Ecca Vandal is one of the most distinctive voices in the contemporary punk and heavy music scene in Australia. But it’s also her cultural heritage and life as the child of refugees that has helped inform her perspective and approach to music.
Born in South Africa to parents who fled the turmoil of civil war in their native Sri Lanka, she spent the early part of her life living in the tumultuous climate of apartheid, where her family didn't really fit in on either side of the racial divide.
“My family experienced some tough times because they’re not exactly black and they’re not white," Vandal says.
"My family was living there for about 10 years before I was born and then we needed to move from there, due to the political unrest in South Africa, and were able to move to Australia. So that’s where I’ve spent most of my life,” Vandal recalls.
Despite her family’s life being uprooted multiple times before eventually finding a home in Melbourne, Australia, music has been one of the constants in her life.
“My whole life really, we’ve always had instruments around the house," she says. "I always used to hear my sisters’ singing around the house, and all my cousins sing too - they were all really into music, so I learnt a lot from them and followed in their footsteps.”
“When artists come to Australia from across the seas they bring their soul, and what music meant to them in their culture - whether it’s hip hop or soul or jazz or whatever it might be - when that merges with Australian culture and Australian collaborators it creates something truly unique.” - Ecca Vandal
Singing has given Vandal a connection to her culture - a result of not only her Sri Lankan heritage but her time spent in South Africa.
“It’s very intrinsically tied into our culture for Sri Lankans, and even in South Africa, we always sung as a community and as a group. Group singing is a big thing for us so I guess that’s sort of where I learnt. In our culture it’s just sort of taken as a thing you do,” she says.
Vandal was the first to actively pursue a career in music - choosing to study at the Victorian College of the Arts instead of taking an offer for a scholarship for a degree in business – much to her parents’ concern.
“They weren’t the most excited about it at the time. They were really hoping that I would maybe continue it as a hobby but go and pursue a proper career," she says.
"I feel the greatness of Australia is based on cultural diversity. That’s what I’m proud of about this country. We should start to embrace them and celebrate our shared humanity together." - Ecca Vandal
But in music Vandal found her true home: and it's one without borders. The Australian music scene provides a rare international platform for her as an artist, so it frustrates her to hear politicians questioning the worth of the contributions immigrants and refugees can make to this country.
She says that attitudes are progressively starting to change, but there’s still a way to go.
“I feel the greatness of Australia is based on cultural diversity. That’s what I’m proud of about this country. We should start to embrace them and celebrate our shared humanity together," she says.
"Even if we look at other countries around the world and see their musical landscape, they’re made up of people of diverse backgrounds and we need to look at that and realise we need that diversity too.”
Research provided by Nathan Wood.
Ecca Vandal makes up one of ten 'social influencers' set to go-live on SBS 2 Facebook this month as part of SBS Uncensored: a project where young Australians can talk openly about what issues matter to them.
Ecca Vandal was live @ 6pm on Tuesday, July 19 on SBS 2. Catch up below and like the page to recieve a notification for the next one!