Sunday night was the finale of the Darwin Festival which we’ve all been enjoying. We went to see the final concert, Black Arm Band’s Dirt Song. The band is a collaboration of Indigenous artists. Dirt Song is an anthem to country and the intrinsic cultural ties Aboriginal people have with their place. All songs are in language (11 different ones to be exact) and although most of the audience would not have been able to understand the words, the strength of feeling throughout was evident. The words are based on the writing of Miles Franklin Award winner, Alexis Wright.
The performance, though it seems almost glib to call it that, was a formidable and intriguing balance of traditional and modern. Although conventional instruments formed the underpinning of the band’s music, the tune and tenor of the music took on a complex Indigenous sound often complemented by clapping boomerangs and clapsticks. A segment by Will Barton on the didgeridoo was a virtuoso performance. The sounds evoked from that instrument were simply amazing and his skill, and lung capacity, blew me away. Another segment with a make-shift drum kit playing off against the traditional drums was intentionally humorous.
There were four women singing including lead female performer, Lou Bennet, and Darwin woman Shellie Morris. I especially liked the women’s segments for the emotion and richness of all their voices. Perhaps we were supposed to know each of the performers but I’d have liked to be introduced to them by name though I realise the focus was on the story of country and culture.
Throughout the show the backdrop of visual images from Indigenous communities, people and country complemented the music and the short titles in English were the clues to the stories behind the songs. It was special to sit under the stars listening to this music and see so many familiar images. One song was about the mango goose and fishing season. Just before the show started a flock of geese had flown over the Amphitheatre in formation: life imitating art or vice versa. As always the scenes of Aboriginal kids playing and dancing show their joie de vivre. I also found the focus on urban Indigenous people an interesting complement to the community images.
There will be performances of Dirtsong in Melbourne in early September so if you are close-by you might want to consider heading off to see it.
Sorry about the feeble photos but it was a bit difficult in the dark.