When Aminah Hughes steps on stage she does more than fill the room with her honeyed voice. She draws her audience into nostalgia, calling us to remember the beauty and rebelliousness of an analogue world. “Inspiring” and “strong” are words that are often passed around at her performances as she embodies the empowerment we are all aching to feel. “An intelligent and vocal woman of extraordinary musical talent – a powerful musical force” (Robert James, GANGgajang/Yothu Yindi), Aminah is unafraid to touch the rawness, giving voice to pain, laying it bare, and finding the light in its grace. As Irish journalist Kate Winter describes it:
“There was no distance at all between musicians and audience, with Aminah’s warm charisma drawing us all into a fantastical storyland of songs and poetry. This lady can SING. But she also tells wonderfully vivid tales with every lyric, every word. Tales of love and rebellion, campfires and warriors, the earth and the moon, injustice and freedom…I was transfixed, and the energy in the room was truly uplifting. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a gig before which rejuvenated my spirits quite so much. I felt hope. I felt immense pleasure and warmth in the core of me. And I felt an air of romance and possibility that hasn’t been awoken in me in a long time.”
Though she has since been proclaimed “a strong, soulful singer” (All About Jazz), “celestial” (Shane Howard) and the owner of “a voice that will haunt you until you are dead” (American songwriter Thom Moore), when Aminah first picked up a guitar and stumbled onto the stage, encouraged by a teacher from her university poetry class, she had no intention of becoming a singer. She had trained in classical flute, performing in the Sydney Opera House at the age of sixteen, and spent seven years appearing on Perth’s RTR.FM, working her way up to become a programme presenter and a DJ spinning breakbeat vinyl. But through writing she learnt how to connect with her deepest emotions and, as she puts it, “write them out” of her in a way that she found powerfully healing. And she was told that sharing her self-exploration could be healing for others too.
She went on to play a number of festivals and venues around Australia, sharing stages with Jimmy Little, GANGgajang and the Sydney Youth Orchestra, supporting Canada’s The Wailin Jennys, touring with Robert James, having tracks published on two national compilation albums of Australian spoken word artists, and being a featured artist on Triple J Radio’s Artery programme, before making her way to Ireland, one of the lands of her ancestors and a source of musical and mythical inspiration.
In Ireland, Aminah collaborated with celebrated Irish traditional and blues musician, Seamie O’Dowd, performing at festivals and venues in Australia, Ireland and the UK, and touring with Californian songwriter Thom Moore (Mary Black). Described in a three page feature in AVALON Magazine (USA) as “the archetype of a strong woman,” Aminah continued to enchant audiences with her honesty and her voice, even inspiring folk legend Christy Moore, who sang some of her lyrics during a performance at The Button Factory in Dublin. She made her debut television appearance singing on Irish TV and appeared on RTÉ Radio 1 and BBC Radio Ulster, sang at the Tipperary International Peace Convention, performed regularly with the Sligo Baroque Orchestra as a singer and flautist and was an invited singer with the Sligo Sinfonietta Orchestra at the Hawk’s Well Theatre. Following a guest appearance with Tommy Emmanuel at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, she appeared alongside O’Dowd and Emmanuel on the albums Going Places and Wood and Iron.
As a singer Aminah has lent her voice to Australia’s Who Do You Think You Are? (singing in Scots Gaelic) and to the title track for the highly anticipated game, Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock (singing in Classical Sanskrit), based on the popular NBCUniversal Television Series. Having appeared on a number of acclaimed albums in Australia and Europe, including those of formidable Irish traditional trio Maírtin O’Connor Band, Australia’s Shane Howard and European folk-fusion outfit No Crows, Aminah produced her debut studio album, Blue Wooden Boat, recording in Ireland, USA, Australia and Germany.
The album features a host of internationally renowned musicians, including special guest Tommy Emmanuel, Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham, Nashville gospel singers The McCrary Sisters, multi-instrumentalist Seamie O’Dowd, Californian dobro player Mike Witcher, Ireland’s James Blennerhassett and Jim Higgins, No Crows cellist Anna Houston, jazz pianist Kieran Quinn and GRAMMY® Award winner, Tim Carter, who also mixed the album in Nashville’s Treehouse Studios. Before its scheduled release the album is already getting traction, with song “Tell Me It’s Over,” gaining an honourable mention as a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition, hailed as “the songwriting competition to take note of” by the New York Times.
More than a musician, Aminah is seemingly a creative prism. Not only does her writing manifest in other forms (she is a published poet and in August 2012 presented a conference paper at Oxford University in relation to a novel she is writing), she has worked in film, television and theatre as an Assistant Director and published projects in Australia and Ireland as a photographer. Her photographs appear on the sleeve of three Irish albums and in 2015 she combined her passions of music and photography to shoot the Musicians of Sligo Calendar, featuring Sligo based musicians from across the genres of rock, Irish traditional, jazz, blues, Spanish, gypsy, classical and baroque. She also dabbles in painting and printmaking and did the artwork for her album cover. But ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and she’ll tell you, “It’s all storytelling.”
After such a winding journey, how does Aminah see her debut album? First and foremost a poet, she sees it as “an offering – a songbird cupped in the hands, ready to fly.”
Or perhaps, a boat, ready to launch.