GETTING TO KNOW: MIRIAM LIEBERMAN

African influences blend seamlessly with blues-infused melodies and soaring vocal harmonies in the music by Sydney singer song-writer Miriam Lieberman. Her albums are soulful collections of stories, beautifully told through strings, African kora and Lieberman’s unmistakable voice. The Miriam Lieberman Trio is a combination of players, adding luscious vocal harmonies and soaring string arrangements. Regular members of the trio are Lara Goodridge (Baby et Lulu, FourPlay) on violin and harmonies, Susie Bishop (an opera singer and member of Chaika and guest for other bands) also on violin and harmonies, Carl St Jacques (Miami Symphony) on viola. Earliest member of the trio with Miriam was Kate Adams on cello.

Miriam is a multiple awardee of grants such as the John Butler Seed grant, Australia Council, Create NSW, APRA, Music NSW and the Australian Songwriters Association Award. She has regularaly featured at festivals around Australia including Woodford, The National Folk Festival (as the NSW showcase act), Fairbridge (WA), Yungaburra Folk Festival (QLD), Shir Madness, Blue Mountains Music Festival, Four Winds Festival, The Multicultual Festival (Canberra), Paramasala (Parramatta), Cygnet (TAS), Denmark Festival Of Voices (WA) and many more. Internationally, she has featured at The Guinean Jazz Festival, Hakodate World Music Festival (Japan), Voix des Femmes (Mali) and The Bali Spirit Festival. 

The Street talked to Miriam before her performance with her trio in February.

DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC.

Music has always been an integral part of my life, a way of celebrating life, and a way of making sense of things. It somehow illustrates the emotions of what it is to be alive.

HOW HAVE YOUR GLOBAL TRAVELS AND THE WEST AFRICAN STRINGED KORA INFLUENCED YOUR MUSIC?

My time spent living and studying music outside of Australia – in particular the years I spent going back and forth to West Africa (Guinea, Mali and Gambia) to study traditional music – have been pivotal. It was there that I was introduced and encouraged to learn the kora – a 21 string African harp that is now a feature of my trio and the principal instrument that I write on.  Studying and playing West African music also changed the way I felt rhythm. In many of my songs you can hear both subtly and quite obviously a direct link to West African stylistics. I also spent a year in Ecuador, a year in Mexico and 6 months in Brazil studying music where the Afro-Latin rhythms really resonated and also influenced my sound.

PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU AS A COMPOSER OF SONGS AND MUSIC.

I’ve always loved writing songs and I continually try to improve on the craft. The songs from the new album, Just Transforming, have been something positive that has come from a very difficult time for all of us globally. For me I came back to my songwriting. I wrote about this crazy past year of uncertainty after a hiatus of becoming a mum. The result is an album of new songs about our incredible and fragile planet, about becoming a mum, about imagination and about our need for each other. It’s my intention to empower and uplift people with this music.

WHAT IS THE GENESIS AND CREATIVE PROCESS OF THE MIRIAM LIEBERMAN TRIO? WHAT DOES EACH MUSICIAN BRING TO YOUR WORK TOGETHER AS A TRIO?

I am so fortunate to have musicians Lara Goodridge ( Baby et Lulu/FourPlay String Quartet) and Susie Bishop (Chaika, The Marais Project) as part of my trio. We love working and hanging out together which is very helpful when you’re in a band together. They are both exceptional violinists and singers and solo performers in their own right. Generally, I write the songs and then bring them to the trio where we work together on string and vocal arrangements.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION WITH ARTISTS WORKING IN DIFFERENT FORMS SUCH AS ANIMATORS?

I’ve been loving my collaboration with illustrator and animator Aidan Judd. We are halfway through creating a film clip for our upcoming single Infinite We Are.  After writing the song, I could see a clear visual in my head of a simple story that would go well with animation as well as the exploration of black and white images that move into colour. This collaboration is proving to be very special.

YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS OF A CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN TO HELP COMPLETION OF YOUR NEW RECORDING PROJECT FOR TRANSFORMATION, A NEW EP COMING OUT OF COVID TIMES. TELL US MORE.

I’ve already started to record the first few songs thanks to a small grant from Create NSW, and now I need my fans’ and the public’s help to complete the album. My Crowdfunding goal of $12,500 which will help pay for the recording costs, artwork, CD duplication, paying all the musicians and creatives involved, as well as a film clip and publicity, so that as many people as possible will get to hear the music and see the videos and imagery. 

WHAT HAVE BEEN AND CONTINUE TO BE THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING DURING COVID-19?  

Covid hit the whole music industry very hard. I had concerts and festivals booked both here and overseas. I also ran two community choirs. All of that came to a halt in March 2020 when the pandemic hit.  One thing I love is that many musicians like myself took to the challenge of trying to work from an online space  – for a while I did weekly live stream free concerts from my living room, the trio performed concerts via live stream for a few different organisations but most of all the time at home (despite a rambunctious toddler at all times) meant creating time to write, time to come up with new work that was directly born from the Covid era.

YOU WERE THE NSW SHOWCASE ACT FOR THE NATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN CANBERRA?

We have performed at the National Folk Festival a few times and have always felt warmly received by Canberra audiences. It was a real honour to be chosen out of all the bands playing to represent NSW as the state showcase act when we played there in 2018. We’ve also performed at the Multicultural Arts Festival which was also just wonderful.

WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU CURRENTLY IN MUSIC?

Regrouping and performing again with musicians and audiences has been so inspiring. Recording these songs also has so far been such an enriching experience and has spurred me on to complete the album. Whilst the future is still uncertain for the foreseeable time, I feel very positive that eventually we will come out from this cycle of lockdowns and loss and will be able to reconnect once more. Music is such a powerful means for doing that.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

The Crowdfunding campaign launches on Friday the 26th Feb and closes one month later on the 28th March. Meanwhile, there is a lot to do – getting back into the studio to record the next few songs to be on the album and gearing up to release and tour both the single and a few weeks later the actual album in May/June of this year.