Another Australia is my Australia

Yilaalu is “the word that starts the story” in the Gamilaroy and Yuwaalaraay languages. I learned this listening to Nardi Simpson’s recent interview on Awaye! 

Yilaalu is also the name of the first piece written by Simpson in Another Australia, the latest anthology produced by Sweatshop and Diversity Arts Australia, and published by Affirm Press. It is a collection of pieces by First Nations writers and writers of colour that together paint a picture not of an alternative Australia to our reality, but of my Australia and yours. An Australia that holds the ancient living cultures of First Peoples (too often without enough care and respect); an Australia that is scarred by the legacies of its colonial history; that’s been shaped by the many waves of migrations as so many of us have settled here and reaped its many rewards; and an Australia that is a container for all the complexities and dissonances from the collision of all these aspects of its existence today.

The first piece, Yilaalu, situates me as reader exactly where I should be in Another Australia, where First Nations’ voice is first, in several meanings of the word:

first as in preceding all others; 

first as in leading the way; 

first as in in a position of respect and esteem; 

first as in a priority above others. 

Two more pieces by Simpson punctuate and book-end the collection respectively, so the reader is reminded of the continuity of First Nations’ culture and of the fact that this Australia, mine and yours, always was and always will be Aboriginal land. This is an editorial choice made with care and one that I think many readers will appreciate. 

A little disclaimer: I’m not a critic and this isn’t a review. As always, I write about cultural experiences and offerings that excite and inspire me, and that speak to cultural and creative diversity, inclusion and equity. So, it’s in this spirit that I write this commentary on some of the works in the anthology that stood out to me, especially. 

Simpson’s pieces are in language followed by English versions of the text. In her interview on Awaye! she speaks of her process in constructing these pieces, explaining that she starts with English in the writing but that construction actually begins before this with her ‘thinking in culture’. This is a deep insight into the works and makes for a richer reading of them. In Yilaalu, her descriptions of the built landscape as living creatures in nature are poetic and grounding. In the final piece, Warran, she writes so beautifully of the interconnectedness of woman and tree, the oneness of them, and the recognition of kinship in each other. Again, as reader I find myself located exactly where I feel is the right place for me to be in Another Australia  – a position that recognises and revers First People’s wisdom and ways.

Osman Faruqi offers up the second piece in the anthology, A Tale of Two Colonies. This piece is part history lesson (it should be part of the high school curriculum!) and part personal recounting of family histories, revealing the author’s position in the complexity and dissonance mentioned earlier that characterises a lived experienced of being both colonised and settler, in different contexts and across time. This is possibly my favourite piece in the collection, but not just for its rich and nuanced historical detail and perspective. More for its hopeful message in its final sentences. “… nothing is static, immovable or unchangeable. What we call Australia hasn’t always been like this. It doesn’t need to be like this. A series of explicit decisions made by a particular set of people made it like this…”. I don’t want to give away the rest as it is very powerful, but I do want to say that the sense of hope in Faruqi’s ending sentences was amplified for me as I watched a new Prime Minister assume office and a new cabinet, apparently the most diverse (for want of a better word) this country has seen yet, take shape on the news.

Amani Haydar’s writing hits close to home again in Bad Transplant. With only a photo of her groom to recognise him by, a woman makes the trip to Australia from the other side of the world, with hopes and dreams of a new life and new family in this lucky country. She finds duty, subservience and struggle. She finds escape, joy and lightness only in her imagination. Haydar writes the character of Mariam with such truth and care that Mariam becomes much more than a cliched proxy bride in a story that many have told before. If we changed Mariam’s name, she could be my mother, or yours perhaps.

Shirley Le’s Coi Bói is funny and brilliant and familiar to me for different reasons – the appearance of the legendary fortune-teller in Fairfield for one! Everyone in the area when I was growing up knew of this mystic. Apparently the real mystic (unlike the one in Coi Bói lived in some dodgy back alley behind some shops and up a flight of stairs). More than the legend of this character though, and more than the familiarity of place in Le’s descriptions of South West Sydney, it’s Le’s writing from the perspective of a child of 1st generation migrants that is most familiar. We occupy the spaces between belonging and not belonging, inside and outside of family, school, our stomping grounds etc. We know the codes of both cultures and switch between them hundreds of times a day. Le captures this experience effortlessly and with total authenticity.

