Kimba Griffith: “I don’t understand why nostalgia is bad”


If you have your teenage journals stashed somewhere, uncertain what to do with them, having entertained thoughts of finally throwing them away or destroying them, don’t. You might consider handing them over to Kimba Griffith. The singer – one of Melbourne’s finest jazz vocalists, with a timbre that seems to encapsulate the complete history of jazz – has been a ‘guardian’ of teenage journals for a few years now, building a website around them, and more importantly, creating a music-and-prose project around it, ‘The Songs that Saved your Life’, which is presented, at its latest incarnation, at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

“I’ve always been a journal keeper for my own journals and also for other people who were going to destroy them,” she explains. “I tell them: ‘why don’t you give them to me and I look after them until you decide what you’re going to do with them?” The way she treated her own journals, is certainly an inspiration, using them as a foundation about a show around nostalgia and raw emotion. In terms of music, it is based on the soundrack of Kimba’s own teenage years – ’80s and ’90s songs by the likes of Nirvana, the Cure, the Smiths, Tori Amos, but also Angelo Badalamenti, among others – presented through a jazz prism by a stella band, featuring saxophonist Mirko Guerrini, bassist Tamara Murphy, drummer Niko Schauble and Kimba’s partner-in-crime-and-life, brilliant guitarist Ryan Griffith.

“I didn’t want to do a tribute show, it’s not really my style”, she says. “I wanted to mix really recognisable tunes with the power of jazz improvisation, which includes the idea of reinvention. When you’re a teenager, that’s what you do, you reinvent yourself.”

True to its theme, the show has been through a few reinventions of its own, from its Melbourne Recital Centre debut to its semi-theatrical version at the Wangaratta Festival, to its current form.”This show has changed everytime that I’ve done it,” she says. “The premise has always been about my journals, how I kept all of them, while most people just destroy them. At least 50 percent of the audience will understand when I say: you didn’t just throw them away, you burnt them, you shredded them.”

This time round, this is exactly what she’s going to do. “In the past year I’ve been through a lot of changes, on a personal level and I started to shed some old stuff, so I decided to actually destroy my journals on stage.I’ve decided that this time is the last time. basically the vibe is that I want to put a full stop around this nostalgia part.”

Not that she has anything against nostalgia: “I don’t understand why nostalgia is bad,” she says. “This show explores that and it explores why we want to deny our history. People are mortified by their teenage self, they just want to erase it. I always feel that in a lot of ways I’m still 16.I guess I still feel unresolved about my teenage self. As I say in the show it’s a time when everything matters, maybe more than they need to. Half the time you feel utterly powerless and the other half you feel invincible; I think that this is a really interesting liminal state.”

Despite the time-specific musical references, this show has allowed for audiences of various demographic to relate to its themes – after all, everyone has been a teenager once, and revisiting that time can be cathartic. For Kimba herself, it has been an opportunity to revisit her teenage self and tell her what every teenager needs to hear: “it’s going to be alright.”

Kimba Griffith presents The Songs That Saved Your Life at Chapel Off Chapel on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 June, as part of Melbourne Cabaret Festival.