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Archie Roach

Wanju Ba Boorlo Archie Roach and Special Guests
8 February
Chevron Festival Gardens
Photos by Marnie Richardson

The 2019 edition of Perth Festival’s Chevron Gardens kicked off with a welcome to country and an evening of stories and song led by Archie Roach and ably complemented by sets from Radical Son (David Clive) and Emily Wurramara – all Indigenous performers.

Around The Sound spoke to Archie Roach prior to him making the trip to WA to find that he was relishing the opportunity to perform at the event.  “To do a show that celebrates First Nation people is a great opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s part of what we do, it’s part of an elder’s responsibility, I think, to work with younger people in whatever capacity.”

The formal welcome to country featured the Noongar dance troupe Gya Ngoop (One Blood Dancers), setting the tone for what was an evening of solemnity and celebration.

The younger generation was represented this evening by Emily Wurramara, from the Northern Territory.  Accompanied by her percussionist brother, Guy, Wurramara more than held her own on the Chevron Gardens stage, singing songs of home, the earth and sky, the moon and the universe.  ‘You feeling deadly?” Wurrama asked the audience, to warm assent.  “You should feel deadly because it’s a beautiful night.”  And she was right, it was a beautiful night much enhanced by her deft acoustic guitar work and R&B-infused vocals.

Emily Wurramara sings the sort of songs that make couples hold hands, and her vocals slipped easily between language and English, creating melodies and stories that held the audience in her thrall.  On stage, the persistent easterly wind threaded smoke through streams of white light, giving the appearance of dancing spirits.  It probably wasn’t intentional that the elements and technology should join together to add so seamlessly to the spectacle, but it was an almost perfect symbol of the theme of the night’s music.

Wurramara was followed by New South Wales artist, Radical Son (David Clive) who continued the story lines with his opening comment, “The spirits of the land would be here with us today.”  Clive’s set was ceremonial, celebratory, somewhat mournful of what has passed, what has been lost, but most of all hopeful of renewal and regeneration.

As a performer, Clive has the look of a prize fighter who moves like he’s trying to claw the spirits of the past — his own and those of generations way beyond his — from the air in front of him.  There’s more than a touch of Michael Franti at the edges of his vocal delivery and phrasing, and he switches from baritone to falsetto almost like there’s two singers up there on stage.  There’s strength in Clive’s performance, it’s powerful without being overbearing, the music is complex and sinewed, but it’s also delicate and nuanced.  Radical Son certainly left an impression on the Chevron Garden’s audience and he’s an artist we’re bound to see more of.

Before tonight’s show got underway, the digital display at back of stage displayed the Perth Festival logo and tag line, ‘Move or be moved’.  As tonight’s was a seated event, it was the audience‘s turn to be moved.  Wurramara and Clive started us down that path, it was up to Archie Roach to take us home.

And home he did take us.

From the moment he walked slowly, statesmanlike onto the stage and gave due deference to the people and place of Perth — “It’s good to be back here again. I pay my respects to the Noongar people, their elders past and present and yet to come” — Roach upheld through his performance every expectation that people could have had of him as an elder, be that musician, Indigenous elder or Australian elder (the latter two being one and the same).

Playing his own brand of down-tempo acoustic honkytonk, Roach wove stories of birth, children, learning and treading carefully.  He spoke and sang about his connection with the land and with his family, both birth and adoptive.  Most of all, Roach sang and told stories of love, it’s complexity and it’s pitfalls and it’s triumphs.

Roach’s set was comprised of hymns to Australia past, present and future and to it’s people.  Compassion was a key part of his message, “We’re all a work in progress and we’re getting there. That’s the beauty of being people, we can make mistakes, but hopefully we learn from them.”  But there was never the preacher up there on stage.  “I went to church because I loved to sing,” he told the audience, “But I never really heard what it was they were saying.”  Obviously, he’s never lost his sense of humour.

Roach finished the main part of his set with ‘We Won’t Cry’, an almost perfect place to leave an evening where the sense of the heaviness of the past was offset by hope for our common present and future.  The message for the audience was clear and well received in the words, ‘We will lift our spirits high/Up to the sky’.  After a short pause, Roach returned to the stage with an achingly beautiful rendition of ‘Let Love Rule’.  More did not need to be said, that was the perfect way to end.  He departed the stage to a standing ovation.

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