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Mama Kin born into music
Mama Kin born into music

Danielle Caruana remembers her first gig when, as a seven-year-old, she asked to sing at her dad's 50th birthday and promptly delivered a cute version of Bonnie Raitt's Louise - a cheerless number about a prostitute who dies alone and unloved.

While she may have been oblivious then, today Caruana is mortified.

"I sang with a smile on my face," she laughs from the Fremantle home she shares with husband John Butler, daughter Banjo and son Jahli, whom she bounces on her knee during our interview.

"We've just come back from the beach," Caruana says. "Sorry! I shouldn't mention that I've still got sand on my feet and it was glorious and glassy down there."

Growing up in Melbourne the youngest of six music-loving siblings of Maltese extraction and now married to Australia's pre-eminent roots rocker, Caruana has only recently stepped out as a musician under the moniker of Mama Kin.

The name was bestowed by her brother, Nicky Bomba, who is now a member of the John Butler Trio, and her new band features her keyboard maestro brother, Michael Caruana.

While you'd think a life surrounded by musicians would naturally lead to a music career, Caruana says it was quite the opposite. "I was completely petrified," she says. "After having grown up under two really incredibly, incredibly diverse musical brothers and a really musical family, I think I just made a decision really early on that I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't as good as them. And I just stuck to that."

Creatively hamstrung by classical piano lessons and much younger than brothers who could play by ear, Caruana kept her music to herself, building a "Great Wall of China of excuses of why I couldn't or shouldn't" play music. Marrying Butler put some more bricks in that wall. "It suited me to go, 'He's doing it, they're doing it - I don't need to be doing it'."

While motherhood initially stacked that Great Wall higher, eventually her desire to be true to herself and set a good example for her offspring began to chip away at that wall - eventually toppling it over.

So, thanks to Banjo and Jahli, Caruana has gone from a person who could barely stand to sing in front of her family to Mama Kin, releasing the Papoose EP and unveiling the excellent, soulful and feisty single, Tore My Heart Out.

She describes the first taste of her album Beat and Holler as representing the "dawn of a new freedom".

"I realised how much that experience, that particular break-up had shaped me as an adult," Caruana explains in typically candid fashion. "It was my first intense disappointment and break down of trust in a relationship, and I think I carried that mistrust forward into a lot of things. Writing that song was all at once a recognition and liberation from it."

The biggest influence on Mama Kin is not Butler or her brothers, but rather her older sister, Carmen, who is 14 years older and took on a maternal role in her life.

"We spent a lot of time together and we used to sing. She was my real inspiration. She taught me to sing, taught me to harmonise."

Carmen introduced her to old blues and gospel records, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, the Pretenders and Joan Armatrading - all influences drawn on for Beat and Holler.

The album, almost entirely written on a vintage Wurlitzer organ, ranges from "R-A-W to R-O-A-R", according to Caruana.

"Some sections are raw and intimate and other sections are completely driven by drums and rhythms and a different type of fiery energy."

Mama Kin's debut album emerging the same year as the John Butler Trio's latest April Uprising is bad timing, according to Caruana, who says the couple will have to navigate an incredibly busy year with "a great sense of humour and sense of adventure".

"We can tackle most of everything in the moment," she says. "It's when we try to think too far ahead of how we're going to problem-solve something that's coming up in a month's time it becomes overwhelming."

Mama Kin plays the Fremantle Arts Centre on March 12, supported by Felicity Groom and Mister & Sunbird. Doors open 6pm. Tickets from Heatseeker outlets.