deena jonze and becca hatch

Jaguar Jonze & Becca Hatch Are Not Here For Tokenistic Diversity

We’re all agreed that this has not at all been the year we imagined. From the fires to the plague to the eruption of consciousness around the need for real racial justice, there’s a lot going on. For Deena Jonze and Becca Hatch, though, a lot of what’s going on has hit much closer to home.

For Jonze—who works under the myriad of project names, including as a recording artist Jaguar Jonze—the year has been a whole ride, and not always a joyful one either. Jonze contracted COVID-19 early in the piece, releasing her debut EP in April after being hospitalised for complications due to the virus. Despite the drain on her physical health, Jonze then threw herself into her work and has been speaking up and advocating for the victims of an abuser within the Australian photography scene. While Deena’s personal healing process continues, her project Jaguar Jonze has already returned with a triumphant single launch, “Deadalive.”

Meanwhile, Southwest Sydney’s finest Becca Hatch saw her plans for the year shift rapidly. After a mammoth 2019 which saw her working with the likes of OneFour producer Solo, Hatch released her track “2560” (the postcode of her home turf, Campbelltown). Unfortunately, with festival circuits and live gigs off the cards, the vibrant track hasn’t quite had its day in the sun yet. Regardless, Hatch has made it work, appearing on juggernaut shows like Triple J’s Like A Version and Apple Music’s The New Australia playlist, all while navigating the Australian music space as a proud gal of Samoan and Kamilaroi descent.

Both artists are also making their debut in Reebok‘s latest ‘Not Your Princess’ campaign, alongside dancer Tarah Jane Scott.

We passed the mic over to them for a conversation about how they’ve found this year, and what they’re looking forward to next.

Have you faced any challenges as a result of your identity, especially within an Australian context which claims to embrace multiculturalism?

Jonze: I mean Australia is a multicultural country and multicultural nation, and I think we’ve embraced that we are multicultural. But, I had COVID-19 this year, and it made me realize that there is still a lot of, not malicious racism, but maybe a lot of ignorant racism. During COVID, being of half Asian descent, it kind of shone a light on it for me. These issues are still huge and conversations need to keep going. I think Australia doesn’t embrace true multiculturalism, yet. It really embraces the idea but doesn’t apply it into practice.

Hatch: It seems like, I don’t know, it’s about what looks good on paper. But in reality, sometimes the actual accepting people of different races isn’t actually practiced all the time.

Jonze: I think also if we look at Scandinavian countries that are really progressive and liberal, it’s hard, because there’s not a lot of multicultural nations as a precedent for what we should be doing. In those Scandinavian countries, like 90 percent of people are of one ethnic group. And then while we look at Australia, and it’s just a true melting pot of different cultures. And so that’s a hard one to navigate.

How do you think about representation—especially in the context of this years heightened Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements? Has it affected what you think representation can accomplish?

Hatch: I think it is important to have the correct representation. If you’re like talking about people of colour, it’s really important to have people of colour working on projects. Especially for me, I have a lot of people of colour in my team. There’s a lot more that could change in terms of how Indigenous people and Black people are represented. I read that only one percent of mainstream media is actually people of colour, no, one percent is Indigenous people actually working in journalism. I was like, how can you report on Indigenous issues? If there’s only 1% of you that are actually Indigenous?

Jonze: Yeah, totally. I think we’ve always known what representation can accomplish, but representation hasn’t always been something that is the norm. In the context of the heightened Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives matter movement, we’re seeing people who’ve been systematically and societally oppressed, in all facets of life, speaking out and pushing to the front. I don’t think that people always understand how important it is to see yourself represented in all parts of life. All jobs, all industries, music, art, but I want to see it move away from a checklist, or performative corporate society responsibility.

Hatch: Yeah, 100 percent.

We’ve seen social media be used as tool for disseminating information and care this year, but also a lot of performativity. What’s your relationship with it like now?

Jonze: I think I’ve always had a pretty solid relationship with social media. I’ve always tried to remain authentic and to make sure that I don’t use it in toxic ways. I know that it can totally be like a fake ally performance tool. The same thing as what I said before about just trying to tick off like a diversity quota or just like virtue signal, or like cleanse your sins of ignorance.

Hatch: Like the black square. I had a lot of people on social media that I was following, a lot of them were scared of being called ignorant, so they were like, “oh, okay I’m just gonna post so people of colour don’t think I’m ignorant.” But that’s not how it works, you have to learn about these issues.

Jonze: Yeah, if all you see is like the black square and a hashtag and there’s no conversation… it’s not a progressive action at all.

Hatch: And for people actually using the Black Lives Matter tag, it was taking up so much of the hashtag space so people couldn’t even find useful information.

How do you manage trying to do everything you want to do, while not burning out?

Hatch: Haha, ahh… I’m currently burning out!

Jonze: I’m currently in a beach apartment on an island by myself. Because I burnt out and I was just like, I need to get out. Force myself to do some rest.

