The best in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Music


Deadly Vibe Issue 101 July 2005

Ready for Anything

Are you ready for Shakaya? ‘Cause these sistas are back with a brand new album.

When you meet the girls from Shakaya, it’s really quite impossible not to get swept up in their effervescence. When they enter the room, it’s as though they’ve brought a whole entourage of good vibes with them, and everything seems that little bit brighter.

Literally oozing positive energy, Naomi Wenitong (22) and Simone Stacey (27) seem genuinely delighted to talk to you, interspersing their cheery dialogue with regular shouts of laughter. It’s certainly infectious, and it would be hard to imagine anyone managing to stay in a bad mood for very long if they spent any time with these cheery songbirds.

“We’re always looking for something to joke about,” says Simone, nudging Naomi.

“It can make it difficult, actually,” Naomi admits, giggling. “When you have to act all sultry-looking in a film clip, and you keep bursting out laughing.”

They certainly look sultry in their latest film clip, for their new single Are You Ready? It’s a high-energy RnB party anthem with a killer hook and a beat that you can’t help but move to. In the video, Naomi and Simone can be seen cruising on Sydney Harbour before driving a flash black car to a jumping wharf party. They’re slick, sexy and very, very cool.

“The whole thing took 18 hours to make,” Simone says of the video. “We spent four hours out on the harbour, and I can tell you, it was a lot rougher than it looked!”

“I have to drive a car in the video,” Naomi adds with a chuckle. “But the thing is I can’t drive! So when they had to take a shot of us driving past the camera they had to get a stand-in who was wearing a wig to drive the car.”

Simone sings the lead vocals in the new single, but the album is definitely a collaborative effort.

“Some songs sound better with Simone singing, and some sound better with me singing,” says Naomi. “There’s no ego involved, it’s all about the music and how we can make it the best it can possibly be.

“One of the songs I sing on the new album is called Candy Rain. It’s an old 80s RnB number that we reworked. It’ll be great for DJs!”

As well as some upbeat tracks, the girls also deal with more serious issues. Simone’s favourite song on the album is called Broken, and deals with the issues of low self-esteem and substance abuse.

“Everyone has faced problems at some time in their life,” Simone explains. “Everyone has been broken. This song is about how you don’t need to deal with things by yourself – that you’re not alone.”

Another song that both the girls name as a favourite is called No Shame.

“This one’s strictly for the girls,” Naomi says, flashing her luminous smile. “It’s all about believing in yourself and not letting negative people hold you back.”

“I think that it’s especially important for our culture,” Simone says. “The word shame really holds our mob back, so this song is saying: get out there and do what you want, there’s no need to feel shame.”

The new songs reveal a more mature Shakaya, and herald a more definite move in an RnB direction and a truly individual style.

“We’ve been out of the scene for a while,” says Simone, “but we used that time to really get the next album right. We basically eat, breathe and sleep music these days!”

“We just want to keep getting better and better,” Naomi adds. “We wanted to come out of that studio feeling happy with what we’d done – to prove to ourselves and to others that we can really do it.”

They’ve certainly achieved that. The new single and forthcoming album firmly place Shakaya as the leading RnB act in Australia.

“RnB in Australia has long been dominated by American musicians,” Simone says. “We want to create a new RnB scene in Australia – a movement that Australia hasn’t seen before.”

“There is so much talent out there now,” Naomi adds, “and we really support it. It’s not about competition, it’s about giving all these talented artists the recognition they deserve.”

Shakaya’s new album is set for release in August. Are you ready for it?

(Story 1/7/2005 end)

Deadly Vibe Issue 89 July, 2004

The power of two

Four years ago, two gifted young women from Cairns met while studying an Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander music course at their local TAFE.

Today, as Shakaya, they are embarking on their first UK tour as the support act for fellow Australian pop star Peter Andre.

It’s been an incredible journey for 20-year-old Naomi Wenitong and 24-year-old Simone Stacey. Something that began as a bit of fun in their lunch break has led them to become multiple-hit-making, ARIA-nominated, five-time Deadly award-winning stars.

