Barkaa On The Love And Fury That Fuelled ‘Blak Matriarchy’
"I really want my sisters to feel seen and heard with this. I want to pay homage to them."
Malyangapa Barkindji rapper Barkaa burst onto so-called Australia’s rap scene in 2020 with the breakthrough single ‘For My Tittas’.
A recovering addict (she’s five years clean) and former inmate, she’s now released her debut EP, the formidable Blak Matriarchy — and says her new addiction is thriving. “I feel like achieving goals is more addictive than drugs ever were for me,” she tells Junkee. “I’m addicted to thriving now, which is a huge high.”
Barkaa, AKA Chloe Quayle, wears her heart on her sleeve — even on a Zoom call. We’re talking just a day before the release of Blak Matriarchy, and she recalls how her life has only been on the come up since beginning her sobriety journey after her last prison stint.
“Being able to come out of jail and get my baby back after losing him, I think that was the moment where I thought, ‘I have a responsibility now. I gotta get my act together’,” she tells me. “Getting a roof over our heads was the first time where I was like ‘wow! We’re actually independent living. I’ve got my son back and a roof over our heads. I’m adulting!’”
She grins. “The life-changing moment with music was performing at Club Koori at Carriageworks. After that, I just knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
A couple of years after that performance, Chloe has even more to smile about. The 26-year-old’s debut is an empowering series of testimonials to the resilience and complexity of Blak womanhood. While tracks on the record like ‘Godz’ and ‘Come Back’ are cathartic explorations of Quayle’s past struggles with racism, drugs, and intergenerational trauma — the whole EP is a loud and proud love letter to Blak women.
To Be Seen And Heard
“I really want my sisters to feel seen and heard with this,” she says. “I want to pay homage to them. Create music where they can pump it in the earphones and have confidence in their step and hold their heads up high. For our sisters to believe that they can get out of traps of addiction and that they can get their babies back. I’ve created songs that speak about my life experience and that when things feel hopeless, there’s hope at the end of the day.”
“I really want my sisters to feel seen and heard with this. I want to pay homage to them.”
“We come from greatness,” she answers, when asked about how her experiences with racism and misogyny have shaped the EP. “There are parts of this record that are angry, but I want people to feel that because people weren’t apologetic about being racist to me growing up or making me feel I was less than because of the colour of my skin and the way I looked. Nobody made me feel I was accepted. So, I want to create music for sister girls who are going through racism, and all our Mob going through racism that we feel like, ‘I’m the shit. I don’t need to listen to these idiots that are trying to tell me about my culture and who I am when they don’t have any.’”
Rage is foundational to Chloe’s art and processing her past. For her, the two are one and the same. “It’s such a gross feeling to hold onto when you’re feeling angry. You’re like, where is my outlet? How do I let this out?” she says. “Writing those songs was quite triggering, but they were a release at the same time. They gave me a release to get that stuff off my chest then go back to being a mum and giving them my best self.”
Despite the occasionally overwhelming power of her anger, Chloe rarely feels guilt over it, or fear that people might stereotype her as an angry Black woman.
“We’re angry,” she says. “It’s okay to be an angry Blak woman sometimes. We need that anger to pull through. We have every reason to be angry. We have every reason to be mad. But the people who stereotype us as these angry Black women haven’t bothered to get to know us.”
“We Have Every Reason To Be Angry”
As a visible Blak woman on the world music stage, Chloe is aware that she’s representing Blakfellas internationally — and she’s proud to do so. Not only did her single ‘King Brown’ kill it over in the UK, but earlier this year Barkaa’s face lit up New York’s Times Square. “That was a huge moment for myself with Youtube Black, and with Briggs, Kodi, and myself and Dallas Woods, and we’re over on billboards in America representing Blak faces in so-called Australia. It was amazing to be recognised.”
“It’s okay to be an angry Blak woman sometimes. We need that anger to pull through. We have every reason to be angry.”
Quayle’s popular TikTok account has also meant her culture and music are finding ears the world over, though the lack of awareness outside so-called Australia of Aboriginal people has also brought its fair share of ignorant commenters. But she doesn’t let it bother her.
“They think the world revolves around them. Some people can’t learn. They’ve never left America or their towns. Are we really gonna take cultural criticism from them? We’ve torn ourselves up enough,” she shrugs. “We come together no matter where we come from and people can’t get that because they’re so used to dividing each other up. With Blakfellas we’re really blessed because we’re just one big Mob. It’s really special. People get jealous because they don’t have that.”
For Chloe, the music she makes as Barkaa has been vital in strengthening her personal connection to her ancestors and culture. “I feel way stronger in my culture now I’m representing it,” she says, proudly. “Mum was part of the stolen gen so we grew up in Sydney, where mum was taken from nan and pop. It was only my immediate family that grew up in Sydney so we didn’t get the chance to grow up with our cousins.
“I’m blessed because music has given me a way to learn and reconnect with my language and learn more Barkindji language, so I can share my culture with other young Barkanji sisters.”
Her three kids, however, don’t seem too fussed by their mum’s fame. “They’re quite blasé about it. When I got the UK reaction for ‘King Brown’, my son’s like ‘You made it mum!’ and I was like ‘I kinda did some stuff before that but alright’ and then when I told my daughter, ‘We’re in NY babe!’ she’s like, ‘where is that?’” she laughs. “They get it but to them it’s just mum.”
Something Bigger Than Herself
Blak Matriarchy marks Barkaa’s first major record release, and she’s got big plans for the future. “I feel like the sky’s the limit now whereas before it felt like I couldn’t be a rapper. But now I can make things happen,” she says. “You just gotta put yourself out there and chase it a little bit. Before it was kinda hopelessness of ‘I can’t get out’.
“I’m looking forward to being able to gig and connect with people, see more Nations, be welcomed onto more of our Nations and meet the Mob there — connect with Mobs across our country. We’ve missed out on so much connection,” she smiles, talk turning to her life as a mum. “I want to get a backyard, get more comfortable, and make sure my little fellas are thriving.”
“I really wanna strive for something bigger than myself.”
Her vision extends well beyond her own Barkaa project. “I would really love to be able to run my own gigs and maybe get sister girls into it. I’ve started getting amazing sister girls to share rapping with me. It would be amazing to give them platforms” she says. “Maybe open an all-First Nations female label — or an all POC and First Nations female label. I really wanna strive for something bigger than myself.”
Just this month, she curated a special playlist for Apple showcasing Blak women in music. “These are the women I grew up with in my house when Mum was pumping the music and cleaning up the house,” she says. “We have these women to look up to and I just wanted to create something to be able to share these inspirational women and pay homage to them, if I got the chance.” You can listen to Barkaa’s Blak Girl Summer Playlist on Apple Music.
But for now, Chloe hopes people hear her voice on her record, and use it to find their own. “I just want to instil strength into my Mob and for them to be heard — demand the respect they deserve. And give an insight into who I am. There are dark tracks, really angry tracks, real painful tracks, but there’s also very upbeat and happy ones that show my versatility as an artist, and some really dope ones I’m really proud of too.
“It’s just a little insight. But I’m just gonna hit ’em with that. Then, hit ‘em with some more.”
Merryana Salem (they/she) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.
Blak Matriarchy is out now. Barkaa’s Blak Girl Summer Playlist is streaming on Apple music now.
Photo Credit: Luke Currie-Richardson