Photo by: Lilla Berry

MEET THE MUSIC: LETISHA ACKLAND | Yabaardu & Balya Productions

Adelaide City of Music exists because of the hard work and commitment and enthusiasm of its musicians, music organisations, and institutions. Drawing on strong music foundations, Adelaide is home to world leading artists and expertise. ACOM is committed to celebrating these outstanding individuals and the joy they gift our city across the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

ACOM welcomes you to come Meet the Music and help us celebrate the people who make up our fantastic City of Music

In the exciting post-Covid era of 22/23, a myriad of groundbreaking festivals launched to bring music and musicians back to South Australian audiences. West Coast festival ‘Yabaardu’ lead the way as an inclusive, accessible, and game-changing experience. Our GM, Joe Hay, recently spoke with Letisha Ackland, the visionary founder behind ‘Yabaardu,’ shedding light on its evolution and her vision to transform the music industry and making it more diverse and equitable and an agent for real change.

A proud Wirangu, Kokatha, and Mirning woman hailing from Ceduna in the far west of South Australia, Letisha is the Executive Producer and Production Manager at Balya Productions. Established in 2019, Balya Productions, an independent and First Nations-led company, specialises in event management, concept development, community engagement, production, and logistical operations.

Letisha’s educational journey commenced with high school in Adelaide, followed by enrolment at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM) under the tuition of Grayson Rotumah, her mentor in music. Letisha’s affinity for music blossomed during this period, leading her to pursue a year-long study in sound engineering. Subsequently, she seized an invaluable opportunity for work experience as a back line/stage tech at the globally renowned WOMADelaide festival and more major festivals and events in Adelaide. However, amidst her growing admiration for diverse musical experiences, Letisha keenly observed a concerning void—the absence of women, especially other First Nations people and a general lack of Aboriginal representation within the events and festival industry.

Like many involved in the music industry, Letisha’s pathway has been predominantly signposted by a wealth of hands-on experience. Her advice to those concerned about their formal education echoes the sentiment that while a formal course isn’t imperative, opportunities are pivotal. This realisation, especially impactful for First Nations women, inspired the inception of Balya Productions, geared toward addressing this very gap.

At its core, Balya Productions champions forging industry connections, fostering professional development avenues, creating pathways, and facilitating employment opportunities for First Nations peoples, community members, and the industry at large. The term ‘Balya,’ essentially meaning ‘good,’ in the far west languages transcends into a greeting encompassing everyone within its context. Letisha’s independent, First Nations-led enterprise revolves around delivering exceptional production value focussed on community, culture, and connection.

Letisha grappled with a choice between a career in music or one as a professional athlete, weighing up the then relatively unknown with her school years filled with sports accolades.  Although opting for music after enrolling in CASM, Letisha is still a committed South Australian Football League player and athlete.

2024 SANFLW Central District Football – Season Launch. Photo: LongTime

When delving deeper into the beginnings of Balya, Letisha traces its roots back to her home in Ceduna. Yabaardu grew in 2017, transforms the conventional ‘colonised’ music festival into an inclusive outdoor community, family-friendly affair. Yabaardu, which translates to ‘everyone,’ in the far west languages stands as a testament to Letisha’s commitment to showcasing community potential and led by someone strongly rooted in the community itself.

The inaugural event, drawing 2000 attendees on a Wednesday during school holidays, was a resounding success, offering free rides for children and featuring a First Nations led line up. This initiative, funded by community assistance, earned Letisha the trust and engagement from her community, solidifying her reputation as a young, empowered businesswoman. Her passion extends beyond event management, aiming to impart knowledge and skills to empower the community for generations to come.

Letisha actively embodies her advocacy. When asked about her contributions to First Nations women and programs, she talked about the Balya Productions X Harvest Rock II Mentee Program. “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This underscores the critical need for visibility and opportunities within the Aboriginal community.

As for Letisha’s future endeavours, she focuses on streamlining organisational aspects, seeking mentorship in production and stage management, and gearing up for touring commitments. Over the next 12 months, her sights are set on significant events like NAIDOC SA, the next Yabaardu, and various community engagements. Her proactive approach reflects a commitment not only to her personal growth but also to the enduring advancement and representation of her community.

Letisha Ackland’s journey with Balya Productions exemplifies the healing and reformative power of music in fostering community connection and empowerment. Her commitment to addressing industry gaps, especially in gender representation, serves as an inspiring model.

As UNESCO Adelaide City of Music continues to uphold the principles of inclusivity and support for First Nations and women-led enterprises, Letisha’s story becomes a testament to the profound impact that individuals can have in shaping a more diverse and vibrant musical landscape. Through her ongoing efforts, Letisha not only paves the way for future generations but also amplifies the voices and talents of First Nations peoples, leaving an enduring mark on the ever-evolving narrative of our state’s collective musical journey.

ACOM partnered with Bayla Productions to deliver its First Nations program ‘Give them the Mic’ and is currently working on expanding the next iteration with e UNESCO Creative Cities Network with a focus on building international networks and capabilities for First Nations artists and music professionals.

Letisha outside Adelaide City of Music office. Photo: ACOM

National INdigenous Music Awards. Photo: Jack Fenby

Through extensive engagement UNESCO Adelaide City of Music works to identify and support the aspirations of South Australian artists, music organisations and institutions and to promote our music culture across the UNESCO Creative City Network and beyond. Although not a funding body, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network provides unique pathways for those looking to build networks and explore international opportunities.  For more information or to share insight, please follow us on social media or attend one of our regular events.

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