Wanita Bahtiyar, 46, is a flamboyant force of nature with wild red hair and the self-styled title of “Queen of Honky-Tonk” (a sub-gender of country music) who pours her emotions into her songs with honesty and vulgarity. She is a one-off, who should be a legend but somehow has missed out on being accorded the celebrity she deserves, due to her unpredictable nature (she says she is autistic).
Based in Tamworth, NSW, the home of country music in Australia, Wanita always believed she was a star, with dreams of making a record in Nashville, Tennessee. To get there, she has had to sing in pubs, often with disinterested audiences, and take jobs in a poultry processing factory and as a part-time sex worker.
Travelling to Turkey because she was paid to marry a man who wanted Australian citizenship, she fell in love with his father, Baba, and married him instead, dressing him up as a Mexican cowboy and taking him to suburban Tamworth. They have a strained relationship as he speaks sparse English and has little understanding of her erratic lifestyle, or her habit of helping waifs and strays on the fringe of society when bills need to be paid. Her daughter is estranged.
Her idol is US singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn, star of a bygone era, who, Wanita says is the greatest interpreter of “the common man, the common woman, the common transsexual, whatever, I don’t give a fuck.”
Somehow she manages to acquire enough money to follow her dreams, go to Nashville with her manager Gleny Rae Virus and Arthur, a musician who describes her as a “drunken Mother Teresa.” Both are excellent musicians, who manage to stop her drinking and keep her dream alive. The makers of the record treat her with complete respect, as one of their own – and the record is in the process of being launched.
Director Matthew Walker made a short film about Wanita called “Heart of a Queen” in 2014 which he has expanded into this combination of live interviews and live performance. It is a crowd-pleaser and unforgettable viewing which will send you out of the theatre with a big smile.
Now showing at Luna Leederville and Luna SX Fremantle.
Watch the trailer…