Smalltown songman

Adrian Darakai, working at his piano on new music. Photo Alyssa Fritzlaff.
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Adrian Darakai’s songs ‘have made him a local legend around the Gippsland town of Warragul. Alyssa Fritzlaff reports.

Inside the warm restaurant a couple of people glance over at Adrian Darakai. The songwriter does not appear to notice. As he leans back in his chair and orders a vanilla chai latte, the 31-year-old appears comfortable with his surroundings.

He is slender, dressed in a casual blue and white striped t-shirt. In the past year Adrian has become a local legend around the town of Warragul, just over 100km south-east of Melbourne. He hasn’t moved far from where he grew up, only half an hour away from the tiny farm in the dairy town of Poowong.

In April 2019 he released ‘One way in Warragul’, a comic song about the replacement of a two-way street in the town’s centre with a one-way road. The song quickly went viral in the town of 14,000, and is currently sitting on almost 30,000 views. Adrian admits the song’s popularity was unexpected – saying it resonated with a lot of people. “Comedy is a good way to get a message across… it’s not too confrontational, and people laugh at it because it’s true.”

Adrian was 11 when he penned his first song, titled ‘Stand by me Emma’ – dedicated to a primary school crush. He and his next door neighbour formed a duo, performing songs together in their homes. Other than that, he only ever “dabbled on the piano in the music room at school,” he says.

After graduating from high school in 2006, Adrian decided to study dance professionally. He performed on cruise ships, for record producer Armin van Buuren, and pop singer Guy Sebastian. Eventually, having been in a long term relationship for over a year, he halted his career in dance and returned home. Adrian got his honours degree in psychology, and currently works as a student welfare officer at a local school, saying he has considered completing post-grad study but he’s “wanting to go down the songwriting path”. Adrian didn’t take songwriting seriously until recently, saying “I think the structure of the songs, lyrically and melodically are competitive enough to be on the radio, but not sung by me because I’m not a singer. I sing, and I love to sing, but I’m not a singer.” He laughs, adding “I’d be kidding myself to think I’m going to get a record deal as a singer.”

writing path”. Adrian didn’t take songwriting seriously until recently, saying “I think the structure of the songs, lyrically and melodically are competitive enough to be on the radio, but not sung by me because I’m not a singer. I sing, and I love to sing, but I’m not a singer.” He laughs, adding “I’d be kidding myself to think I’m going to get a record deal as a singer.”

An active community member, Adrian has worked with a number of community groups in Warragul and the surrounding areas. He is heavily involved with Leongatha Lyric Theatre, which he says has provided a number of costumes for his music videos. Through Warragul’s Off the Leash Theatre Company’s production of ‘Rent’, Adrian met Malcom McCaffrey, who would end up being an important asset to Adrian’s songwriting career.
McCaffrey’s main role was assisting writers with the music. “Adrian is very passionate about songwriting, he has tried a lot of different things and he really wants to expand his songwriting career,” McCaffrey says.

Adrian is engaged to local teacher Emily Laughlin, and works part-time. He says he sometimes feels guilty about pursuing his new career path. “It’s difficult to come  to terms with not working in the traditional sense”, he says. “My fiancé goes to work full time and I go two days a week. “On the days I’m not at work I might sit down at the piano for two hours and write a song. Then I might sit down an hour later and listen to music, it may look like I’m not doing anything – but you need to do that to create a new song.”

‘One Way in Warragul’ is only one of many songs he has written. His repertoire also includes ‘Comeback’ – a song about anti-vaxxers, ‘KFC’, and ‘Megan Fox’. While his works are often humorous, many address serious issues within both his small community and Australia as a whole. Adrian says he’s fairly outspoken about such issues, believing comedy is an effective way to reach audiences.

A staff member at Warragul Library, the location Darakai’s video was produced in, enjoying the business “One way in Warragul” has created. Photo Alyssa Fritzlaff.

The success of ‘One Way in Warragul’ has prompted more work for the songwriter, who was approached by the West Gippsland Library Corporation to collaborate on new promotional material. The library’s marketing coordinator, Shaun Inguanzo, approached Adrian about writing and performing a song to promote the organisation. Shaun says creating a catchy song isn’t easy and “for Adrian to have two catchy and viral tunes in one year is simply amazing”. The CEO of West Gippsland Libraries, Leanne Williams, said the song’s success “was unexpected, and is fantastic”, the corporation “wanted his inspiration, his ideas and creativity”, and they didn’t want to intrude on his create process.

Adrian says the moment the library reached out he realised he could make money out of writing songs. From there he produced ‘Living it up at the Library’, a song that he says he wrote twice. He said the original sounded very pre-school, but he wanted the song to appeal to more people, so he sat down and wrote a version which he hopes reaches “kids and older adults and everyone in-between”. McCaffery, who collaborated with Adrian on the musical composition of production, calls the video very accessible, saying “with the more controversial songs he’s done it’s been harder to gain traction”.

His strong opinions on social issues are reflected in some songs. In his anti-vaxxer song, ‘Comeback’, he uses comedy to discuss the serious issue that effects the entirety of Australia. Others, such as viral hit ‘One Way in Warragul’ focus on less challenging issues and have received more attention in the media. In recent times Adrian has appeared on in the local papers and on ABC Gippsland Radio to talk about his career and music videos.

Adrian is passionate about many issues effecting Gippsland and its population, citing growth as one of the main issues in the area. “I live in one of the housing estates within Warragul and I grew up on a farm,” Adrian says. “So I see all this farm land turn into housing estates. The infrastructure isn’t there for the jobs and people living there, so they have to commute somewhere else for the jobs – and then you end up with an area of just housing and without businesses to sustain it.” He says he believes building up instead of out would be more beneficial, voicing his support for skyscraper construction rather than the destruction of farmland.

Adrian says he will be able to develop his songwriting career, eventually having his works playing on the radio or writing jingles for companies. For now he continues to write about local and global issues, using social media to expand his followers and hopefully, his career.