I Am by L-FRESH The LION, marks his debut as a writer. Many readers will know L-FRESH as a rapper, song-writer, producer and performer. As a rapper, keeping true to the genre, his persona is one marked by confidence and bravado, by ego. Now I’m a fan of his music, but what a beautiful discovery it was to hear his voice as a writer.  His storytelling was gentle and generous in its vulnerability and openness. The piece itself unpicks this very duality, which is one of many he describes, ultimately reconciling the seemingly contradictory aspects of his identity that together make the one complex and complete whole. The detail in this very personal recount is unique and nuanced but the experience is universal. My favourite excerpt is L-FRESH’S description of his grandmother’s and his parents’ gardens in Glenfield – places of abundance, nourishment and connection. I read parts of this autobiographical piece aloud, and it carried a natural and innate cadence and musicality.

Sisonke Msimang’s, The Innocence Project, echoes Faruqi’s piece in it’s positionality, where the author shares a personal lived experience as both colonised and settler. Similarly also to Faruqi’s piece, The Innocence Project provides historical facts and context by contrasting the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to Australia’s Bringing Them Home enquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. More to the point, it contrasts the different approaches and actions (or lack of) the respective governments took in the wake of these enquiries. Msimang’s piece also ends powerfully, but in this piece any sense of hope is precarious, dependent on an urgent impending reckoning in its call for truth, accountability and reparations in a future Australia … “In Another Australia, there will be justice.”

Though I’ve only selected a few that resonated with me a little more deeply, all the pieces in this anthology are worthwhile reads. Each one reveals an Australia that is a reflection of who we are today, of where we are right now, and perhaps of what we are inching closer to. And that’s what I appreciate most about the collection, that there is truth on every page and in every version of Australia – mine, my mum’s, your neighbour’s… yours too.

Panbe Zan – a new Australian opera

Panbe Zan (translated as ‘the cotton beater’) is a contemporary electroacoustic opera in seven parts, written by Shervin Mirzeinali. The work is the composer’s main outcome as part of their Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) studies under the supervision of Damien Ricketson at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music. You can view the program and full artist list on the AMC’s website here: https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/event/panbe-zan

Panbe Zan is the first in a planned series of works titled Extinct Timbre, through which Mirzeinali seeks to explore forgotten, historical and nostalgic sounds with ethnocultural specific references.

Billed as a “modern Persian opera”, the work draws heavily from Mirzeinali’s Iranian heritage, both musically and thematically. Cotton beating, a now-obsolete Iranian tradition, was performed in preparation for the New Year. With Nowruz just a day away, the timing of this premiere seems a mindful and generous choice.

As ritual, cotton beating centres the home, or to use a word from my Greek inheritance, it centres νοικοκυριό. There is no direct equivalent in English as the meaning of νοικοκυριό encompasses the home and the household, as well as the pride and labour inherent in the acts of caring for these. Cotton beating as tradition, also symbolizes warmth, joy, playfulness, connectedness, and restoration or renewal. Mirzeinali’s work speaks beautifully to each of these sentiments through music and through the action on stage.

Mirzeinali takes the bow-shaped monochord tool of the cotton beater as a starting point around which to build the sound language of the opera, employing acoustic cotton beating instruments of varying sizes as well as the sampled and manipulated sounds of these in the electronic track. Mirzeinali also combines traditional Persian instruments and practices like tar, daf, and classical Persian vocal style with Western classical idioms and instruments, live.

The sonic intimacy of the sections titled Tea Break and Slumber, combined with the dramatic ritualization of these ordinary, everyday acts, were the highlights of the opera for me. As were the moments in the electronic track where the spatialization of sound drew me in immediately and deeper into the work. I wanted more of this. 

