When Barkaa – born Chloe Quayle – rang me on a mild Sydney morning, she was upbeat, gracious and open to answering all of my questions. The 25-year-old rapper had already spent the morning doing back-to-back press, and had plenty to talk about given the eventful past few weeks.
After the July release of her single King Brown, an ode to knowing your worth, her collaboration with American rapper Rico Nasty on the track Magic dropped at the beginning of this month.
The exhilarating professional moments for this Barkindji woman contrast with the anxiety and concern she's harboured for her extended family living in Wilcannia. The town in far west New South Wales with a predominantly Aboriginal population continues to battle the COVID-19 Delta strain outbreak with limited resources.
"It's been devastating," she told me." I think because all my family's from there... and hearing that little babies have got it. You know, our health is already impacted," she continued, referencing pre-existing conditions such as kidney failure and asthma "that runs in our families."
"It's scary to think of the impact it's going to make on mob."
Back at her home in southwest Sydney, Barkaa's felt the toll of not being able to work due to the forced lockdown.
"It's tough because music is my bread and butter. So it's really hard to go from where you're living comfortably, where you're finally putting rent and food on the table and having nice things for the kid to struggling again to live from fortnight to fortnight, and have to be extremely tight with money."
However, she's also embraced the break from the studio to cherish time spent with her three young children.
"If I was out on the road working or touring around, I wouldn't get to have this important time to spend with my kids," she said. "It's really beautiful to be able to stay home with them."
It's hard to believe Barkaa's only been in the professional music game for just over a year. Her songs Our Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe, a collaboration with Dobby, captured crowds and the attention of Briggs and his Bad Apples label during the Black Lives Matter protests in Australia last June.
"So it feels like a lot longer, because I've been doing it for such a long time."
Ever since I gave up [alcohol and drugs], it's just been up and up. I felt more confident in myself.
A career highlight for Barkaa to this day is the powerful public response to her debut track, which celebrates First Nations women.
"It was insane bringing out For My Tittas. I knew it would have been such a powerful song for mob, but to have First Nations women and just women in general resonate with that song was even bigger than what I thought the impact would be," she said.
Beyond the last 12 months, the rapper's life has changed dramatically over the past five years after battling drug addiction, incarceration and homelessness. After giving birth to her son in jail, she prioritised her children, health and music on a road to recovery that's an incredible story of inspiration and hope.
"I think you've got to get to that stage where you're just so fed up with your addiction that you just really want out," she said. So ever since I gave up [alcohol and drugs], it's just been up and up. I felt more confident in myself.
"You could go through all these things where you think, 'I just want the old me back or I just want to be the person I used to be'. But I realised that I'm actually stronger than I used to be. I'm more powerful as a woman. I feel more in touch as a woman. I love the new person that I've grown into through my past and through my struggle."
Barkaa said the "gifts of recovery" have had a significantly positive impact on herself and her family. "Everybody's so much closer," she said. "It's not dysfunctional anymore. Everything feels at peace."
Looking forward, the musician is embracing any opportunities that come her way to elevate First Nations voices in the music industry.
She will be a speaker at BLAKSOUND, the country's first dedicated Indigenous music event led by youth and presented by Digi Youth Arts and Vyva Entertainment.
The event, taking place from September 6 to September 8, will feature a series of online workshops and discussions, designed to elevate and celebrate the voices of current and future First Nations artists and industry workers.
Barkaa said the forum is important for highlighting the necessity for greater representation and inclusion of First Nations artists in industry conversations.
"It's so important because we wouldn't necessarily be booked in a group," she explained. "Here, we're an all-Blak panel."
She said at other events "maybe one of us goes on and we give our perspective and we'll just be [there] to kind of tick a box [so people can say], 'Now we've got a Blak person on our panel'."
But the rapper said there's value in including a diversity of First Nations perspectives on a panel. "We have all our different stories," she said. "As First Nations people, we're not all the same. We come from different clans and we come from different tribes."