From Glebe to Eden. Mali’s Remarkable Journey

‘I DJ’ed for J Milla at the Giiyong Festival in front of 4,000 people! I’m seventeen, two years ago I had no idea what I was going to do. Music and a bit of help has changed my life.’ That’s the story of Mali Nakalevu, a young producer and DJ from the inner-west of Sydney.

Mali started her musical journey at Glebe Youth Service (GYS), a place where local kids often gather after school and in the early evenings. It’s a not-for-profit charity that provides a safe space and creative opportunities for teens and one of those opportunities is in the music studio that TAG Cares helped equip.

Back in 2021 I’d encouraged Technical Audio Group (TAG) to assist GYS with equipment for the new music studio.’ Explained Chris Hamer-Smith. ‘So, when I joined TAG and formed the Nakama Arts programs GYS was one of my top priorities.’

Chris was able to spend time formulating programs that would engage the teens, introducing a weekly one on one music production workshop called ‘The Platform’ facilitated by Utility, a prominent Hip-Hop producer and the founder of Sydney-based record label Trackwork.

In collaboration with Heaps Decent, Chris also began a regular Wednesday afternoon ‘Open Studio’ session with mentors Lorenz Prichard and Tom Elliott, aimed more as a drop-in for anyone interested to get in the studio and have a go at music-making.

It was at ‘The Platform’ where Mali initially created her first beats and what started as an after-school hobby swiftly evolved into a fervent passion, propelling her to become a regular attendee at the Wednesday studio sessions also. Her commitment didn’t go unnoticed with Chris and Utility recognising her potential, both helping her develop production skills in the studio and providing mentoring support.

Around the same time Chris had been asked by Deadly Connections, a First Nations community organisation, to provide DJ equipment and a sound system for their monthly community events. Seeing an opportunity for upcoming DJ’s to perform at these events, and also commercial functions, he started a program of DJ workshops on Friday afternoons at TAG’s Stanmore office.

Known as ‘The Blend’, local headline DJ Krystel Diola jumped on board as tutor/mentor and quickly made it her own with Mali being one of her top students. ‘Despite having limited access to equipment outside the workshops, Mali’s commitment is really impressive. She continually refines her technical skills and embodies the dedication of a true producer and lover of music’. Enthused Krystel.

In October 2023 Mali DJ’ed for First Nations rapper Kootsie Don at Parramatta Lanes Festival. The success of that performance led to the invitation from J Milla, a venerable First Nations rapper from Darwin, to support him at the Giiyong Festival.

It makes me feel so good, seeing people enjoy my work, knowing I’ve created the same feeling in them that I feel.’ Commented Mali. ‘I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve realised that this is what I want to do, it’s given me real direction and helped me find a constructive and creative pathway. I’m really happy progressing every day and it’s something I can help others with.’

Recognising the importance of passing on her love for music and how it has given her purpose, Mali is now dedicating time to mentoring the next generation of talents at the GYS music studio. Her mentees, aged ten to fifteen, benefit from her knowledge in beat-making, recording and songwriting. ‘Mali has shown a great sense of community leadership and purpose and her desire to give back is truly humbling.’ Observed Utility. ‘We can’t wait to see what the future holds. She’s super talented and determined – we’re learning from her now!’

Mali’s story was officially recognised when she was awarded the City of Sydney’s Betty Makin Community Youth Award for her outstanding commitment to community enrichment through music mentorship. ‘Chris, Krystel and Utility have been a constant support and help in my musical journey.’ Said Mali. ‘I’m an example of what can happen when there are community spaces with creative opportunities and the right people around to help.’

Photograph: LADSTREET