Also, the symbolism in Slumber of the toiling matriarch character in her action of darning the quilt, and her placement at the centre of the stage while the cotton beaters and other characters encircled her in the final section, Dance of Cotton, was moving and evocative. The incredibly beautiful voice of tenor, Danial Bozorgi, ringing out above all else in this final section was another highlight, as was the ending celebratory procession.

There were other things to love as well of course. To start with, the unimposing subject matter of domesticity is quietly and satisfyingly subversive of the form of contemporary opera itself. 

Also satisfying was that a local cast of performers and crew of predominantly Iranian heritage created, produced, and performed the work. (I make this assumption from my reading of the names, some light desktop research, and from the expertise in traditional Persian instruments and vocal technique exemplified by the performers themselves). This can be read as more than an imperative artistic choice of course, as conversations around diversity, inclusion, and representation continue to urge and press all of us who work in the arts to do better. I’m glad to see The Con as an ally here, actively supporting and investing in artists and in new work that broadens and challenges what is traditionally considered “mainstream”.

Also, the show was sold out, which should be no surprise at all. Audiences are just people whose most fundamental motivation is to see/hear/feel something that speaks to them. Often they want to have this experience in the company of others with which they share a sense of commonality and belonging.  If your work is “diverse” but your audience is almost completely not “diverse”, then possibly you’re offering an experience of cultural tourism or cultural voyeurism. (And of course, this is done with varying degrees of awareness – sometimes, for example, artists choose to self-essentialize and make work of this nature, and that’s OK). In Panbe Zan, it seems that the lived experience and cultural identities of a majority in the audience reflected the lived experience and cultural identities of the creatives. In my mind, this points to a process of creation that is artist-led and that engages meaningfully and deeply, probably also ethically, with both subject matter and audience.

On a personal note, Panbe Zan inspired a return to writing on the Cultural Omnivore blog after a long two and a half years, because it offered up so much of what I love about new music in Australia. I look forward to more music from Mirzeinali and more new work from The Con like this.

Image credit: Mehrdad Ziaee Nejad

Yulugi launch

Sydney-based cross-cultural music duo, Yulugi (meaning to play, dance in Gamilaroi) launched last night at Foundry616 with their first live performance. And I’m really glad I was there, because I’m super interested to see where Keyna Wilkins (flute, piano) and Gumaroy Newman (yidaki, recited poetry) will take their collaboration and their music from here.

Yulugi offered up to the audience a series of structured improvisations. These alternated between purely instrumental pieces (piano and yidaki or flute and yidaki), and other pieces in which Gumaroy performed his original poetry while Keyna improvised alongside this spoken element. Thematically, the poetry resonated with simple but deep messages as Gumaroy shared his personal perspectives of connection to country, nature, family and experiences of racism. Music and poetry were accompanied by projections of Australian landscape photography by Wayne Quilliam, the images serving as a prompt to the musicians for their inspired on-the-spot music jam and as a stunning visual evocation to the audience at the same time.

The end result wasn’t just cross-cultural, but also cross-artform, and in my opinion really interesting, immersive, new contemporary Australian art music. As pretentious as that description might sound, the music was anything but. Though stemming from divergent musical traditions, this duo works on so many levels. And there is a real sense of a partnership of equals here, no one voice is more prominent or more powerful than the other and there are exciting moments – with both musicians bouncing and riffing off each other intuitively – that make total musical sense.

If there was one thing I was left wanting, it was a more expansive mood palette. Last night’s performance was dynamic, bold and full-sounding a lot of the time, which was cool, but I found myself wanting more of the quieter, reflective, slowly unfurling musical moments to balance that energy. Overall I really enjoyed the set. And I reckon anyone who appreciates improv as a genre, will really appreciate Yulugi. Their next gig is at Johnson St Jazz on May 9, 2019.

