Emma Donovan & The Putbacks: Aboriginal soul

Award-winning Australian band brings Aboriginal soul and funk to Helena

On Stage

Emma Donovan & The Putbacks have been hailed as being “at the forefront of the Indigenous renaissance” movement in Australia.

They’ll be bringing their unique blend of country, soul and funk to The Myrna Loy in Helena at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30. The band also performs a one-hour family concert of children’s stories and cultural music at 11 a.m. that morning.

“I’ve recently released a kids’ album, that includes songs but also some older nursery rhymes that have been translated from aboriginal languages,” Donovan said.

The multi-award-winning Indigenous singer has been performing music since she was 7.  A member of the renowned family band, The Donovans, that was founded by her grandparents, Micko and Aileen Donovan, Emma knew she wanted to be a singer since she was a young teen. She’s been collaborating with the Melbourne-based Putbacks, a rhythm and funk band, for the past eight years.

“It’s kind of special what we do with The Putbacks,” she says, adding that the band combines older style Aboriginal music with soul and funk. “There aren’t a lot of Aboriginal singers doing that.”

The concert will include many of the songs and stories that have been recorded on their albums.

“Most of my music stems from my connection with my mother and father and their communities and their people,” says the artist.

Her whole family on her mother’s side was in The Donovans, including Emma’s mother, Agnes, and Emma’s five uncles. Much of the music they sang was church or gospel music, and Emma, like her mother and grandmother, is known for her powerful voice.

Her mother’s family are Gumbaynggirr (pronounced goom-bang-GEAR), people from the area now known as Northern New South Wales, while her father’s family are Yamatji (yah-mah-djee) and hailed from West Australia.

Donovan regularly performs songs in the traditional languages of Gumbaynggirr and Noongar, as well as in English.

Donovan and The Putbacks have won numerous music awards, including best Soul/R&B album in 2021 for their album, “Crossover.”

Their album, “Dawn,” was called “a mighty combination of musical genres and personalities … with Donovan’s rich gospel vocals soar(ing) over the soulful, Motown funk stylings of The Putbacks.” Add to that the “seasoning of country and roots.”

Critics describe their music as “raw, brutally honest” and “impassioned.”

The Myrna Loy concert will be the band’s sole Montana gig, and it will mark the first time Donavan has performed in Montana.

Tickets for the evening show are $25 and available online, at 15 N. Ewing, or by calling 406-443-0287. Tickets for the 11 a.m. show are $12 adults and $10 kids.