Stiff Gins


After almost twelve years making music together as the Stiff Gins, long time friends Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs have shared many major turning points and challenges in each other’s lives. Guided by their experience as connected, soulful performers, they have seen firsthand the power of honesty, openness, and intention when it comes to healing. And while it may seem surprising, granted their branding as one of Australia’s best loved Indigenous acts for over a decade, it’s the confluence of truth, leading by example and facilitation that has had an impact on their understanding of healing as much as their cultural heritage. Evolving together from their teens to their thirties, with all of the milestones that journey entails, has certainly given the Stiff Gins insight into what it means to heal and be healed. As it turns out, there are many elements that have come together to create their particular wisdom.

“Just like any woman of my generation,’ begins Kaleena, “I am really aware of how many steps my ancestors had to take for me to have the rights and freedom that I have today. I feel like I’ve inherited their strength and tenacity, and that history empowers me to be the woman - and the performer - I am now. But,” she continues, “I reject the stereotype that all my people are broken and in need of a special kind of healing, or that we share a knowledge that separates us from everyone else. I think everyone feels their own ancestral wisdom and collective knowledge and it informs how they are and what they do. For me, it’s more important how I choose to integrate that wisdom with my own experiences, and how I choose to apply it.”

The track Belong from their recently released album “Wind & Water” is a good example. Written about a surprising discovery within her family, the song was Nardi’s way of understanding and empathising with her uncle’s emotional response to the news. “Finding out that my grandfather had other children had quite an impact on his family, especially my uncle Jay. When I heard about his experience, I had just started learning my language. The first words that we learn are for family - brother, uncle, aunty, sister, daughter, son. The words resonated in a new way, and I was really struck by the timing.”

Asked to describe her experiences with healing as a woman, an Indigenous woman, and a Stiff Gin, Nardi poses her own question. “What I started asking is how and why it is that people seem to find peace and a settling by listening to our stories. What I’ve realised is that it’s not about a particular culture or skin colour, but about the humanity of our stories.” Stiff Gins are showing how, just by releasing the truth of who you are, you can reach a place of peace or find humour in your pain.

Kaleena argees. “The challenges that my ancestors faced bred an incredible capacity for humour, and I think we’ve adopted that example more and more as we’ve grown as performers. But we’re doing something more than that – we’re consciously creating a sacred space through our music. We’re invoking a spirit for our audience to connect with, and when we share our stories in that space, they become a gateway for the audience to begin their own journey. Healing isn’t always tangible – an epiphany is healing, an idea is healing. We’ve learned more and more as we go along that if we set the intention that our music has the power to heal, and we call upon our own experiences, we can trigger those epiphanies and ideas.”

The opening track Yandool, their first song written entirely in traditional language, is a welcome that sets the intention for the album, just as it does in a live performance. The simplicity of its lyrics demonstrates Nardi’s point perfectly. Now we will sing, now we will tell you about us... it’s what the Stiff Gins do best.

This article appeared in Vol 3 Issue 36 of The Art of Healing


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