This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
It is NAIDOC Week here in Australia. This is a week to reflect on and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Naturally, as this is a music column, I will feature some musicians who fit into that category and I'll extend it to two weeks to recognise a range of artists.
Some of the musicians today and next week, as well as many others, were taken from their families by the authorities at the time and fostered out or adopted.
Many were put into institutions that were little better than jails. They have come to be known as the stolen generations. This has brought great shame on this country.
One of those is ARCHIE ROACH.
His most famous song, Took the Children Away, highlights that beautifully and graphically. Like a lot of the taken children, he found himself on the streets later on.
Fortunately for him, he had great talent at songwriting and he wrote of that experience in the song Charcoal Lane, which is about life on the streets for young indigenous people, set in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne, but the song of Archie's is the one mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph.
When he was on those mean streets he met RUBY HUNTER.
Ruby was another who was taken from her family but became Archie's life companion, wife and musical partner. She became one of the most important female singers in Australia but alas she died in 2010, at just 54 years old.
Musician Paul Grabowsky said of Ruby:
"Her sound nursed somewhere at its heart a moan, a lament, which came from a deep place, a place outside of particularities of space and time, but a singularity, nonetheless.”
Ruby sings Proud, Proud Women.
GEOFFREY GURRUMUL YUNUPINGU is generally just known as Gurrumul. He has been blind since birth. He is from a musical and activist family in Arnhem Land, northern Australia.
Like the great blues musician Elizabeth Cotton, he takes a right-handed guitar, turns it upside down and plays it lefty without changing the strings. This gives a distinctive sound to his playing. He has one of the most beautiful voices in the world. Here he sings and plays Wiyathul.
JESSICA MAUBOY is an actor as well as a singer.
She had a lead role in the fine film The Sapphires from which this track is taken. That film was based on a true story of four indigenous singers who went to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
Jessica came to prominence when she was runner-up on Australian Idol. Nobody remembers who the winner was. Her music is more rhythm and blues than most of those today. Today's song is no exception, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), originally recorded by The Four Tops.
KUTCHA EDWARDS has made three solo albums; he was previously in a couple of bands - Watbalimba and later Blackfire.
Many of the songs he writes reflect the oral tradition of the indigenous people. He was one of the Stolen Generations and he presents a unique and personal insight into that. Besides singing, Kutcha has written and performed in theatrical works as well.
From his album "Hope", we have Stand Strong.
Unlike many of the others in this series, DAN SULTAN grew up in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne mentioned at the top.
Dan performs mainly in rock bands as a singer and guitarist. He also writes most of the songs and also plays piano. But today, his song, Nyul Nyul Girl, is taken from the musical “Bran Nue Dae”, set in Western Australia. It has been made into a film that features Dan, Geoffrey Rush, Jessica Mauboy and many others.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM is a soprano, actor, composer, playwright and educator.
She has performed in France, Switzerland, Germany, Britain, America as well as Australia and New Zealand. She's a role model and mentor to up and coming Aboriginal and other opera singers and helped found the Short Black Opera Company with this in mind.
Deborah performs Chi ll bel sogno di Doretta from Puccini's “La Rondine.”
Broome, on the northern western coast of Australia, is one of the most culturally diverse towns in the country. It consists of indigenous people, white folks from down south, descendents of groups such as Japanese pearl divers, Chinese gold miners, Afghan cameleers, Malays and Indonesians from just over the waters.
Among the inhabitants are the PIGRAM BROTHERS.
This is a family of seriously good musicians, who play a variety of instruments. Before the current group, several of the family were in the band Scrap Metal, along with others that reflected the makeup of the Broome community.
These days the brothers play together and also as separate entities writing music for plays and film soundtracks and the like. They perform Saltwater Cowboy.
TIDDAS is a three piece vocal group whose members are Amy Saunders, Lou Bennett and Sally Dastey.
They started out as backing singers for the band Djaabi and got their big break when invited to perform at a women's artist achievement celebration. Ruby Hunter, also present, gave them their name, a Koori word for sisters. Tiddas perform Anthem.
Neil Murray wrote the song My Island Home for his friend George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga. Both were members of the WARUMPI BAND, Neil played guitar and George was the charismatic lead singer.
The Warumpi Band mainly toured the Northern Territory and the Kimberly area in the north west of the country, but did have successful tours of Europe and America. Neil has had a solo career since the band's demise, but unfortunately, George died of cancer in 2007.
I've always liked this video clip of the Warumpis which is why I'm including it rather than just the audio of the song.
The SALTWATER BAND was formed by men from Elcho Island, on the northern tip of the Northern Territory, east of Darwin.
Their most famous member is Gurrumul, featured above, who was also once a member of Yothu Yindi (who will be in next week's column). Their songs are a mixture of traditional songs and reggae style pop. One of the former is Djilawurr.
NAIDOC Week Part 2 is here.