The young women have just recently returned from the United States, where they worked with songwriters who’ve penned tunes for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Whitney Houston.

Now the girls have a gruelling six weeks ahead of them – they’ll be performing almost every night as they tour England.

“We’re full-on excited,” gushes Naomi. “We’ve never been to England before.”

The two friends first met Peter three years ago, at their manager’s studio.

“He’s such a deadly guy,” Naomi says. “You wouldn’t expect it, but he’s just really normal and really funny.”

The girls have toured with big names before. When giant R’n’B group Destiny’s Child came to Australia, they asked for Shakaya to be their support act.

“We were backstage getting ready before the show,” Simone recalls, “and they just knocked on the door. We still had our hair in rollers, and there we were, standing in our dressing room with Destiny’s Child!”

The two also supported Kylie Minogue during her recent sell-out Australian tour.

A second album has been written and recorded, and will be ready for release once the details of their international contract with Sony have been arranged.

“We’ve learned so much,” says Naomi. ‘Just to think of how much has happened since I was 16 – it’s truly amazing.”

(story July 2004 end)

They sing, dance, look unbelievable and write all their own material. They have the kind of talent white-bread teeny boppers can only dream about. And they’ve just landed a major recording deal. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the sounds of Shakaya.

A few months ago Deadly Vibe heard about two girls from up Cairns way who were reported to be huge, going places, megastars in the making. Rumours were flying around that Sony Music executives had flown in from America to check them out before promptly whisking them off to LA to become the Next Big Thing.

People were saying they were going to be Australia’s answer to Destiny’s Child. Or TLC. Or 3LW. There was talk that they were already racing up the charts. That they’d taken America by storm. That….. Well, there is some truth to all of this. And yes, they are going to be huge.

Their names are Naomi Wenatong, 19, and Simone Stacey, 23, and together they are Shakaya. Their first single, “Stop Calling Me”, already has industry insiders buzzing and a national release is planned for the end of January.

Naomi and Simone are a powerhouse of energy, laughs, talent and good old-fashioned spunk. These two were, ahem, destined to be together and are so close it’s hard to tell where one finishes and the other begins! Shakaya were in Sydney recently to film their debut video and Vibe was invited along to meet them.

So how did you two hook up?

Simone: We met at an ATSIC-sponsored music course at Cairns TAFE a few years ago. The first day we met we wrote a song together.

Naomi: It’s not a song we’d ever want to repeat, but we knew from that point on we were on the same wavelength in terms of music and personality. We both come from big musical families, so I suppose it was inevitable that we’d end up in music.

That music course has a really good reputation. What did you two get out of it – apart from meeting each other, of course?

Simone: It gave us really good background training and we gained incredible knowledge from doing the course – how to read and write music, and basic skills on a range of instruments. One of the most beneficial aspects of the course was learning about the business side of the music industry.

Naomi: That was really important for us because even though you’ve got talent you need to understand how the industry works in terms of contracts, publishing rights and all those little things. There is so much talent out there, but often it just gets lost or people sign contracts they don’t quite understand. Doing the course made us realise just how much knowledge you need to make it in the industry.

You two formed a band while you were at TAFE, but it wasn’t Shakaya.

Simone: Yeah, we had a band called Forte. At TAFE they set people up with each other so they can workshop – learning how to work with musicians, trying out different sounds, that sort of stuff.

Naomi: We’d play in pubs and clubs, mostly for free. We just wanted to get out there and perform. Because we write all our own music we wanted to take it to the public and see what they thought.

Simone: And we wanted to get more experience at performing live. That’s what gives you confidence as a performer, just getting out there and doing it. But one of the problems was that most of the venues we were playing in were bars, so people weren’t really there for the music.

Naomi: We’d take it really badly because we’d put so much time and effort into writing the songs and performing them, and most of the time people would just be charged up and not really interested.

So what happened after you’d finished the course?

