WOMADelaide day 2

Day 2 (Saturday) was a little bit epic – in the full sense of the meaning of that word. It was long, dotted with heroes and a series of legendary happenings.

Ok. That’s totally corny. But it was still extraordinary. Here’s the quick wrap of my highlights:

A morning walk around the grounds and the discovery of the Kids Zone. A handmade playground of huts, teepees, cubbies, fairy houses, a sandpit, musical instruments made from wood and metal and loads of other fun things. Lots of shade too. Made me wish my child was little again. (But only for a moment – we had more fun at DuOud’s rave set that night – more details below).

Sona Jobarteh‘s set. Sona is touted as the first female professional kora player from Gambia. She played a gorgeous early arvo set. Really nice to sit in the shade under the trees for this. Others stood close to the stage and grooved along. There were some exciting and fun drum battles on stage too – between the djembe and drum kit players, with audience participation.

Then we heard political players in conversation on stage in The Party Room Podcast. Fran Kelly, Patricia Karvellas, Simon Birmingham and Penny Wong discussing the up coming election and past parliaments, plus promises and policies of course. There were no seats left inside, so I sat on the grass with my teenager, listening with others. We made a little friend in 12-month old Akuna (his name means ‘father’s pride’), who crawled over to hang out with us for a bit. Everyone’s friendly at WOMADelaide. Babies are the best.

Then we wandered over to the Moreton Bay Stage for Dangerous Song with Bukhu. Mongolian fiddle and throat singing meets whale song and bird call mixed in real time through a looper. Ethereal voice, improvised on wordless syllables floats above it all. It’s all a tribute to endangered animals. This was the perfect chill afternoon set under the shade of the big native fig trees.

Later, on the main stage LaBrassBanda brought their high energy and big sound to a hot and dusty crowd. We sought refuge from the heat in the gin garden. Still close enough to hear the music and feel the bass. Exactly the break from the heat we needed at the muggiest part of the day. And gin. With finger lime. Can’t go wrong there.

Next – one of my personal highlights of the whole festival – Dona Onete: the Grande Dame of Amazonian song. Shining bright and bold and badass at 78 years young. The Brazilians in the crowd showed us all how to dance and really brought the party.

A short break at our bnb to rinse off the day’s dust then back to the festival at night to kick up some more of it.

DuOud at 8pm on the Zoo stage. Old skool ravers. Rock stars of the oud. Funny guys, too. EDM, but Classical Arabic style. This set totally went off. Around me all at once: belly dancing and bouncing and grooving. More please.

Then Thando and her 10 piece orchestra. The brass section killed it. So good. Backing vocals were lush and Thando was just a bit of a super star. Original songs, bold, soulful, relevant.

Tiredness got the better of us so we only caught the first couple of songs of the Fat Freddy’s Drop late night set. We swayed in and with the sea of fans, sinking into that slow reggae pulse, and left feeling a little bit blissed out at the day’s musical (and other) wanderings.

PLUS: Edited to add a bit about day 3

Sunday’s standout for me was Thelma Plum. So many things to love about her set. Like her rich, smooth, voice; her charm talking to the crowd in between songs – kind of shy but not really. Totally endearing. Her lyrics on love, learning, belonging, owning her power, hurt and healing were really moving too. We could have listened to her for another hour and that still wouldn’t have been enough.

WOMADelaide day 1

We stake our claim on the grass right at the centre in front of Foundation Stage with a picnic rug. To our left a large extended family with two young daughters, documenting on little digital cameras. All around us couples, families, groups of friends.

I think the average age of this crowd on the lawn might be 50 or so. But there are noticeable outliers – some couples in their early 20s, and the odd family with very young children. This is our first time at WOMADelaide.

I read somewhere the festival gets 22 000 visitors per day. We’re all cultural tourists in this together. Here for the vibe and food as much as for the music and dance.

We’re welcomed by MC for the night, Annette Shun Wah, then welcomed again, this time to Country, in language, song and dance by Jamie Goldsmith and Taikurtinna – a Kaurna cultural group whose name means ‘family’. Jamie tells us there is no word for ‘welcome’ in his language but he translates the sentiment as “we’re glad you’re here”.