Hatch: Yeah, sometimes I can go through months of pumping out so much music, and then after that you’re just so dead. You just need to not make music for a while. I just went through a phase where I pumped out so much music. Now I’m just like, I have nothing left in me. I just need to go to sleep and just live my life for a minute.

Jonze: Totally. I think our industry isn’t built to respect rest anway. Which makes it really hard for us to stop and avoid burning out. The industry is all about momentum and the hype.

Hatch: Yeah, as soon as you get one thing done it’s like “on to the next, on to the next,” and how can we build off that.

Jonze; Yeah exactly, and people have really short attention spans. And if you don’t feed that attention span, you just kind of get forgotten. We have to keep going and when we finish recording, we have to then promote that recording and go touring, I mean, obviously not this year. It’s kind of this weird endless cycle. So where do we fit it in? And that’s the juggle, really staying on top of it so you can land rest where you can.

Hatch: Yeah, it’s so important to make sure you take care of your mental health. Especially working in this industry, that’s what I reckon.

How important is it for you to have a circle you trust? Do you lean towards working with other women?

Jonze: It’s definitely so important for me to have a small circle I trust. That keeps me sane, I think it’s so important becuase the industry is so cutthroat. There’s a lot of ego and narcissim in the industry. I don’t lean towards working with women, I just lean towards working with people who I want to work with, and who I trust and feel safe with until I feel creative. And those who push my boundaries to discover new territory. Yeah, I think there’s good people all around, and you just have to try and find them.

Hatch: My team are like my family. It was important to me to trust them before working with them. With my management, I had to build a relationship before we started working on my stuff. Like, you guys got me because you guys are actually like my friends. You’re like family to me. I think I don’t have as many women in my circle as I would like, but I agree with you, Deena, about just having good people around you. I think this next project, I would like to have more women around me. To me, especially when it comes to what we were talking about with regard to representation, there are some things that females just get a bit more? In terms of my style, design, how I’m represented.

Jonze: Yeah, I play in a band with three boys. But those boys are so well informed and supportive. They constantly have my back when people throw racism and sexism at me. I’m sometimes amazed at, how much they speak out for me on behalf of me.

How do you protect your energy from environments and jobs that might not be authentic, or are tokenising you?

Hatch: Honestly, I’ve faced this my whole career. And I’m only 19. My whole career being an Indigenous person, it’s really easy to be asked to play a festival but then you realise, “it’s for our Aboriginal stage or our Indigenous stage,” or, “oh, we’re only having this exact show on this exact day and it’s only Aboriginal people.” Are you just trying to tick a box, to make it seem like you’re diverse? Maybe it would be a bit better if you just allowed Indigenous people to be a part of the mainstream. Even the idea of having “Indigenous artists” as a whole sub-genre of music… Like I make RnB music! I’m more than just my Aboriginality.

At this early stage in my career, I think it’s important for me to kind of, set the path that I want to go down. It’s really easy to release music that might put me in a box and easily get tokenized. But it is really hard because I want to talk about those parts of my identity. I want to be involved with my community. But then it’s like, I think about longevity sometimes. Maybe me doing RnB music or doing things that are a bit separate from my Indigenous side is what will get me into like mainstream music. And then what will make like the industry a better place if I’m able to occupy spaces?

Jonze: I recently had a company call me, saying they were scouting for artists right now, and they said you would be the perfect artist for this. And, you know, that’s something great to hear. And then the person adds, “because we’ve got two spots for people of colour.”

Hatch: Ugh…

Jonze: And I was like, “can I not be seen as a perfect artist just because of my art?” The person then continued to dig a hole, which was like, “we’ve got two spots for a person of colour, we’re going to get one Indigenous, and then you’d be perfect for covering the other side.” I couldn’t say anything at the time, because I felt really uncomfortable.

Hatch: Yeah it really belittles you.

Jonze: Yeah, totally. I find it so hard sometimes to protect my energy from tokenism. It can feel like the work is coming second to checking a box. When in reality, it should be that my work is what brought me here. And my identity and culture has helped shape the way I create art. But because representation can be so limited, sometimes it feels like I have no choice but to play on that tokenism and just embrace it. Just so I can be given just even a platform for a moment, you know what I mean? It’s a really hard balance of yes, I want to be represented, but I don’t want to reject tokenism to the point that I don’t ever get a platform. So it’s a constant juggle, of how my energy gets spent.

How are you staying creative right now?

Jonze: I’ve actually been saying really creative this year, I had a really tough year this year. I think for me, music and art has always been a way for me to battle my demons, and stay on top of my mental health, which meant that I actually have been creating a lot. I’ve actually just stepped back from other things and allowed myself to be creative. I’m just learning to be more gentle with myself and listen to what I need and to step away from all the noise and go, “you know what, Deena, it’s time to just make some art and put your feelings down on paper.”

Hatch: I think I’ve also been trying to find different ways to be creative again, rather than just music. I’ve been trying to get into art and illustrations. You know, I’m just trying to find different forms. Sometimes I feel like you just can just try and pump out so much stuff, but I’m still young I actually need to just live my life. There’s only a limited amount of things I can write about.