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Additional ranty thoughts…

As much as I love this club (their programming is great, the staff are great, the food is good and I’ve only ever experienced audiences that are there, on the whole, to listen to and appreciate the artists), I just couldn’t let myself be as immersed or enjoy the show as much as I wanted to. Kudos to Foundry616 in the first place for providing the space and platform for these artists when not a lot of venue options exist out there, but for me, the distractions of food and drinks being served, of chairs/punters facing away from the stage, of people scrolling on their phones, and of the incredibly beautiful photography projected obscurely on a side wall, where half the audience couldn’t see it anyway, just felt like too much of a compromise. I want to see Yulugi and other artists like them programmed in other types of venues as well – like Performing Arts Centres – you know, the ones that our (public) money funds the activities of. I want to see these artists programmed into the core offerings of these PACs, regularly, and not just as add-ons to some random annual cultural calendar celebration event. I know I’m not alone.

(Header artwork by Mowena Wilkins)

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

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.

Listening on Australia Day

In the lead up to the January 26 public holiday, my social media feeds were flooded with news articles, opinion pieces, status updates and long threads of back and forth comments. Each item that referenced Australia Day/Survival Day/Invasion Day spoke to the issues of social cohesion, social justice and of the enduring legacy of colonization. I tried to listen to opinions across the whole spectrum of the change-the-date debate and from a variety of voices. As I scrolled and read and processed and scrolled some more, I kept coming back to one thought: that the act of listening, both in and outside of the musical context, was important.

This year I decided the best way to spend the public holiday – the best way I could think of to mark the day as an inclusive national day of significance – was to attend Yabun Festival. From the website: “Yabun Festival is the largest one day gathering and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia, held annually on 26th of January upon the traditional lands of the Gadigal people in Sydney. Established in 2001, Yabun (meaning ‘music to a beat’ in Gadigal language) is a free event that features live music, a bustling stalls market, panel discussions and community forums on Aboriginal issues, children’s activities, and traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural performances. Yabun Festival welcomes everyone to join us in this one of a kind event, which honours the survival of the world’s oldest living culture”. Last year 38 000 people attended. This year it certainly felt like a similarly huge number.

I went with my family. By chance we met the Invasion Day march en route to Victoria Park from Redfern as we walked up Broadway from Central Station and joined the river of people flowing up to the park. We meandered through the crowds around the markets and past the different hubs (Corroboree Ground, Jarjums Zone, Speak Out and Elders Tents), grabbed a bite to eat and then settled in front of the main stage for the music. And then we just listened. We sat with thousands of others in the park, and listened to the voices, stories and songs of the Indigenous artists on stage.

We listened to jazz and swing tunes by Johnny Nicol and band; and to the smooth, rich but bright voice of young Neo-Soul/RnB artist Mi-kaisha. We were moved by her set of original songs and her explanations of how she came to write them. Like how she wrote, Tell Me Why as a response to experiencing prejudice at High School, where a teacher had lower expectations of her compared to her non-Indigenous peers.

We listened to Hip Hop crew, Street Warriors rapping in English and in language about survival and pride in culture; and to Jarrod Hickling’s beautiful, booming Country voice that hinted at his Gospel roots. And we listened to the high energy rhymes and beats of Dobby aka Rhyan Clapham, a young artist best known for his rapping and drumming but not bound by these genres or labels alone – he’s just been awarded the 2017 Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship for composition. Unfortunately, the afternoon heat got the better of us and we missed the rest of the acts on the main stage.

As passive an act as it seems, listening itself, whether it be to songs, stories, speeches or perspectives, can be a form of activism. It can be a meaningful show of support and solidarity for a community or movement. Sometimes listening might be a comfortable and predictable experience, reinforcing what you already know and like. Other times it might be a challenging and even transformative experience – it can be educative also, bringing a new awareness or deeper understanding. More importantly, though, a quiet, intentional, focused listening can be an act of recognition and respect. And that seems, to my mind, a good place to start on Australia Day.

First published in The Music Trust’s Loud Mouth Magazine here

Brave and Boundless

I sat next to a stranger and asked about the earlier sessions I’d missed. “Challenging” came the response. When I prodded a little she said something like “white people were talked about a lot” and made a sweeping circular gesture that framed her face – fair-skinned, light-haired. Her discomfort was evident. I asked if she was a writer. She is. We got distracted by having to move seats, then the panel started. Later I wished we’d had the chance to continue that conversation.