Naomi: Well, we talked heaps about making a living out of music, but we were feeling really disheartened. Then my dad saw an ad in the paper for a new studio that was opening up in Cairns. He said we should record some of our stuff and take it to them.

Simone: So we pulled out this crappy old four track of Naomi’s dad and sat around in her lounge room with her dad playing guitar and drum machine!

Naomi: Real basic stuff. The four track barely even worked, you know! We had to hold both the buttons down just to record, but we were really confident thinking, “Oh yeah, this is deadly!”

Simone: So we rocked up to the studio and we couldn’t believe it! It was the biggest, flashest thing you’ve ever seen and we both thought, “Oh no! We’re way out of our league here.”

Naomi: And to make it worse they had to drag this old tape recorder out of the cupboard to listen to our tape because no one uses tapes anymore. So were sitting there feeling really ashamed around these big flash record people!

Simone: But they had a listen to it and liked what they heard. Reno Nicastro, whose studio it is [and who has managed the girls’ careers from day one], got some people in to do backing vocals on one of the songs we’d written and he loved it even more. We didn’t hear from him for ages and we were getting really down, but then out of the blue he rang us and said, “So do you girls want to come in and record?” and it all just took off from there.

Wow, the magic phone call. So what happened next?

Simone: Well, we both quit our jobs and started full-time in music, writing and arranging.

Naomi: We also started a really tough regime that included training, dieting and changing our lifestyles. For me it was a big crossroads because I’d just turned 18 and I wanted to get out there and party up! But Simone and I had a big talk about it all and I realised that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I mean, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me to do that stuff. It’s about dedication.

Simone: It’s like sportspeople or doctors or anything, you’ve got to set goals and work really hard to achieve them. There are heaps of people out there with talent, so you’ve got to have that edge.

We heard some rumours that record executives from America flew in to see you guys.

Simone: No, no, no! Reno is really good friends with Richard Wilkins [Channel Nine’s entertainment reporter] and he saw us do some stuff and helped us get a showcase with Sony.

A showcase? That sounds pretty scary.

Naomi: Oh man, it’s full on. You go into their offices and you’ve basically got five minutes to perform and win them over!

Simone: It’s the most nerve-racking experience in the world because you know this is your one shot at it – you have to make an impression straight away. We came down to Sydney and did a showcase for Dennis, the head of Sony, and another associate. This one was a bit different in that we got to do a half-hour showcase. Then they both walked out of the room!

Naomi: We’re both standing there, shaking all over with everything going through our heads – could have done, should have done, what we did right, what we did wrong.

Simone: And five minutes later they came back in and said, “How would you like to do a single with us?” And I suppose it didn’t really hit us until we were doing the film clip today.

That’s a pretty incredible story! And you really did go to America too, didn’t you?

Simone: Yeah, that was the most amazing experience. It really opened our eyes to the reality of just what was happening for us. And it helped us overcome our shame thing.

How tough was that?

Naomi: Oh, we both had a real problem with that shame thing. I mean we’ve all got a bit of that inside of us, but you’ve got to get past it or it’ll bring you down. We’re always reminding each other, “Don’t say that!” Simone’s mother tells her, “Don’t say that or it will be a burden on you. Get it off your back or you’ll never get anywhere.”

Simone: And it’s really sad because so many of our young people let that shame thing overcome them and it stops them from moving forward. We really need to get rid of it – take that first step forward and be proud of who we are and what we can do.

Naomi: Going to America you have to get over it really quickly, because there is so much talent and no one’s got time for you if you’re there with your head hanging down and you’re all shamed up. We’ve learned how to walk into a room with our head held high, full of courage, because what’s the worst that’s going to happen? If you don’t have the courage, the thing that’s going to happen is that you won’t get anywhere!

So what did you do in America?

Simone: We started out in Orlando, Florida at this camp – it’s where people like Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys trained.

Naomi: It’s a boot camp for popstars! For us to be there was such a privilege because normally you have to be signed with [legendary producer] Lou Pearlman to be able to get in and they train you in everything.

