Vika Bull to recreate the story of Etta James

Vika Bull

Vika without Linda! What a thought!

After some twenty-five years as Vika & Linda Bull it seems strange to think of Vika Bull performing on her own, but this she will be doing when she takes centre stage in an upcoming tribute to the wonderful Etta James.

At Last: The Etta James Story will have its world premiere at The Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne in February 2013 featuring Vika Bull and an eight-piece rhythm-and-blues band. Vika admits to being “a little bit nervous” about working without Linda because they are “always together”, but she will have the boys in the band and she has sung with a number of them before so they know how to harmonise together.

Music has always been part of Vika’s life. When asked if music is her life she responded, somewhat shyly, “pretty much”. She grew up listening to the Melbourne Tongan community singing in her back garden after church on Sundays. She and Linda used to be big fans of Countdown. They also listened to the music their parents liked which included Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, Mahalia Jackson and Bing Crosby. It wasn’t until she began to sing professionally that Vika was introduced to the likes of Etta James, Ruth Brown and Aretha Franklin.

Vika seems to be a good choice as, like Etta James, neither singer is easily classified. It was not always easy for Vika and Linda to agree on what to sing – it was sometimes ‘quite challenging’ to find songs that they both liked. Whilst Linda was into Reggae and Country, Vika preferred the heavier type of music, including Rock and Blues.

Of Etta Vika says, “she’s a great Rhythm-and-blues singer, a great Soul singer, a great Jazz singer … she can sing everything … she can sing the phone book and make it sound good.”

Apart from her voice, Vika is really impressed by Etta’s stage presence, “it’s quite sassy. She can be quite cheeky and I think, ‘Man how does she get away with that and what do her kids think!’ She’s making all these sexy gestures, but I like that and I like the fact that she kept going. I just like her attitude, her toughness. I like her songs.”

So how does one approach such a performance? There are a number of challenges that Vika admits to, not least of all will be performing eight shows a week, something she hasn’t done since she and Linda were with Joe Camilleri’s The Black Sorrows. Etta’s a belter and that’s hard to do – and Vika wants to sing it “properly!”

Vika believes that her age will help her with performing the songs of such a well known artist; she has life experience on which she can draw and then interpret in her own way.

“I don’t want to copy her [Etta], but I want to be pretty close to how she sang, strong and powerful. I’m not going to change too much because people know the songs. I’d like to walk that way … be true to Etta, whilst being true to myself.”

And what does Vika want the audience to take away from the performance?

“I want them to be happy and to enjoy listening and learning about the life of Etta James. I get really emotional… I want them to be uplifted.”

And in case you are interested, Vika and Linda will sing together again, in fact they have just done a big concert in London “with a bunch of Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians”.

Some Samoans joined in and did a rap over one of their songs which worked really well. Given that the younger Island performers love their rap and hip hop, Vika and Linda are thinking of making a record along these lines. They would also like to go back to help their community a bit more, help the young Tongans who tend to be really shy.

At Last: The Etta James Story

Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins St, Melbourne
19 February – 3 March 2013

Tickets on sale from or 03 9650 1500

$69 general | $59 concession

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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