Tasmanian-based musician Rose Turtle Ertler hadn’t come across a large group consisting entirely of guitars playing original music – until she created her own.
The all-female group – insolently named Mapatazi – consists of 22 women playing electric guitar and bass of all ages and levels of musical experience.
“Having so many guitars together was a new thing to try,” Turtle Ertler said.
“Most people think it’s funny, and then when I tell them [band] name they laugh a little more.
“But it’s really exciting, and… so far, it seems to be working.”
Mapatazi just gave their first concerts, as part of the Ten Days on the Island arts festival, and Turtle Ertler says they were well received.
“We are not going to be silent”
Turtle Ertler, from Chudleigh in northern Tasmania, decided to seek band mates for Mapatazi just six months ago – to build his friendship and musical connections after living away from the island state for 31 years .
“I didn’t quite understand what’s going on here in the music business, so I thought it was a good way to find out who is there.”
Turtle Ertler said she went with a women-only policy for the group because she thought it would be “refreshing.”
“The music scene is very male dominated – every place, every recording space that you step into,” she said.
Following the success of the band’s first two concerts, Turtle Ertler is now determined to keep the band alive.
“I want to keep doing things, with the idea that it’s always about relentless female voices,” she said.
“We’re here and we’re not going to be quiet, and you can’t get rid of us – that’s what I want the Mapatazi feeling to be.”
Safe and welcoming environment
The women who responded to Turtle Ertler’s initial call for band members joined for a variety of reasons, with the all-female factor being just a lure.
Kit and her daughter Cleopatra (whose names have been changed to protect Cleopatra’s identity) began attending rehearsals together – the same day Cleopatra bought an electric guitar without ever having had lessons.
“My daughter and I wanted to play music together, [but] … None of us had played electric instruments before, ”Kit said.
Kit says the all-female aspect of the group gives her qualities that she and Cleopatra “absolutely adore.”
“I think that has actually been crucial for the kind of warmth and welcome you get,” she said.
“There is… no judgment, a lot of people helping everyone, so the rehearsals are really unstructured and they flow – I think that comes from being an all-female band.”
Another member of the group, Mary Shannon, said she appreciates the group for helping artistic women and non-binary people to thrive.
“[And] it’s nice to know that other guitarists and bassists are out there, and they all want to be a part of something and drink tea. “
So much more than just a group
Mapatazi rehearsals have been held once a week since the band started, but Turtle Ertler has made the band more than just music.
Drawing, costume sewing, screen printing and zine making are just a few of the activities associated with it.
“It’s like feeling [the band is] a really good grassroots group to do things, ”Turtle Ertler said.
“You just have to ask, ‘Does anyone want to come and help us print our band’s t-shirts?’, And there will be a few people who can.”
While looking to have the group’s costumes made, she came across a local women’s friendship group made up mostly of Afghan Hazara refugee women.
“They designed and made these shiny goddess-like headdresses for all of us, so it’s really beautiful to work with them.”
“Awesome” concert, a lot of fun
Ahead of the band’s first live performances, Kit said she couldn’t wait to get into “the whole rock vibe.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she predicted.
So was she right?
“It was a fantastic experience… a brilliant concert,” Kit said.
“You always do something a little weird when you’re in front of a lot of people… but it’s the joy of playing – you get something slightly different every time.
And the band plays on …
Mapatazi members now envision a future beyond the festival.
“I love everything, I love all the groupie stuff, I love that I got to do a song with my own daughter… [so] we are going to push for the group to continue, ”Kit said.
For Shannon, the group is important in helping to “break down the barriers” for local women in music.
“We’re not as welcome in the spaces as we should be, but that is definitely changing and improving,” she said.
Turtle Ertler, who initially thought about finding 30 members for Mapatazi, said 22 were “quite sufficient”.
“You can do a lot of things with 22 people… and it’s a very nice group of people,” she said.