Simone : It starts really early in the morning and you go through voice training, choreography, styling…

Naomi: …media training, posture, how to work in front of a camera, using the stage in a live performance. For us it really was the best experience. Going there made us really believe in what we were doing and it made us aim higher.

And then you hit Hollywood.

Simone: Yeah, the guys who wrote “Torn” for Natalie Imbruglia [Endaswap and Phil Thornalley] wrote a song especially for us, so we thought we should check it out. And it also meant we could say we’d recorded in LA!

Naomi: So we rocked up to their studio and it’s right where the Hollywood sign is and we’re both like, “Oh my God!” We were so stoked that they’d written something for us. It was really interesting singing something that someone else had written.

Because you two write all your own stuff, don’t you.

Simone: Oh we wouldn’t have it any other way. And when we’re singing it means it’s coming straight from our hearts.

Tell us about your first single, “Stop calling Me”. It’s about being stalked by someone – you weren’t stalked, were you?

Simone: No!!!! It’s not really about being stalked in that bad way. It’s more about how you can be out and a brother comes up and tries to hit on you and then he’s trying you all night and you don’t want to be disrespectful or anything…

Naomi: …but they just don’t get the hint! It’s happened to everyone. When you start talking to other people, men and women, you realise that everyone’s been through it.

Simone: But we also sing about relationships and love, and we’ve written one song about girls and fighting.

Naomi: It’s a real problem – women running each other down – and we’ve had plenty of it. The lyrics are really personal and we called it “Nagimar”, which sort of means “What are you looking at?” It’s really about trying to say to women, “Let’s just stop it. There’s no use fighting – let’s encourage each other instead.”

Simone: We should stand together and support each other because there’s enough people out there ready to run you down.

The type of music you are making is really R’n’B. Why do you think it has it taken so long for Black Australia to do it?

Simone: It comes back to that shame thing, plus we don’t see enough of our own people doing it on a national level. I mean, there are heaps of Murris out there doing it but we need to create our own style. It’s just that the pathway hasn’t been there.

Naomi: But we’re hoping to break some of that down and create more pathways so people can go, “Oh, she’s a girl from our own community and look what she’s done.” We want to make people really proud of us.

Simone: And it’ll also make record companies realise we’ve got talent right here. It’s a long process but we’ll get there.

What is it that keeps you so motivated?

Simone: We just get this stirring inside of us going back to when were in the States. There was this one night…

Naomi: …we were on the balcony of our hotel looking out over LA and we just sort of said to each other, “We’re just some Murri girls from Cairns and look how far we’ve come!”

Simone: Our families have been a real driving force for us, but we also knew that it just felt right. From that moment on we just knew we could do this.

And we know they’re going to do it, too. But right now, what they have to do is get back in front of that camera and brace themselves for the future. Because one thing is for sure, these girls have everything it takes to make it big – talent, drive, determination, the support of their family and communities, and real deadly music!


Shakaya have met Shakira and it’s all smiles!

R&B duo Shakaya think it’s funny that they have a similar name to that belly-dancing diva from Colombia, Shakira.

It was “˜attack of the shaks’ in New Zealand!” laughs Shakaya’s Simone Stacey. “We flew to New Zealand to promote our new single. Shakira was over there at the same time doing “˜meet and greets’. So Sony invited us to meet and greet with her.”

Shakaya means “˜voices in the wind’, while Shakira means “˜the graceful one’. So what did the “˜shaks’ think of each other?

“She’s really nice and down to earth,” confirms Simone. “The name thing was a weird coincidence because we released our singles in the same week. But I just think it’s a bit of a laugh.”

And why wouldn’t Simone and Naomi Wenatong be laughing? With their first single “Stop Calling Me” having gone platinum and their second reaching gold, Shakaya can certainly cope with the competition.

Just back from a successful tour supporting Destiny’s Child, things couldn’t be better for the pair.

“The tour was a big thing for us. Both of us have been fans of Destiny’s Child since we were young and it was just amazing being on the same stage as them. We were nervous, but I think the tour with Human Nature and Bardot kind of prepared us for it.”

