world. If you love it enough, if you’re happy to do it for nothing, those are the people that stay on the train for the longest.”
Her songs, like Brother Sister, have a freshness among the blues and greens of today’s indie pop scene with an improvisational playfulness, a crisp forward beat and concise melodic ideas that both earth out and fly high. With her fourth album, Panacea, due for release at the end of the year, “I don’t think I could keep writing the same things if I tried but I feel like my voice will always tie it all together.” Recently Australian songbird, Katie Noonan, has taken Sahara under her wing as support for two consecutive Melbourne tours. Now Sahara is showing her standing on a national scale. There is wisdom in her youth, she already knows authenticity is the key, “my next album will be more acoustic. What we play live is what will be on the album.”
“You have to know what you want or else everyone can tell you what you want.”
From her iphone she plays Tapping on the Roof, a new song from the album. It’s instantly catchy with hipster appeal, but not in a one-night-stand pop way, underneath the playful surface she has a dark edge. “tapping on the roof – that's sort of about schizophrenia, taking too many drugs, and losing your mind, losing your plot – the tapping is the tension.”
Sahara can captivate a room and feels “completely present” on stage. Her phrasing breathes and she finds stillness between her breaths. “If I leave space and I try to sing it gently, it’s sort of like offering them what I think I know, then if they understand and connect with it then it will draw them more in. Space can sometimes speak more than words,” she comments. To be popular has a fleeting fluidity to it, it comes and goes but Sahara is more than skin deep. In a world of young singer saturation Sahara is a true free spirit and one not bound by the need to conform. Her popularity streams from within, she doesn’t need to sell her soul to gain attention, and soul is certainly one thing she’s got.
Sahara’s blue dress with a little lace sits comfortably on her skin, as she chats near the daylight of the Little Bourke St. Hotel Window, before her gig at Wellers in the Yarra Valley. Her bleached blond quasi-bob and ringlets of various small sizes, compliments her fair skin and contrasts against her rich chocolate eyes, eyes that swim in her petit frame, and captivate you in you-tube clips, such as Pretender. When Sahara’s in the room, you notice her, but not because she asked you to.
Sahara laughs freely when she speaks, her honest transparency on stage and off, is alluring in itself. On stage her confidence is captivating, her improvisational nature encompassing, even though she confesses “my very first few gigs I wouldn’t even say my name on stage.” She is popular with music peers too. “Someone that really helped me was Rowan Jones from The Middle East. I did a project with him, Matt Croby, Rowan Henderson, and Karl Wallis from the Medics not last year, but the year before, around Christmas time. For a week before the gig we would meet up at the Brisbane Goal, and practice all day from 12 in the day until 12 at night, and it was so intense and I felt so unworthy, I felt like I was working with giants. And he (Rowan) said to me, if we didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here.” She pauses, “And that goes with anything,” she continues.
“If people didn't like my music they wouldn’t come to my show. And I guess it made me realise that I just need to do what I’m going to do, and if people don't like it then it doesn't matter, as obvious as that sounds.”
Sahara shows me a drawing she recently completed, possibly the album cover for her album due to be released at the end of the year, Panacea, “it means the solution to the world’s problems,” she states. Utopia ideals emblaze the chosen title but this is already her fourth album, naïve she is not – her first album was completed when she was 14 (she black and whitely claims “it’s so shit, it’s like looking at an old photo of yourself and going, ewe – I thought I looked good.) “I just didn't have the right skills and knowledge to bring out what I heard in my head, I was trying to get it to what I wanted to hear but it became this over produced poppy thing. I won't say their names (producers) because I don't want to bad mouth them, but because I was so young, I listened to what people said and they would say ‘but it would sound better like this’, and well ‘we know because we have been in the music industry a long time’.” Now Sahara plays her own ball game.
“I said to my manager, if you want to manage me then you’ll do it for free for a year.” She did. “I think that shows her character. I want people who I can relate to.”
Sahara has learned a lot about the sort of artist she wants to be. The Panacea album cover drawing shows pastel hues, swirling in a spherical ball and from the top grow two large eyes. Like Sahara’s eyes, they are alert but not alarmed, watching over the blissful psychedelic orb “it’s like an energy ball.”
