“I hope you’ve got your tape recorder!” Mirrah Fay-Parker exclaims over the phone.
“Are you ready for a story?” Excitement twinkles in her voice. It’s like honey and gravel – one of the most alluring and comforting voices I’ve ever come across. You want to listen despite not having any previous context to this story, and you’re not completely sure why. But that’s just the magic that Fay-Parker so passionately weaves. She draws you in with charisma and warmth, making you feel like you’ve known her for years.
For the last few decades, Fay-Parker has been casting her creative spell all over the local and international hip hop scene. Talented, endearing and all ‘round mesmerising, her hip hop/soul fusion is like eating one of those popping candies. Sweet on the eardrums, but also full of funky surprises.
Born in Indonesia in 1974 but reigning from African American descent, Fay-Parker was adopted by a Caucasian family at four months old. Spending her early years between an array of different countries and cultures, she was lucky enough to call home to Venice California, Peru during the civil war and, finally, Eastern Sydney.
“The music in my family, from having an Australian mother and an Irish/New Yorker father, was often quite folk-based – Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and The Mamas & The Papas fill my musical memories growing up. It was all very cultured and political,” she reminisces.
“When the ‘80s hit and I started to mature, I found that I started to figure out my own sound more…. I learnt about development of lyrical content and how music resonated with your soul, and of course hip hop, which has been with me since 1979, because I heard it before it was even called hip hop in LA!
“I used to break dance on Venice Beach as a four year old, and I remember hearing this electronic beat and thinking ‘What is this?!’ But in a way it also just spoke to me. When I started hearing it again, more in the ‘80s I realised it was me, and what I had been looking for.”
A dancer and movement artist, her first dreams and ambitions constituted of being an Olympic athlete and a dancer. “Dancing is wonderful. Almost like a form of speech,” she bubbles. “I liked it because as much as I’m mature and more confident with speaking, back then as a kid, sometimes you just want to have silence and have your own voice. You dance to let out whatever you need to and that’s also the beauty of music… It was like my best friend that wasn’t human.”
In the ‘90s, Fay-Parker moved to London to pursue a career as a dancer, with plans to audition and join the music group Soul II Soul. Unfortunately, upon her arrival, Soul II Soul had just split up. “It wasn’t meant to be. It was just a means for the universe to get me to London. I think that was one of the main challenges as a young adult – to realise that there are always going to be obstacles in your dreams and doors that are always going to shut on you.” Instead, she found herself dancing on Top Of The Pops and as a lead dancer for Mark Morrison.
Fay-Parker speaks of her time in London as a period of transition and discovery. “Again, writing poetry and verses was my best friend when I didn’t feel like talking to my parents. I was the silent speaker through dance and then used my writing for the child in me to speak to their imaginary friend. I used it to let out my feelings and emotions because I suffered a lot from anxiety, but at that time, I didn’t know what it was called,” she explains.
In 1995, Fay-Parker left London and moved back to Sydney, sporting a new title she’d earned herself whilst being away: MC Shorti – spelt with an “I” that stood for two things: ‘individual’ and ‘Indonesian’.
She teamed up with good friend and mentor MC Trey, and found herself touring with hip hop legends Public Enemy. She recalls a moment during one of their shows when she was called to the stage to spit a fiery freestyle. “That was my pinnacle moment. I stood on the stage, opened my arms and just did my thing and the crowd were going crazy for it. Flavor Flav made me his hype woman after that.”
But there were also tough moments. “I was late in the hip hop game. I was presented with the opportunity of Public Enemy, but with it came a lot of battles,” she says. “The most constant and dominant battle for me was my heritage. People would say that I wasn’t Australian, or I wasn’t Australian enough for their own views. That hurt me so much, but then came comments about me not really being from the States and that I was just putting on an accent. They’d make comments about me not being Caucasian, but then they’d also say ‘Well if you’re Australian, then you’re not really American.’
“As far as I was concerned, I knew I was a child of the world, but when a stranger goes and tells you about your life path with a dominating manner it hurts and it also generates emotional pain and I still get those kinds of attitudes and comments to this day. Until I was 27, I was always out to prove myself to people. After that, I started to not care. I said: ‘This is me and I don’t care what you think. I know who I am.’”
Speaking highly of charismatic female forces such as Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Neneh Cherry, she found herself gravitating towards artists who were great storytellers, had the ability to sing and rap but also were able to evoke great empathy. “Neneh Cherry had very pungent stories, because when you actually heard it and felt it, your face just automatically turned into stank face and you felt like ‘Oh shit! She’s actually got something to say!’” she animates. “I loved that she was a woman of colour, but she was also from Sweden, so I really related to that in a way, myself also being a woman of colour and having a very worldly background. She spoke and sang about political meanings and she spoke of strength and being a woman. I love what she’s about.”
You probably recognise Mirrah as part of L-FRESH The LION’s hip hop outfit. Their fiery, electric live shows make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight with anticipation, respect and passion, as the music they bring provides not only a new flavour to the Australian hip hop scene, but also a social commentary for current issues the nation finds themselves facing.
“L saw me perform at a youth performance event and heard me rap, sing and DJ. He kept me in mind for when he would start his band. Five years later, here we are and that’s why I’ve always said it’s all about blessings and timing because ever since I said yes to him, the respect has come from audiences and from people in the industry. Finally, that door opened for me that had been halfway shut for so long.”
On her latest EP LIFE, Fay-Parker takes her own distinctive direction. Contrasting from her work with L-FRESH, LIFE is more of a soul-baring record. The EP has a real coffee and cream smoothness to it, with hard-hitting, sucker-punching verses. The two vibes pick you up, flip you over and leave you feeling bold and empowered.
“As a solo artist, you know one side that is Mirrah, and don’t get me wrong, that is me. It’s something that allows me to be a certain type of artist when performing and working with L. But what really needed to resonate and come out of me for my solo record was the side that people don’t really know. They don’t know the other personalities of Mirrah, the soft-spoken, the romantic or the mature side of me,” she muses. “It’s crazy because people don’t realise that I’m 40. They say things like ‘You were just jumping around on stage like you’re 14! How is it that you have that kind of energy?’
“Then when you hear my solo EP, I talk about what life means. LIFE is actually an acronym for ‘Live Intentionally, Forever Evolve’ and that’s why I wanted people to get to know me with my music. It’s how right it makes me feel, it’s how the reasons why music is like a metaphor for a love story, makes me tell the story of how I fell in love with hip hop.
“The only real political song is We Wanna Know which is why I had L-FRESH feature on it because I feel like it showed what we’re about as a team, especially when we’re on stage together – we talk about issues. My issues that I can speak about come from being a woman of colour and seeing what America is going through. That kind of energy has a ripple effect into other people’s countries. I mean, when we look back, Indigenous people of Australia never had civil rights.
“Yes, I may be talking about what’s going on in America, but the truth is that it is also happening right here too, just more silent… I feel the world is going through a lot of issues and it only generates hate. Society is telling us who we should be. We are born individually and our individual beauty is what we are.”