That said, these down-to-earth girls from Cairns are still trying to get used to their newfound fame and what has become a (musical) dream come true.

“It’s all kind of new and a little bit weird for us,” says Simone. “But our families keep us grounded and we never forget where we’re from. The best thing about it is when we see these kids lining up and asking us questions and telling us they really want to sing. It’s good to see we’re giving hope to young people.”

Shakaya not only have the “˜look’ and the “˜voice’ “”” they also have the talent. Both hit singles were written by Simone and Naomi, as is their soon-to-be-released debut album.

“We just sit down and talk about a story for a song and then we have a laugh and a giggle about it. After that we’ll go off by ourselves and each start on a verse. Then we’ll come back together and combine our melodies and jam on it. I might play a bass riff on the keyboard and Naomi will say “˜That sounds deadly!’ Then we just have some fun with it.”

Having fun is obviously working for Shakaya. And with their new single “Sublime” steadily climbing the charts, this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from these delectable “˜voices in the wind’.

>Deadly Vibe Issue 77 September 2003

The fun-lovin’ girls of Shakaya “”” Simone Stacey and Naomi Wenitong “”” pack their suitcases and passports this month for a quick trip overseas.

First of all, they’ll head to Boston in the United States to perform at the NEMO Music Conference and Showcase before zooming over to England for industry showcases there.

With this sort of schedule, it’s hard to believe that the girls say they’re taking things a little more quietly this year. But then again, 2002 was a full-on whirlwind of publicity, performances and tours for the Cairns duo. They rocked the charts with three highly successful singles “”” Stop Calling Me, Sublime and Cinderella “”” and supported major acts such as Destiny’s Child and Human Nature. They also scored an ARIA nomination and four Deadly awards!

Earlier this year, Shakaya was back in the charts with a groovy cover of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel.

With things settling down a little (but not too much!) in 2003, the girls have been busy in their home town writing lots of songs for their second album. Although Shakaya is well known for its smooth R’n’B/pop style, Simone says that they have also been “experimenting with a lot more rap and rasta sounds”.

As for Naomi, she has only just come down from the high of turning 21 last month. “I was born on the same day as Michael Jackson, so there’s a link there “”” it’s a sign,” she says.

She had a big birthday bash planned by her sister, who tried “”” unsuccessfully – to keep it a secret. Not that Naomi minded that the news leaked out. “It was a good chance to catch up with friends just before I head overseas,” Naomi says.

Both girls say that the travelling is one of the most enjoyable parts of their success. Besides seeing a lot more of Australia “”” they regularly travel to Sydney and Melbourne to perform and to do interviews, fittings and photo shoots, as well as zipping off to other places such as Thursday Island for CrocFest “”” they also love heading off overseas.

But they are still getting used to another part of their success “”” being recognised in the street. “When you’re out shopping you sometimes get the feeling that people are watching you,” Simone says. “And kids will follow you around. It’s weird “”” sometimes you’ll be walking down the street and people wave at you. And you go, “˜Oh yeah “¦.’.”

“We’re not used to the attention, especially from people in other States. It freaks us out a little bit.”

Naomi says that after a recent experience, she’ll remember not to go to the supermarket in her pyjamas any more. “There I was, wearing my pyjama pants with pigs and their little wiggly tails on them, when people came up to ask me for an autograph,” she giggles. “You just forget!”

She says she’s got no plans to leave Cairns to live in the big city. “It’s a good thing living in Cairns because it keeps your feet on the ground,” she says.

Simone, 25, agrees. “Here we get to relax and unwind, and we’ve got our family and friends here,” she says. “They’re great support for us.”

Even though the two girls are now seasoned performers, they say they still get nervous before a performance. They say they’ve developed rituals that help them relax as much as possible before a performance. Simone says the girls love to put on a face mask and take a bath if they can!

“We both get nervous, hey,” she says. “But we were also both brought up in the church, so we ask the Lord to take away our nerves. And we always remember to have fun and not take it too serious.”

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