Then we see sarod master, Amjad Ali Khan and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Amjad Ali Khan accompanied by his two sons also on sarod, coaxed us all gently into the mood of the mode with an opening improvisation. He then introduced the ASO conductor to the stage, who led the orchestra in accompanying the lead musicians.

The orchestra was best in the swooning, sumptuous, full string moments – adorning the sarod. Amjad and sons, and the tabla player all shone bright in their solos. A highlight for me when orchestra and lead musicians came together, were the playful and competitive call and response passages. These passages built to a climax at the end of the concerto; and a standing ovation on the lawn.

As we shook our rug out, festival volunteers told the group beside us they might want to think about moving before they get trampled by the dance train and covered in dust. Minutes later the Colour of Time musicians and dancers sweep through, gathering up people from the crowd to join them, handing out bags of brightly coloured dust. We were too chicken to jump in but grabbed a couple of packets anyway. My daughter tore off the tops, held her arms out twirling around. Red and green pigment swirled about her, covering her completely.

We then wandered the grounds, spoilt for choice for food and drink options, before dropping into the Taste of the World tent for a cooking lesson with Algerian oud duo, DuOud. Then popped over to learn some power dance moves with the gorgeous Amrita Hepi. They included: the Power Strut, the Destiny’s Child Trilogy, The Mosh, The Self Care and the Fuck the Patriarchy.

Amrita’s choice of music was gold – curated especially for International Women’s Day. She taught us the Fuck the Patriarchy with Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”. With quite a few kids present at the workshop, she did ask the mothers in the crowd to vote on that or a less explicit option. But this is WOMADelaide. We’re a relaxed bunch of mums here, right? Khia won hands down.

The last act we caught before walking back to our bnb was Kaiit. And we loved her and the band. This crowd was much younger than the one on the lawn hours earlier and this concert wasn’t seated, but still, everyone was considerate of others in the space. Everyone was there for a good time.

Kaiit’s set was a delicious jazzy, neo soul, hip hop mix. I loved her scatting and her warm banter in between songs. Her backing vocalist’s lush harmonies, too. I left promising myself the next album I buy would be hers.

Since Ali Died

The word poet, derives from the Greek, poiētēs, meaning he who makes, fashions, creates.

It’s a fitting description for Omar Musa, who uses as his materials – verse, music, story and us, the audience – to ‘make’ Since Ali Died, on stage before us, with us.

His tools are many. He’s a disarming and sometimes self-deprecating humour, essential when you need to take the temperature of the room quickly and react to it even quicker. He’s a true talent as a lyricist, hip hop artist, performer, raconteur and poet (the ‘writer of verses’ kind). He is also possessed of an easy going kind of ‘relatability’.

In Since Ali Died, Musa weaves together songs from the album of the same name, poetry from his collection, Millefiore, along with new material and playful exchanges with the audience. As cliché as it sounds, he takes us on a journey … kind of literally.

Picture a boat with Musa and his hero, boxing icon Muhammad Ali, travelling down a “restless, brown river” (Musa’s words) through memories of Musa’s boyhood in his hometown of Queanbeyan. He draws us into a hazy imagery of beautiful, sometimes painful, often really funny, always believable, stories and raps of his father, mother, troubled friends, and of a deep, unrequited love.

The river, of course, is an allegory of Musa himself, of his own struggles and his own path in life as the artist he is, one that has seen him branded “un-Australian” and placed him at the receiving end of the worst kind of vitriol for daring to call out racism and other injustices he has seen and lived. True to the essence of the hip-hop and spoken word genres it straddles, Since Ali Died, is as personal as it is political. And it’s very, very current. I took my teenage daughter along and she loved it just as much as I did.

She loved the beats the most, and that it was “personal and emotional”. My inner muso (or maybe it’s my inner ‘Westie’) loved the bass vibrating up through the bench seats of the Stables Theatre and Musa in rapper mode, most of all.

