La Mama Musica is the genre-defying concert series you need to hear to believe

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La Mama Musica is the genre-defying concert series you need to hear to believe

Isabel Hede
Photo: Laura Rhodes
Words by Augustus Welby

Since its establishment in the late 1960s, Carlton’s La Mama Theatre has been a breeding ground for cutting edge, independent performance makers.

In 1969, two years after its inception, La Mama introduced its Musica program. In keeping with the theatre’s ethos, La Mama Musica invites creative madcaps into the space to develop new works or participate in unusual collaborations.

These days, La Mama Musica is a monthly concert series curated by Gemma Horbury. Horbury speaks to Beat about the series’ overarching intentions and what’s on the calendar.

Horbury took over the curator’s role earlier this year, but had previously been wooed by Musica in her capacity as a trumpet player.

“The sort of work that I want to make is really interdisciplinary and the theatre space really supports that type of work,” says Horbury. “It’s somewhere between jazz and classical, but not always either and moving around between genres.

“Musica is about music that’s pushing an idea. It might be really hybrid or interdisciplinary work, but it’s grounded in music.”

The series’ previous curators, Annabel Warmington and Adrian Sherriff, were with La Mama for nearly 18 years. Horbury is following their lead in making Musica both a community project and a forum for presenting challenging work.

These same characteristics have defined the initiative for several decades. “I can look back and see people in my lineage as a [trumpet] player who’ve performed there,” Horbury says. “There’s a guy called Barry McKimm who’s a really well known Melbourne brass player and he was doing free jazz and large group improvisation there in about 1969.

“In the history of experimental music in Australia, La Mama’s documented in there as this place that was important at the very beginning of this flowering of experimental music in the late ‘60s.”

La Mama’s commitment to artistic freedom and independent thinking is in direct contrast to the concerns about commercial viability that are dominant elsewhere.

“I was talking to my colleague Adam Simmons a few days ago – he had a really well-known ensemble called the Adam Simmons Toy Band,” Horbury says. “And he said how being able to present at La Mama was really crucial to developing those ideas and then [developing] the ensembles that came after the Toy Band as well. There’s not many other forums where you could present that work.”

The Musica events are all held on Monday nights; Horbury’s first curated concert occurred in July and featured solo trumpet player, Phil Day.

“He was doing some really crazy physical work – he ran the Melbourne marathon barefoot – and he’s been working with his body and working with himself as a trumpet player and the whole-person approach to it. What he came and played is never going to have commercial appeal, but it’s influenced how he’s approaching playing in other styles.”

The next instalment is on Monday September 16 and will feature two 30-minute sets: Modulate Music, which combines guided meditation and reflection with Isabel Hede on live violin and ambient electronics, and Shavasana, which sees multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tully Sumner exploring mind/body dynamics.

“Both Isabel and Tully are doing different work around yoga practice and how music can come into that type of practice,” Horbury says. “This is a really deliberate approach by me to bring some people together and get a dialogue around it as well. We can hear the type of music they’re bringing in that context, but we can also start to talk about it.

“Musica is also about the time before the first set and between the first and the second sets and then afterwards. There’s an opportunity to pick other people’s brains, get a bit of feedback and encouragement and see who else is doing that sort of thing too.”

The next instalment of La Mama Musica is on Monday September 16. Grab tickets and find out more about La Mama Theatre at