Boundless: a festival of diverse writers, was the first-ever festival of its kind – with a focus on Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) writers. Co-presented by NSW Writer’s Centre and Bankstown Arts Centre and put together with a bunch of collaborators (scroll to bottom of this page to see them), it saw several panel discussions, workshops for aspiring young writers, a multi-media exhibition of poetry by local students, and readings of some works in progress by emerging writers, drawing to a close with the monthly Bankstown Poetry Slam event moved to co-incide with the festival.

I only made it for the second half of the day but did get to see two great panels. The first, ‘Who’s writing who on stage’, was convened by Sheila Pham with Andrea James, Disapol Sevatsila and Aanisa Vylet on the panel. The second, ‘All in the family’, convened by Jennifer Wong and featuring Cathy Craigie, Mireille Juchau, Benjamin Law and Omar Sakr. (Read all their bios and those of the other writers featured here). Across the two panels there were quite a few moments that grabbed me but a couple of themes that really stood out for me.  Continue reading

Ali’s Wedding and the work of integration

If you haven’t seen Ali’s Wedding yet, you really should fix that. When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I legit had a smile on my face the whole film through, even in the sad bits. Though in those moments it was more a ‘sad-smile’, you know, like the kind you might imagine being peeled away to reveal a longing beneath, a burden of some sort or a pang of regret.

Like all good romcoms Ali’s Wedding is hilarious and heart warming all at once, making light of those painfully embarrassing common human experiences. It also explores (very endearingly and entertainingly) some pretty big universal emotions like: the longing that shadows displacement everywhere; the weight of one’s sense of duty (to family, to community, etc); the regret that is felt when we’re not able to live true to our deepest desires and aspirations; the shame that is cocooned within a lie; the peace that comes after forgiving/forgiveness and reconciliation; and the freedom that comes with redemption – always with a cost.

But what makes Ali’s Wedding different is that these themes are located through the lived experience of a first gen Iraqi-Australian growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne in (I’m guessing) the early 90s, and within the local Muslim community that Ali’s family is very much a part of. It’s this placement that, (in the current climate) makes Ali’s Wedding also a political film – a fact that co-writer and lead actor, Osamah Sami, totally owns. (Read his kindly invitation to Pauline Hanson to get along and see the film here.)

For me, personally, beyond being just simply a great new Australian film, I found Ali’s Wedding intriguing on a whole different level. This has a lot to do with this thing I call my ‘work of integration’. As a first gen Greek-Australian growing up across/between two cultures, I felt (especially as an adolescent) that in order to belong to/in either one I’d have to almost be two different people. Sometimes it felt that these two distinct identities had very little in common with one another. My ‘work of integration’ is the work of reconciling these parts of the self that can feel conflicting. And although this experience can be seen as another one of those universal experiences when framed in developmental terms as that of differentiating from one’s parents and reconciling the generational gap, I think it is a task that can feel harder for the children of first-gen migrants. Put simply, there are more gaps for us to reconcile … and those gaps can feel like massive gaping chasms that threaten to swallow you up whole at times.

In the days after watching Ali’s Wedding I wondered about Osamah Sami’s own work of integration throughout the process of making the film, given it’s based on his own true life events. If I ever had the opportunity, I’d ask him a bunch of questions to satiate my own curiosity:

  • Why did you make this film? What brought you to tell this story?
  • How many parts vulnerability vs. how many parts courage went into the making of the film?
  • Did the making of this film challenge or change your sense of identity? How? (I’m particularly interested in the act of telling/re-telling true stories here, that is, of the sequencing of memories to construct a narrative and the effect this process has on identity).
  • What’s been the response from other first-gen Aussies? Is this different from the response of broader audiences?
  • Is there another film in the works? Please?

Back to the film itself though, everyone I’ve spoken to that’s seen it has loved it. It’s won several awards (including the audience award at the Sydney Film Festival) and is getting great reviews. Read this and this and this. Then, go check screening times and locations here, gather all your first-gen Aussie mates, all the romcom tragics you know and anyone else with half a sense of humour and go see it. They’ll all love it.

