Wednesday, 27 April 2011

You Can't Change the Rhythm of My Soul

A couple of weeks back Archie Roach was our guest on ARTSUP! for the first time, although he'd been a regular on its predecessor, Not Another Koorie Show, especially in the mid 80's (presenter Lisa Bellear was a massive fan). He was with us talking about the forthcoming Bilyana Festival.  While chatting he brought up a great anecdote about touring with the Black Arm Band and when they visited London.

His friend Pete Postlethwaite, who he'd met through the project Lyarrn Nyarn performed a Welcome to Country for the touring artists. He'd experienced welcomes while in Australia and now he was returning the favour. The cultural exchange had come full circle and the act reminds us that the English were connected to Mother Earth somewhere back in time.

The London tour is captured in the documentary Murundak: Songs of Freedom and the potency of singing Songs of Freedom at the seat of Australia's colonial power is not lost on the touring company or the filmmakers. To illustrate this, they show the magnificent footage of Burnum Burnum claiming England in the name of all Aboriginal people of Australia. A classic moment in history.

Seeing Murundak: Songs of Freedom has reminded me of the privilege of hearing first hand the words and music of some of Australia's powerful songmen.  Experiencing the eloquence of artists like Joe Geia, Bart Willoughby, Peter Rotumah, Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach is something to be savoured. Sometimes we've heard them speak and sing so often, we forget their power.

Power to the filmmakers Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham, who spent four years following the Black Arm Band around from concert halls to red neck towns to remote communities.  The gaze is very respectful in capturing the musicality, stage presence, performance and charisma of some of the most powerful songwriters under the sun. To hear the musicians' personal stories, how their expression has been shaped  and to see it brought to life with archival footage of the protest movement brings heart to the film.

To see footage of Brisbane protests while Joe Geia talks about how he was shaped by Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland reminds us of where we have come from and the vestiges that linger.

To be reminded of the legacy of the mighty warrior Bart Willoughby and to see footage from the seminal film Wrong Side of the Road reminds us of his lyrical and musical genius from the get go.

We have land within our soul, within our soul

To hear Archie and Ruby share their story of removal and living on the streets brings home the continued history of dispossession. To see their love for each other shining in their eyes reminds us of the power of love to conquer all.

Down city streets, I would roam, use my fingers as a comb

To hear Emma Donovan learn about the powerful Gurindji history by learning a song, and then bringing her own powerful voice and interpretation to the now classic ballad affirms the important tradition of storytelling.

Don't stop a good thing, yeah

To see Dan Sultan discard all his big city ways as he wraps his arms around his skin mother in Alice Springs kindles a new kind of respect.

It's how I make my connection

The film ends with a poignant reminder of the need for protest and songs of freedom. In the life of the project three of the artists have passed away. Arguably some of the most powerful Australian singers of all time. Certainly one for me, the Blak Mick Jagger, is at the top of my record pile.

And I feel I'm close now, to where it must be

To see and hear Steve Pigram talk about Bart Willoughby's songwriting - to try the song out in his mouth and savour it -announcing the opening line to We have Survived is the best line ever, we know it to be true. We've always known it's true, since the first moment we heard it. A beautiful moment in film, to see our heroes think like we do.

You can't change the rhythm of my soul

When we hear their songs, go to their gigs, dance in the moonlight (or at least the reflected glow of the stage lights at the pub), when their lyrics run through our bodies, we know our heroes think like we do.  And we need songs to galvanise us together, to rally behind, to know we are not alone, so we can continue to get out of bed every day, find strength and keep standing our ground.

40,000 years is a long long time. Long long time, still on my mind


1 comment:

  1. I am ashamed to admit that I have grown complacent as I have become older, sickly and tired. Your piece is brilliant Kimberley, more because it lauds the brilliance of your peers, lyrics and all, and how what impacts their inner beings, resonate with your matchless own.