Deena, this year you shone a light on some disturbing and rampant issues of abuse within the Australian music and photography scenes. Has that impacted how you operate as a woman in the industry?

Jonze: I would say it’s always affected the way I operate in the Australian music industry. Being a woman in any industry was always a challenge and the power imbalances are constant because we still don’t have equality. In terms of if I think coming forward, and sharing all these powerful stories of what has been going on with my industry has impacted how I operate further, then definitely.

There is a strength that comes with speaking out and standing up and saying, “okay, enough is enough.” But then there’s also more vulnerability and anxiety there too, because you have to face not just the person doing these things, but an entire audience of people who have their own opinion, views and cultures, as well as dealing with the pressure of representing all the victims in the most respectful way.

But what I have learned the most from all the strong women banding together to sit alongside me is how much energy we spend dismissing wrong behavior, and situations, just so we don’t create a situation that could disrupt our career, or threaten our reputation. I think I’ve been shown like how much of what was going on is wrong, I learned through the process. I’ve been able to kind of sit with myself and realise and enforce healthier, more assertive boundaries to say, “No, this can’t continue anymore. And what you are doing is unacceptable.” So I’ve definitely learnt from everyone and all the pain that we all went through. And by speaking out and all of us sharing our stories, it’s made me just realise how isolating it can feel. And so, to deal with that isolation, we often just kind of dismiss our own stories and belittle our feelings.

Hatch: You’re really strong for that.

Becca, you’re careful to credit the team around you, including other impressive women like Milan Ring. Can you talk about how your creativity works in collaboration with other people?

Hatch: I owe everything to the people around me, that have helped develop me from the start as an artist. They’ve helped me figure out what direction I want to go in, they’ve stuck with me for years. For me, I’m only as good as my team. I have a lot of ideas when it comes to music and things I want to do, but I can’t physically put all those ideas out there by myself. I can write music but with production they really carry me, I’m really grateful.

Deena, you’re a creative working in a bunch of different mediums, how did you decide where to put your efforts?

Hatch: Yeah you’ve got like, two accounts right? I went to follow you and I was like, “whoa!”

Jonze: I have like four accounts that are really active. Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. It’s silly. I was brought up in an environment where I was so, so, so suppressed, and creativity was almost frowned upon and really shameful. But at the same time, I was dealing with a lot of abuse and trauma, and I didn’t know where to direct the processing of those travesties, I guess. I got into music and art really late and decided to make it my career really late. But I’m so grateful that I decided to do that. For me, I’m not passionate about music, and art or photography. I’m actually passionate about storytelling and connecting with my emotions, and having cathartic outlets and expressing myself.

For me, each of the different mediums does it in different ways for me. Music for me is like a conversation with myself and my subconscious and what’s going on in my own self and in my own head. And then my visual art is more like a conversation with other people. Like, once I’ve understood myself better, I can then carry that conversation outside externally, and learn more from people who’ve gone through similar situations, or completely different ones to grow my awareness. I love the external conversations with my visual art because I have really learnt so much. People have really taught me how to be vulnerable and to not be afraid of sharing.

And then I think my last one was my photography, it’s all about the body. And so I guess for me, it’s like a conversation with the body and how we can feel so much confusion and often have really unhealthy relationships with our body. And so for me, the photography just allowed me to embrace what I’ve been given and to celebrate what I’ve been given and to push the beauty of masculinity and femininity in everyone, no matter what gender. I feel like it’s really important for me to be the healthiest person that I can be, to continually be able to grow. And that’s why I split them up as well, because I feel like they exist in completely different worlds. I can’t assume that everyone who is a fan of my music is going to be a fan of my art as well.

Hatch: That’s so interesting, that you’re so passionate about your emotions and they come out in different mediums. I think that’s really sick.

Jonze: Thank you! Or crazy… I don’t know…

Hatch: I mean all artists are a bit crazy.

Becca, how do you think about the future of Australia’s relationship with Indigenous people? What would you want to see?

Hatch: I still feel like there’s a lot of room for growth. Indigenous people were not actually classed as citizens until 1967. So not that long at all. It’s very fresh, Indigenous people are dealing with generational trauma. It’s something that I face. It’s really hard sometimes to talk about the relationship between us because sometimes it feels like it’s nonexistent. Acknowledgement is due in some places, like land rights. After Kevin Rudd said “sorry,” I think a lot of people kind of just thought it was good, and it was fine. But there’s a whole aftermath of everything that happened to Indigenous people in the community.

I want to see Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Island people working in spaces they couldn’t before. That’s something that I want to do. I want to occupy spaces. As you said, it’s really important to be able to see people that look like you in all forms of media. To be able to turn on the news here and see someone that’s telling stories about Aboriginal people as an Aboriginal person.

Jonze: You know what, you doing festival, you doing RnB, you bucking tokenisation is exactly that. That’s what I reckon.

Hatch: Ahh, thank you Deena.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.