As a musician, he’s even better live than on recording, bringing a bigger energy to the songs, intense but still contained, through his movements as much as through his voice. (He has this one move – a pivot or a kind of pop – that he does when the beat drops or at a break … and it’s really, really, good).

And Sarah Corry? Love. Love. Love. She joined Musa for two songs and was just gorgeous. Smooth, rich but sweet, sweet vocals. She also brought a real counter-balance to the masculine energy in the room.

Since Ali Died is at Parramatta Riverside Theatres from 22-25 Jan and I’m tempted to see it again there in the knowing that the audience might be more of a ‘home-crowd’. It’s the sort of show that needs a certain type of energy from the audience to feed it, and Musa is the sort of performer that goes from really, really, good to pretty fricken brilliant with that.

First published on Audrey Journal

Blak Box Four Winds

Blacktown Showground Precinct is very pretty and very welcoming on this ordinary Sydney summer evening.

Families sit at benches. Little ones run through the water park. The basketball courts are buzzing. Boardwalks stretch through the reeds and over the still water, invitingly. Getting there was easy. Parking was a breeze, too. You get a handy map link and directions emailed to you the day before your session.

There’s a café, a bar by donation set up by Urban Theatre Projects and a temporary performance space for talks and live music – part of the Sunset Sessions that compliment the Blak Box Four Winds installation.

But what I was looking forward to the most, for days beforehand, was setting my phone to flight mode and the promise of silence and stillness.

Before we’re led over to the purpose-built Blak Box, we’re briefed on what to expect and what is expected of us.

We enter, find our seats, get comfortable. The door is closed. The light is low. Some people shut their eyes. Immediately the senses are heightened.

The sand feels nice beneath my feet. I feel more grounded. I notice blades of grass poking through the sandy floor, a curious reminder that there is life growing inside and sprouting inside this seemingly inanimate space we’ve all found ourselves in.

Then, the sounds of piano, violin and clapsticks flow from different points behind the walls, followed by the voices of people in dialogue. The four featured artists, all Blacktown locals, are elders Uncle Wes Marne and Auntie Edna Watson, and two young leaders, Savarna Russell and Shaun Millwood.

They talk about identity, fears, family, intergenerational trauma, institutional abuse, culture, language and conservation. The young ask the elders questions. They all share memories. Every breath, sigh, silence and inflection of the voice is amplified in the stillness and low light of the box. It’s an intimate and personal deep listening experience. An emotional one at times, too.

The spoken excerpts are broken up with song and music by Emma Donovan and Eric Avery. At times the music is a lament. At times it’s hopeful, with Emma’s voice like a balm, beautiful, soulful, grainy and deep. There’s an earthiness to every note she sings, a resolve and strength in the resonance of every. single. note. The music tells the same story as the conversations we hear, bridging the contemporary with the traditional; the young with the old.

By the end of the 45 mins in the box, a deep calm had set in. The feeling stayed with me for a long time afterwards. And of course, what still lingers, days after experiencing Blak Box Four Winds, are my thoughts around the very real issues it explores, like how our increasing reliance on digital means of communication is replacing face to face, interpersonal, interaction.

And then of course the question: Is this contributing to the erosion of knowledge and culture across generations or is it helping to conserve it and make it more accessible?

In the words of its curator, Daniel Browning, Four Winds “is a speculation about the future as much as a recollection of the past”.

I felt it in that way too. As January 26 approaches and as plans about how to spend this public holiday are made all around, opinions on dates and on the difference between celebration and commemoration will abound. Maybe this is the perfect time to set your phone to flight mode. To sit in stillness, listen deeply and hear the truth in the stories, histories and messages of First Nations people.

First published on Audrey Journal

NICK CAVE: UNTIL

Sixteen thousand spinners hang in the narthex that is the Carriageworks foyer.

They shimmer, dispersing the light, casting shadows and patterns on the floor. It’s mesmerising. Its vastness envelopes. But it’s calming too, like sitting in a garden with a breeze blowing, mobiles swaying, chimes chinking.

The rows are ordered like a grid. The brain begins to make out the shapes: starburst … circle … concentric circles. Then: gun (!?) … bullet … tear-drop. The calm now replaced with a menacing. And in that subtle, personal moment of recognition, the exhibition’s message is transmitted and received.

