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.


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)

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.


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.

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.


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.