Acclaimed Indigenous vocalist Emma Donovan and Melbourne rhythm combo The Putbacks burst on to the Australian scene with their album Dawn in 2015, announcing a new voice in Australian soul music. Emma’s songwriting is optimistic, impassioned, and bruisingly honest, The Putbacks’ music is fluid, live and raw, and the collaboration has won friends and admirers all over the world.
The project was born of Emma and the band’s shared love for classic US soul and the protest music of Indigenous Australia. Shades of every soul record you ever liked sneak through: Al Green’s Hi Records era? Check. Aretha’s Classic Atlantic recordings? Check. Stacks of Stax? Check. It’s all there, but there’s also a whole lot of Coloured Stone and Warumpi Band influences giving this project a uniquely Australian slant.
Emma grew up singing church songs with her grandparents on the North coast of New South Wales and her first secular gigs were singing in the family band, The Donovans, with her mother and five uncles. Throughout her career, she has toured and recorded with many of the mainstays of Indigenous music from Archie Roach to Dan Sultan and was a part of the Black Arm Band project. It was in The Black Arm Band that Emma met members of The Putbacks and their journey together began.
The Putbacks are stone cold pros, grizzled veterans of all the tours and all the studios. As individuals, they’re the players behind so many bands it’s difficult to list, but let’s start with Hiatus Kaiyote, The Bombay Royale, D.D Dumbo, Swooping Duck and The Meltdown. When they come together, they’re one of the tightest, sharpest, most dynamic musical units ever to exist. Their collaboration with Emma elevates their music and Emma’s songs to another level. Emma Donovan & The Putbacks have together released three studio albums: Dawn (2014), Crossover (2020) and Under These Streets (2021).
"Driven by brutally honest lyricism, irresistible percussion and a purist’s respect for the funk and soul tradition, Dawn hearkens back to the heyday of Stax and Atlantic Recordings" – Karaslamb, Okay Player
“Emma’s voice is everything you’d want in a soul singer. She’s the real deal.” – Wax Poetics
"Donovan can front a well-oiled soul band in her sleep” – Rolling Stone AU
“A tour de force of funk and soul hailing from the land down under” – Pop Matters
This engagement of Emma Donovan & The Putbacks is made possible in part through the Performing Arts Global Exchange program of Mid Atlantic Arts with support from the National Endowment for the Arts with assistance from the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Embassy of Australia in Washington, D.C.