A Sparkling Jem – On Reconciliation Day, music, parents, and allyship with Jem Cassar-Daley

Jem Cassar-Daley article by Allan Sko

“It’s very special. Honestly when the offer came through, I was just so honoured to be a part of it, especially with a line-up of artists that I have have looked up to for so many years. Their music has genuinely raised me.”

So says Jem Cassar-Daley on being invited to play at the Reconciliation Day Eve Concert, where the 21-year-old will see herself share the stage with fellow luminaries Briggs, Christine Anu, Electric Fields, Caiti Baker, and Pheno.

Reconciliation Day Eve Concert

The timing couldn’t be better for Jem. This career highlight synchronises with another; namely the release of her first EP. As well as a mature, stripped back affair, the record is a profoundly personal collection of songs deeply rooted in family.

“It’s really exciting for me to finally be able to share it,” the delightful Jem Cassar-Daley enthuses. “There are songs that I wrote during the peak of lockdown when I was thinking about Stradbroke Island; songs that go to super personal spaces. It’s a very personal project that my family has heavily inspired; the cover art is actually my grandma’s home, and she’s done a little pastel drawing of it. 

“As a teen, I would often go to Stradbroke Island with my family and friends,” Jem continues. “In this EP, there are songs about those experiences, of growing up, and the sadness of going through the first heartbreaks. I also had a lot of fun working on this project, and working on stripping it back as well. Dad helped me produce it. We did it all at home, actually.”

Father Knows Best

Ah ha, yes. Dad. The beloved, long-standing music star Troy Cassar-Daley, no less. A famous family member – particularly one that successfully operates in your field – can have perils as well as perks. Not so, says Jem.

“I’m deeply fortunate to have parents who inspired and motivated me to pursue anything musical,” Jem says. “I’m very lucky to have that wisdom and advice from Dad and Mum. 

“I don’t ever see it as trying to carve my own name or anything,” she continues. “Dad’s like, ‘just run your own race, do your own stuff, and just release what you want to release’. He said, ‘y’know, you can put off the uni degree for a little while if you want to go on the road with me’. And that’s what I ended up doing. They really nurture what I want to do.”

Further enquiry into any specific nuggets of wisdom from Papa Troy gave an insight in a heartwarming family life.

“There’s so, so much,” Jem reveals. “He inspires me in everything that I do. He never tries to draw comparisons to what he was doing at my age, or anything like that. The funniest thing he does; whenever I’m preparing for a gig, I’ll write a little list of what to bring – amp, piano, stand – and he’ll always write some funny random stuff on the end of the note, like ‘bring talent’. 

“He inspires me to keep things simple; to think about what’s at the core of each song.”

Jem To Shine at Reconciliation Day Eve Concert

These songs will be on full display at the upcoming Reconciliation Day Eve concert. Jem can’t understate its importance.

“Seeing Electric Fields on there; they’re both such lovely people,” she says. “And Christine Anu has been such an inspiration for me. I sang her songs when I was four years old! So that’s just such a special experience for me. There’s gonna be lots of beautiful stories. And just having so many wonderful First Nations artists all in one place in one big show is going to be so cool.”

Of course, Reconciliation in the key word, and I respectfully ask Jem for her viewpoint on this.

“I think as a nation, we still have a long way to go,” she says. “But I think by having such a poignant event of storytelling, and these sorts of things, it’s really important and it brings it into the forefront of everyone’s mind. 

“We still have progress to make. But I’m really looking forward to sharing this experience with some incredible artists.”

Does Jem feel much has changed in her comparatively short lifetime?

“I’m 21, so I haven’t been around long, but I have known progress in my lifetime,” she says. “With social media, I’m fortunate to be able to connect with other First Nations artists. That’s been a great aspect of social media is sharing stories, and being able to have that element of connection with artists all around Australia.” 

And in the further spirit of reconciliation, Jem Cassar-Daley’s advice for allyship on this occasion, much like her music, is stripped back, beautifully simple, and honest.

For First Nations artists, if there’s any events or gigs coming up, just come along and support! Enjoy some stories. Music is such a great tool for storytelling and for sharing what people have gone through. It has such a powerful ability to bring people together as well. 

Jem Cassar-Daley will be playing at the Reconciliation Day Eve Concert alongside Briggs, Christine Anu, Electric Fields, Caiti Baker, and Pheno. It happens at Canberra Theatre on Sunday, 29 May. Tickets are $75 + bf via canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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