Pop-Ability: The World’s First Girl Group With Learning Disabilities Have A New Docu-Series
“We wrote a song about Donald Trump,” says Aimee.
“He’s a Hitler Pig,” adds Michelle.
Annika, born with enviably perfect pitch, treats the room to a quick a rendition of ‘Donald J. Trump is a Hitler Pig’ — an original composition by present company, The Sisters of Invention. Perhaps the ditty will feature on their next album?
“I think it’s a bit too controversial,” says Aimee. Everyone agrees.
Aimee, Annika, Michelle, Caroline and Jackie are The Sisters of Invention: the world’s first girl group with learning disabilities. They’re also stars of a new ABC iView docu-series, Pop-Ability. Candid and consequential, the show gives a glimpse into the creative process of these five neurodiverse singers, currently working on their sophomore offering.
Potential lyrics and titles gild the walls of their studio at Adelaide’s esteemed Tutti Arts. It’s where four of the five Sisters met almost a decade ago, singing in the Tutti Choir. Since then, they (plus newest recruit Jackie) have formed a band, written an album and released two music videos. Now, they anxiously await the premiere of their documentary on Wednesday 8 March.
“I’m nervous about what people are going to think,” says Aimee.
Since 2012, The Sisters themselves have been collectively responsible for crafting their own stories through song. Manager and producer Michael Ross (Electric Fields) supports the band across the songwriting process, which is “all about personal stuff, the personal journey,” Aimee explains.
“It’s an amazing experience for us to say what we need to say. What matters most is we tell the honest truth,” she says.
“It’s good to know that people can relate to what we’re going through,” adds Michelle, noting how ‘powerful’ that position feels.
Creating art and music is central to The Sisters’ identities. So it may seem surprising that, in 2015, the fiercely independent band handed the reins of representation over to filmmaker Katrina Lucas. Collaborating on a clip for the band’s debut single ‘This Isn’t Disneyland’, both parties fostered mutual trust and respect.
On a quest to expand the pop princess paradigm, Trina and the band decided to make a documentary together.
The resultant series follows The Sisters in the lead-up to their second music video launch. Served in five snappy episodes, Pop-Ability captures The Sisters’ everyday hurdles and life-changing moments alike. It’s a chance to know the women more intimately, as they discuss music, fashion, sex, drugs and their varying experiences of physical and learning disabilities.
Producing the series posed a number of challenges. Hip-hop adherent Jackie, 27, is affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. As such, she sometimes struggles with memory, attention span and social interaction — obstacles she encounters when applying for her learner’s permit, as seen in episode three.
Michelle, 25, lives with cerebral palsy, which compromises her movement and coordination. The long days of filming were often physically exhausting. A private person by nature, it also took a lot of emotional labour to share her home life with the crew. “I feel a bit awkward in some ways,” she says.
“Me and my family… we don’t like people knowing every detail of our lives and being splashed around. Mum doesn’t like the fact she’s [in the series]. I keep trying to tell her, ‘Mum, don’t cut yourself down!’”
“You’ve got to have a bit of belief in yourself,” says Annika, 31.
“Totally. You do,” says Aimee, 31, who was diagnosed with Williams syndrome as an infant.
Growing up with a genetic condition that affects the body and brain — one that sometimes sees her express hypersocial behaviours and accounts for her affinity with music — Aimee is acutely aware of society’s perceptions of ‘the disabled’, and how this reflects on The Sisters.
“You’ve got to think of us as ‘people’ not ‘disabled people’. Put the ‘disabled’ out the window,” she says. “It’s all about what we can do, not what we can’t, this series.”
What they can do is write and perform stunning pop music, from the catchy hook of their self-titled single, to the heart-rending honesty of ‘The Church on the $50 Note’. While their harmonies were honed on stage with the Tutti Choir, their thematic concerns are fuelled by very real experiences of prejudice and misunderstanding, as well as friendship, solidarity and sisterhood.
It’s no coincidence that Pop-Ability premieres on International Women’s Day. “Being a woman is something we should be proud of,” says Aimee. The Sisters all nod. “We should be able to fight our own fights, do what is right for us, and be respected as women,” she says.
“People say we’re inspirational because of our music and what we do, but I don’t want to be just an inspirational disabled person,” says Aimee. To her, it’s imperative that The Sisters are considered “normal people living normal lives.”
But what is ‘normal’? Not everyone launches their album at the Adelaide Festival Centre, is sought after to perform at international festivals, or gets a documentary series made about them.
In light of this, Aimee clarifies, “I want to be known as me.”
This article by Aimee Knight was originally published at The Vocal.