EG article by Larry Schwartz


EG section in The Age 25 / 3 / 2011 by Larry Schwartz.


The decision to learn flamenco guitar brought Kavisha Mazzella back from the brink, writes Larry Schwartz.KAVISHA Mazzella was so distressed after her marriage broke down a few years ago that she went to see her doctor to ask for "pills to make you stop crying".

But the GP would not hear of it. "She said, 'You're kidding me,"' the singer-songwriter says. "'You'll have a worse problem if you take pills. You'll be addicted to them."'

Instead, she advised Mazzella to go home, have a good night's sleep and make a plan the next morning "that has to do with nobody else other than yourself".

"So I woke up and the first thought that came into my head was 'I am going to learn flamenco guitar'."

Mazzella is an accomplished musician on several instruments. Still, it was a struggle. "It was like being 10 and having your first guitar lesson," she says. "It was humbling and devastating and wonderful at the same time."

She claps the beat she struggled to master. "I was going to bed and I was tapping the rhythm against my chest. Then I was so grateful that I was single because I had the guitar with me. Every morning I would swing my legs over the top of the bed and play my teacher's exercises.

"It became like a 12-beat heartbeat to keep me going ... the rhythm was my horse that I could travel on."

Mazzella ends Love & Sorrow, her new album and her first in close to a decade, with a song celebrating renewed love and safe passage after troubled times. "Now I'm a boat/you are the captain/sail me into your harbour," she sings in Harbour.

But there are also lines in the song that reveal the depth of her distress: "I lost my belief/everything that I tasted was grief."

The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter and choir leader has since remarried. She has started painting again after decades and the cover features one of her striking works. Alongside lyrics in the sleeve is a happy photograph on honeymoon in the Ganges with new husband Andy.

On Australia Day this year, Mazzella was awarded the Order of Australia for her music and reflecting the experience of multiculturalism, indigenous Australians and refugees. It was, she says, "a shock because, to me, people who are in the establishment get those sorts of things".

Her family, she says, was "totally rapt". But there was some confusion. "My father didn't get it. He had to ring me up a few times to ask me, 'What did you get again?"'

Tibetan flags dance in the light mid-morning breeze on the verandah. On her fridge is a typed poem by a friend, welcoming a time "for our flag to be unfurled".

"In a way, this is a document of a journey," she says of the album, "travelling from this really dark landscape into light."

Love & Sorrow was produced by Chilean multi-instrumentalist Nano Stern. They have jammed with each other since they first met at the 2006 Woodford Folk Festival. Mazzella wasn't keen when Stern's manager Brian Dubb suggested two years ago that Stern produce an album. But now Mazzella thinks it worked well.

There is humour and whimsy on some songs on Love & Sorrow. Others recall difficult years with and without her previous husband, a conflict journalist who often travelled outside Australia.

"Since the break-up, I went through a dark night of the soul," she says.

"I really didn't want to live. I used to go to bed every night at that time not wanting to wake up, which was pretty serious because I am generally a happy person. It was really the darkest period of my life."

Mazzella has chosen to speak candidly in the hope that an account of her experience might help others in distress. "When people say to me they are going to kill themselves, I say just don't believe that thought. Things will change."

She was born Paola Mazzella. She took the name Kavisha - it means goddess of poetry -  in the 1980s. She was just three when her Italian father and Irish-Scottish-Burmese mother brought the family to Western Australia from London.

She felt safe on stage and continued to compose her evocative songs but could not bring herself to record a follow-up to her ARIA-nominated 2002 album, Silver Hook Tango, until the dark days had lightened.

We sit down to strong coffee and a YouTube screening on her laptop. Her GP is among 462 women at the BMW Edge at Federation Square singing an anthem Mazzella wrote celebrating 100 years of suffrage in Victoria.

She shows photographs taken on a May 2006 trip to a gypsy festival in the seaside village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the south of France.

One of the songs is dedicated to an English gypsy who had cancer and confided on the last day of the festival that he had planned to kill himself there but decided instead to go to a cafe "to hear Manitas de Plata play one more time".

Mazzella went to see the great flamenco guitarist. "It was so precious," she says. "The festival was part of my life coming back to me."

In Melbourne, her teacher would sit and watch without comment. Then one day she heard him say something she has not heard since.

"He only said it once. However, he said it a?? and it was a victory."

"Ole!" the flamenco teacher exclaimed.

Kavisha Mazzella launches Love & Sorrow at Brunswick Town Hall tomorrow, with support from Pearl.