Self-Portrait: POOKIE

For Melbourne-based producer and rapper POOKIE, the creative arts have always been a medium for self-expression. But music didn’t come first, initially it was through painting and spoken word that she found a way to explore and celebrate her South Sudanese roots and Dinka culture.

Born in Kenya, before relocating to Perth as a child, she made her move to Melbourne in 2014 and found herself immersed in the arts scene. It was whilst working a day job, during a bout of creative block, that she began toying around with GarageBand during her breaks. This led her to study production and music business before going on to form a five-piece jazz-hip-hop band and then releasing her debut solo offering in 2020.

Through her poignant and eloquent lyricism, she confronts the challenges that come with being a Black woman growing up in Australia, using this as a vehicle to share her experiences with the world. For POOKIE, it’s also been incredibly important that she passes on the skills and wisdom she’s gained since starting her creative journey, which she does through mentoring emerging artists within the scene, particularly those from linguistically diverse backgrounds and disadvantaged communities.

We get to know POOKIE’s creative processes more in the below interview, which sits alongside a mix of original material from her catalogue. 

POOKIE features on Rhythm Section International’s second SHOUTS compilation.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

Back in Kenya, my older brother would set up a huge sound system in the middle of our compound and blast some dancehall favourites like Chaka Damus and Pliers’ ‘Murder She Wrote’ and, of course, Kenyan hip-hop from the likes of E-sir and Ogopa DJs.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

Not necessarily. I’ve always been into music and loved finding new sounds to get lost in, but that was always on my own efforts. My family always nudged me in the direction of your everyday doctor or lawyer – and even though I knew deep down I had other plans, I never thought a musician was something I could/would ever be. I just never considered it as a possibility.

What led you into rapping and music production?

My first form of artistic expression was and will always be painting. This meant that I always gravitated towards creatives and these days being a creative means more than just one thing. I found myself in a pool of poets and spoken word artists and this was the first time I started trusting myself to not only write the things on my mind, but to share them with this community. Not long after that I stumbled upon GarageBand on my laptop, started adding atmospheric sounds behind my poetry, and realised there was a whole world of sound waiting for me.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your work?

Missy Elliot is a big one for me. She showed me that I don’t have to sacrifice my goofy self to create something respectable and, in fact, I can use that authenticity to my advantage. Erykah Badu is another one. She really helped me see that self-preservation throughout my work is important. She helped me realise that without the artist, there is no art.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

Before I get into the studio, I cease listening to any music that’s not my own. It really helps me get into the zone of my sound and what I want to create. During that time of creation, however long it may be, I’ll listen to my demos (new and old), my released music and some tracks by the artists in my city.

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

Never. I usually like to start with a blank canvas and see where my emotions take me. Sometimes I may come in with an idea to build on or I might be certain that I want to work with a specific artist, but the fun part for me is not knowing where this will lead to. It’s the journey for me.

Are you the type of artist to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

I would like to say I’m somewhere in the middle. I won’t release a track until I’m happy and sure about it – but sometimes, the first takes are the best ones. Sometimes, that particular song needs to be a little rough around the edges because that’s what makes it. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve done a take in the moment when I was truly feeling it in my bedroom, and have not been able to recreate that same emotion at the studio because I’m no longer in that zone. In these cases I will choose the recording that makes me feel what I need to feel.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

It’s different every time. Today I might start with some keys because I’m coming from a gentle space, and other days will see me go straight to my drum collection cause I’m coming in heavy. Either way, my process is of a layering one. I like to build up my tracks in a loop and then come back and started stripping them down. After that I’ll start creating sections. I usually combine producing and writing so my lyrics will usually have a relationship with the beat. I also come into the studio sometimes with lyrics prepared. I’ll then work around that!

What’s the most important bits of kit that make a Pookie track?

Honestly, all I really need is my Ableton and a midi keyboard. Everything else like my synths and beat pads are just luxuries that I float to when I want to try something different. I’m a bit of a sound engineering nerd and do a lot of my work on the screen.

What’s on the horizon? Any releases we should know about?

This year I had the wonderful opportunity of composing a live studio album with a 5-piece band mostly based on my productions. ‘FLick’ will be out this year, and the first single dropped on the 27th of September!

Pookie features on Rhythm Section International’s second SHOUTS compilation.

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