 

Going Beyond Tick Boxes

There’s a renewed energy to work towards fairer representation of culturally diverse artists in the creative sector. Maybe this is a reflection of a broader awareness around issues of diversity more generally in the collective conscious. Or maybe it’s a scramble for new voices, new content and new audiences. Or both.

Whatever the reasons behind the momentum right now, there was hope in the air at the recent Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) ‘Beyond Tick Boxes’ Symposium on Cultural Diversity in the Creative Sector in Sydney. The gathering saw over 140 creative practitioners, arts workers and industry representatives come together to take the pulse of the sector. The conversations felt circular at times, but the messages and perspectives, very current.

I was invited to attend as a citizen journalist and to write up my thoughts of the day. You can read the full article in Loudmouth magazine here or on the DARTS website here.

Image courtesy of DARTS and photographer Chris Woe

Iraqi Music Festival

The Iraqi Music Festival has become a fixture in my cultural calendar. How do I love it? I could count the (many) ways – but I’ll sum it up with three main points:

1.Heritage/folkloric traditions and contemporary culture are showcased together

Sometimes there’s this divide in the arts/cultural psyche between heritage practices (often seen as outdated, irrelevant and/or amateur) and contemporary practices (often viewed more favourably in the current climate where that loaded and kind of ambiguous word, “innovation”, is used as a marker of value or excellence).

But last night’s showcase music event at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre saw traditional dress/dance/music interspersed with more modern forms in the same program. And this concert sat within the overarching Iraqi Cultural Festival program that comprised of: a visual arts exhibition and program of events by Iraqi-Australian artists exploring memory of place, storytelling and identity; award winning new short films made by Iraqis living in Australia and abroad; and a keynote address by director, producer and civil activist, Mohamed Al-Daradji.

What this annual festival does so beautifully is to ignore that stigma around folkloric forms by placing them within the continuum of cultural expression as it evolves and responds to changing times and environments. And what the festival achieves is even more beautiful – it acts as a vehicle to connect people across place, time and cultures (within and outside of the various Iraqi cultures it represents). So, in that sense it is both a balm for the displaced and a thread pulling tightly across generations and homelands.

2.Arabic audiences know exactly when to clap

There’s a circular debate that’s been running forever in Western classical music circles – that of when an audience “should” clap. We could learn a lot from Arabic audiences I think. There is a definite etiquette around clapping of course. Eg: you clap at the end of a solo/improv section and at the end of each song, but Arabic audiences are also cued to clap and join in the singing at times by the singer on stage. And when they are cued, they respond, en masse and in sync. The audience almost becomes part of the performance, as the music is experienced and enacted together by performers and audience.

And cheering… well… you can do that whenever the mood takes you. And the mood took the guy sitting behind me often. It was great! And if you want to click your fingers, clap along or sway in your seat, or even answer your phone mid-concert (like the guy beside me) … get this… no one cares! No one tut-tuts you or scowls at you. How wonderful, how refreshing… how freeing as an audience member. [Disclaimer: there’s a time and a place for this stuff, right? Don’t blame me if you get chastised for taking duck-faced selfies mid-act at the opera, k?]

3.The inner workings of the ensemble are laid bare on stage

The other really refreshing aspect of the performance last night was just how interactive the musicians on stage were with each other. Head nods, hand cues, big conducting signals at pivotal moments by the leading performer were all just naturally and authentically part of the performance. There was also banter between performers on stage (what looked like in-jokes being shared) and a photographer traversing the stage to get the shots he needed, interacting with musicians and audience while doing so… again…. no one seemed offended in the slightest.

This view into the workings of the ensemble and a performance is exciting for audiences and makes the experience all the more inviting. You feel privy to the (often hidden) dynamics of the ensemble and that just adds a whole other layer of interest and engagement.

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There’s a lot more that I loved about the Iraqi Music Festival, not the least of which is the fact that we are lucky enough to have a maestro like Imad Rahem (pictured above playing violin) grace local stages, or the fact that this music resonates with me on a personal level because of the similarities between it and the music of my cultural inheritance… but I might post about those things another time.