GINA WILLIAMS AND GUY GHOUSE
RELEASE DATE: 13 FEBRUARY
Gina Williams’ and Guy Ghouse’s third album, Koorlangka Suite, is the first instalment in a four-work contemporary Noongar song cycle, Kalyakoorl (Forever). Each of the works in the Kalyakoorl cycle is informed by four principles of: Koort (Heart), Moort (Family), Boodja (Land) and Koorlangka (Children/Legacy).
A core triumph of Koorlangka Suite is that it is simply beautiful music. It will seep into your mind and heart and take hold of your thoughts and emotions whether you want it to or not.
In some ways, my heritage and upbringing make me feel unqualified to review Koorlangka Suite; I’m a white, middle-aged migrant Aussie. In others, I feel that I’m part of the audience that needs this music the most, so I’m not going to be daunted by the task to the extent of not taking it on.
Koorlangka Suite is a modern take on children’s songs and lullabies performed in Noongar. My first impressions of the music and arrangements on the album are rooted in my own, strangely English, childhood, when films like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs And Broomsticks mesmerised me both on the big screen and, year after year, television. That the music is so evocative of my childhood is surely no mistake. The musician’s creations sing through the hearts and minds of their audience, and the idea that Williams and Ghouse could so readily access mine speaks volumes about the insight and nuance of their creative force.
Williams’ vocals are warm and powerful, they cocoon the listener, creating a safe space for the journey through the songs that comprise the Koorlangka Suite. Guy Ghouse is more than just an accomplished guitarist; he has a signature sound and his playing on this album adds to what will become, in time, his legend. Add to Williams’ and Ghouse’s musical telepathy the glorious strings of the Dolce Ensemble and the piano of Russell Holmes, and you get the beautiful arrangements that are the Koorlangka Suite. The music is both modern and evocative of the past, simple and inviting, but complex enough to reward sustained listening. In my ears, the songs on Koorlangka Suite carried me both back and forward in time. The music also lifted me above the mundane troubles and triumphs of everyday life and gave me room to just exist for a while. It’s rare these days that we can be given such a gift, but Williams and Ghouse have found a way to bestow that with their music.
Sung mostly in the Noongar language, the songs on Koorlangka Suite have feeling of familiarity. In part this is due to the inclusion of music from familiar childhood songs like the traditional, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, and ‘Moon River’, along with the inclusion on some songs of verses sung in English. In part it comes from William’s voice, which must, somehow, be connected directly to her heart.
Listening to the songs on Koorlangka Suite, something that surprised me was how much Noongar language I already know.
Writing and singing in Noongar language is something that Gina Williams has done throughout her career. It’s a deliberate choice on Williams’ part that is intended to help revive her culture and support it to flourish over future generations. That Koorlangka Suite contains children’s songs and lullabies also is no accident. Williams and Ghouse are breathing life into a future where the deliberate destruction of Aboriginal culture and languages is consigned to the past. The intention is that Aboriginal children growing up with Koorlangka Suite — and similar song cycles from the growing number of Australian indigenous musicians and songwriters — as the soundtrack to their formative years will be proud of their heritage and see it as an essential cornerstone of modern Australian society.
Strike that, not just Aboriginal children, all children.
It’s a bold and necessary agenda, and Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse have the creative and life force to play their part in pulling it off. A core triumph of Koorlangka Suite is that it’s simply beautiful music. It will seep into your mind and heart and take hold of your thoughts and emotions whether you want it to or not. Koorlangka Suite is for the children, yes, but it got this adult right where he lives and I have no doubt it will get you, too.
Koorlangka Suite will be launched on 13 February, at Government House as part of the Perth Festival 2020. 13 February is the anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations. (This event is sold out.)
Gina Williams is a Balladong daughter; one of the 14 clan groups which make up the Noongar nation, covering the south west corner of Western Australia. By official records, Noongar language is critically endangered (there are less than 400 recognised fluent speakers left). Her mother and grandmother, both part of the Stolen Generations were never allowed to speak their languages. Gina wasn’t stolen, but was relinquished as a baby for adoption.
Telling her story and singing these beautifully crafted songs in language is deeply personal.
“I grew up not knowing anything about my true history. I’ve had to go back as an adult and learn. I don’t regret this, but it means I’ve had to claw territory back. I wanted to learn the language, to write songs so that I could teach my children. It’s an incredibly beautiful language – when I hear Noongar language I hear music, it literally sings to me.”