Sahara too is prepared to respond to the world’s energy that waits, “I hate it when people say, ‘you sound so much like this person’. I don't want to be to be compared to anyone, it should be the first you.” As she speaks, she collects the three consecutive albums from around the room, hobbling daintily past the half eaten croissant on her sprained foot, a passing story from her plane trip down from Brisbane to Melbourne, a cute, simple, and amusing story but not one to dwell on – Sahara’s not a victim. Objects have assumed organic positions around the room, not in a careless way; objects in Sahara’s and her family’s life are allowed to be.
For Sahara rhythm is what hooks the feet, “Rhythm is the way people sing, instrumental rhythm, you can hear rhythm in everything, even in the way people speak, everyone has their own rhythm and melody.” And melody is what hooks the heart, “I think melody is really special. If you can write a melody that’s simple but catchy, but not irritating, that's genius.” And lyrics hook the mind, “Rodrigous said, the best kiss I ever had was the one I never tasted. It’s such a great line, and it's lines like that."
"That’s why people listen to music because they think, that's how I feel, I just never knew how to say it. You help them with their emotions and send them on their way.”
For Sahara, singing happens as does speaking. “I used to clean around the house just so I could sing a spoon full of sugar.” Her Mum, perched on the unmade bed, is there today too, “I don't normally travel with Sahara but I wanted to come and do some shopping”. Popping in and out of the conversation but never intruding, she becomes a natural part of the story telling. “Mum, tell that story about when I was little….” Mum then proceeds to pick up this sentence. Language between mother and daughter flows like a composed duet – one flowing on from the other but never interrupting – always allowing the other’s voice to be heard, a lot like Sahara’s music.
“Mum always said it was her job to make the baby and Dad’s job to name them.” Sahara was named after a confident girl her father met in Darwin. It was at a time when he sported an afro, and this girl was not afraid to question why. Her brother’s name is Ocean. “Can I show you another video?” she continues, “My brother is a genius. He has all these little hobbies and he gets so good at them so quickly.” “At the moment he wants to be a film editor” chimes Mum, “at the moment!” Sahara sighs.
Sahara finds a photo she has recently posted on Instagram. The photo is twenty years old. You are immediately drawn to the man in the lower right, his beaming smile so wide it could fit twenty normal smiles inside. That’s Sahara’s father. The sweet girl in the middle of the frame with the brown bob and bright eyes is Sahara’s mother. Behind the fair skinned, German born, Robert (dad), and Leonorga (mum) sit two African Americans. “Robert was one of those things that happened after the war” chimes Leonorga in her melodious German accent. “His father was stationed there (Germany) during the war and let’s just say, spread his goods….Robert has two siblings, that he knows of.” And when Sahara sings, you feel it - a clever blend of African American, German, and Australian - a unique vintage.
Sahara’s relationship with her family seems a little bit normal and a little bit fairytale. But not the Steven Sondheim Into the Woods type of fairytale (although her father is a baker and together her mum and dad own a café on the Gold coast.) Love is given and received in a constant cycle - a ‘Herman the German Cake’ style of family (google it – it’s cute).
As stories ebb and flow from the early days, from Sahara’s fascination and dogged determination to participate in the ‘nippers carols choir’, to their camping holidays, music festival jaunts, family tree of actors and musicians (her Dad’s sister is a Eurovision star), and their recent family reunion in Germany, a string of moments that catapult life are sewn together.
“We were travelling around Australia and she was six months old” her mum begins, “and we were in a caravan park and she was making all of these noises in the showers. And this woman said ‘I’ve been listening to her and believe me I know, it’s very unusual for a young kid to be able to do all of these things vocally’.”
The bubbling brook of stories meanders throughout the afternoon - never losing their endearment, particularly amongst comments of “are we musical Mum?” followed by “No I think it skipped a generation!” Ummm – Sahara – you ate the musical pie long ago –fait accompli.
The lucidness of loveliness, humbleness, and innate musicality all wrapped up in one package - Sahara Beck. This 6/6/96 baby is one to watch.