This is Nick Cave’s Kinetic Spinner Forest, the first work you experience as you enter Until.

Until, is a meditation on racism, gun violence and power. The title references the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, while the exhibition itself appropriates it, then inverts its meaning completely.

Like the issues it highlights, Until is immense and deeply thought-provoking. But Cave’s offering and invitation to us to respond is also beautiful and hopeful. Until is activism as art, coaxing the viewer to think about the issues it casts light on and to question our own response to them, as individuals and collectively in our communities.

Read my full write up for Audrey Journal here.

Right here. Right now.

In the program note, Artistic Director, Rosie Dennis describes Urban Theatre Project’s latest site-based, experiential and multifarious arts offering as an “ode” to the history and people of Blacktown.

And Right Here. Right Now. (RHRN) definitely felt like an ode to place for me. Not an elaborate, exultant or pompous kind of ode (something the word might conjure for some) but a musing, light-hearted, deep-feeling and honest kind of ode. Think Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.

Part installation and performance, part urban guided tour, part welcome dinner, RHRN is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure where you’re not quite sure what the journey holds or how it finishes. You’re both observer and player moving through a series of scenes or sites…

RHRN is a joyful, honest, intriguing, curious, playful and delicious experience all at once. But it’s real delight lies in it’s praise of the ‘common’ – everyday places and people are remembered and hero-ed, and well they should be.

Read my write-up for Audrey Journal in full here

 

The Girl/The Woman

This will sound corny but my biggest takeaway from The Girl/The Woman, was LOVE. I left the theatre with that unmistakeable feeling of a warm, tingling, full, content heart. And this was after spending much of the previous 90 mins either laughing so hard I cried, grooving in my seat to belly dance music or Beyonce, and/or ululating to egg on the audience participation. (OMG…. how embarrassing for that poor guy but what a freaken champ!)

Aanisa Vylet’s play is a coming-of-age story. It’s universal in the protagonist’s painful awkwardness and insecurities in adolescence. It’s universal in her search for belonging, for independence, for freedom and in her struggle to reckon with external and internalised pressures and expectations. 

But in the details of the story, it is oh so local. A girl from Punchbowl, second-generation Lebanese-Australian, trying to fit in at uni as an arts student, wrestling with cultural and religious pressures at home, living almost two parallel lives, moving overseas to pursue a career and some sense of independence. So local. And so close to home for many of us. 

Beyond the coming-of-age theme (or alongside it rather) The Girl/The Woman draws you into the beautiful, complex, heartfelt, wistful relationship between the protagonist and her mother. We see history threatening to repeat itself. We see a mother’s over-protectiveness and judgement, and her fear of being shamed by her community. And we see sacrifice, protection, acceptance, and love. So much love.

The final scene, is so moving that even though I understood very little (in a literal sense) with much of the scene played out in Arabic, I felt no sense that I was missing out on part of the story. It was easy to imagine what was being said. I could make out the meaning through the pitch, the inflection, the rhythm, dynamic and pace of the voices and in each gesture and movement. And I loved, loved, loved the way the play moved between English and Arabic throughout. It felt natural and authentic. Like these characters wouldn’t have spoken in any other way. Far from alienating the non-Arabic speaking audience members, it drew us further into the story.

Diversity in the arts is a hot topic right now – we know that. There’s been lots written and said in recent times about representation in the arts – about how important it is for people of all backgrounds and persuasions to see people like themselves on the stage and on screen – performing, creating, telling their own stories. We know this is important of course. But sometimes the conversation around the lack of diverse stories and of representation becomes so political and tokenistic that the art itself plays second fiddle to a political or social message. This isn’t the case at all with The Girl/The Woman. This is hilarious, heartwarming, moving, entertaining, and wildly talented physical theatre in it’s own right – the “diverse” nature of it is just one part of it’s delight.

The season has just ended but look out for it around the traps in the future. I think (and hope) it has a long life ahead. In the meantime, read about The Girl/The Woman in this insightful piece in Folk Magazine here.