Episode Five - The Voice

Episode Five - The Voice
Ofa Fotu

Ofa Fotu

In this episode, Bonnie and Andrea interview singer, performer and all-around onstage legend Ofa Fotu. Ofa has a background in performance art and teaching, but has won the hearts of audiences in Australia and around the world with her incredible singing voice and stage presence. She’s played in a number of different bands and is perhaps most well known as the charismatic frontwoman of Odette Mercy and Her Soul Atomics. She’s recently enjoyed international acclaim as a cast member of Hot Brown Honey, a spectacular stage show featuring six women of colour presenting original work in the form of circus, burlesque, music, dance and more.

Ofa opens up about her experiences growing up in the suburbs of Western Australia in the ‘80s, including her attempt to change her name to something a little more South Lake friendly. She also shares how she went from being a shy church singer relegated to playing backup guitar to the charismatic, award-winning vocalist known as Odette Mercy. It wasn’t until she was asked to sing at her brother’s wedding that she began to slowly cultivate the confidence of a fierce frontwoman. She shares how creating an onstage persona helped her find a version of herself confident enough to lead a band, and how she overcame debilitating nerves in the early days of her music career. 

Andrea and Ofa trade stories of onstage failure- or perhaps more accurately, moments where, despite the enthusiasm of the audience, they felt that they hadn’t brought their best to the table. Our intrepid trio then share strategies for dealing with these low moments, and debate how long to self-reflect after a rough performance before letting it go. Ofa also discusses how her experiences of prejudice affect how she approaches her work onstage, how looking a certain way makes an audience assume you sing a particular genre- and feeling the need to buck those expectations.

Ofa’s strategies for dealing with negative voices, both internal and external includes a healthy dose of laughter, a skill she learned from her family that translates to Hot Brown Honey. Ofa divulges Hot Brown Honey’s beginnings as a burlesque night, with the aim of providing a platform for women of colour. Creators Kim 'Busty Beatz' Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafi developed the show as a response to feeling they could reach a certain point in the Australian arts industry before their careers would plateau. Now the show has become an international sensation.

Ofa shares her experiences of dealing with racism both onstage and off; everything from verbal abuse from audience members to being unable to hail a taxi home from a gig. She also discusses shared experiences with her Hot Brown Honey castmates, and strategies that they have used to combat hate- including sharing with like-minded friends, banding together fellow artists and in one instance, throwing a party to reclaim a space. All of this falls under the umbrella of radical self-love, one of Hot Brown Honey’s primary tenets and an important tool for overcoming hate and adversity. Ofa brings strength to everything she does onstage and off, and is deeply generous in sharing her personal experiences and life lessons. A worthy lesson for any music lover, performer, and anyone who’d like to work on being a better human being. 

Download the full transcript here.