Tag Archives: Community Music making

Take karaoke to Noongar country and you get … Noongaroke

 

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Noongaroke was far more than a good night out; it was an inspired intervention to support grieving Noongar families.
Mika Hiltunen

Anna Haebich, Curtin University

The following article was co-authored by Jim Morrison, who is a senior Noongar man, a traditional custodian of Western Australia’s pristine southern coast. He has been operating in a range of pivotal roles dealing with Aboriginal advancement for more than three decades.

This is the story of how karaoke, that quintessentially global entertainment, came to Noongar country in Western Australia in the 1990s and was transformed into Noongaroke, a 21st-century version of corroboree events of bygone days.

Noongar people engaging with karaoke created a contemporary process for cultural healing and wellbeing that dealt at a profound level with the anguished politics of death in their community. Leading the charge was the “deadly Noongaroke singing DJ” Jim Morrison.

Jim’s parents, both from the stolen generations, survived to raise their large family whose members are now prominent in Noongar service organisations, politics and the arts in Perth. Jim generously shared his journey in an interview with my partner Darryl Kickett and myself that is quoted extensively here.

Noongar people are the traditional custodians of the south-west region of Western Australia. They bore the full force of settler invasion and colonisation: the deaths, dispossession, loss of land and culture, racism, segregation, removed children, forced assimilation and dire poverty within a rich country.

What survived of their way of life was invisible to most outsiders: the ancient family lineages, connection to country, kinship values and obligations, hidden knowledge and rituals and elements of language.

Today most Noongar people live in city suburbs and country towns. Numbering more than 40,000, they constitute the largest Aboriginal language group in Australia. Many identify as members of a distinct Noongar nation within the Australian settler state. In 2006, Noongar claimants won Australia’s first and only successful native title claim over metropolitan lands.

This was a rude shock for most West Australians, who assumed there was no Noongar culture. In 2013, the West Australian government presented an offer intended to resolve native title claims across Noongar country but one of the negative effects has been to divide the Noongar community and encourage public racism based on fear and ignorance.

What karaoke can do

Karaoke is a form of public singing using the simple technology of a microphone and sound box and a book of lyrics.

Popularised in Japan in the 1970s, it soon spread to South-East Asia and then further to become a global phenomenon. In her 2012 book Karaoke Culture, Dubravka Ugresic uses karaoke metaphorically to denote the “unoriginality” of global culture that is repeated everywhere, endlessly and that encourages bad late-night performances, such as the actor Bill Murray singing More Than This in the 2003 movie Lost in Translation.

In Karaoke: The Global Phenomenon, Zhou Xun and Francesca Tarocco present a contrasting perspective. They describe karaoke as “an interactive global network”, a form of “global traffic” with “no centre or periphery” moving out in all directions. Like a fluid, karaoke takes on different forms as it “rushes and trickles” through.

Local people incorporate karaoke into their cultural traditions and imbue it with their own “cultural-specific meanings and symbolisms”.

That’s exactly what happened when karaoke came to Noongar country.

Noongaroke

Noongaroke was far more than a good night out; it was an inspired intervention to support grieving Noongar families during an unprecedented crisis of deaths in the community during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Noongaroke nights were performances of global culture enmeshed in Noongar ways of being and doing. Noongaroke merged karaoke technology and public singing with Noongar traditions and strategies of survival.

The simple technology fitted neatly into family gatherings to mourn loved ones by providing an attractive way to sing and dance and to restore wellbeing in the manner of earlier corroboree events. It was this combination of the past in the present that powered Noongaroke.

Performance theorist Diana Taylor describes a similar process in Mexican village communities where contemporary performances are structured according to hidden ancient principles and relationships and how performers draw on this embodied knowledge as a repository of strategies for their current struggles and for envisioning new futures.

Jim Morrison started Noongaroke in the late 1990s after years of DJing for Noongar fundraising events and working with street kids in Northbridge, the heart of Perth’s club scene. His first intention was to raise funds for funerals and impoverished families. He recalls that Noongaroke quickly gathered a huge following:

It grew and grew and grew, if you did a head count, you know, thousands and thousands of people have come through Noongaroke. There are people who were just there every night. They just love to sing. It’s always a good atmosphere.

In fact it was a unique atmosphere of pride and enjoyment from being together as Noongar people. Apart from sports carnivals and funerals there were few other community gatherings, although in early days corroborees had been a constant activity. This was due to a lack of resources – land, venues, funds – and an over-zealous police force.

So what was so Noongar about Noongaroke?

We may as well ask what was not Noongar, apart from the equipment and the venues. The singers were all Noongar people and the audience was made up of their extended families. The atmosphere was relaxed, warm and friendly. Noongar colours – red, black and yellow – were everywhere to be seen in flyers, decorations, flags, coloured lights and clothing.

The venues were rooms in hotels in Noongar suburbs that were private and “Noongar comfortable”.

Jim explains:

Sadly we had to use a hotel because we don’t own nothing. Aboriginal people don’t own nothing. We don’t have our own places.

Noongar values of respect replaced the usual impersonal rules for behaviour at karaoke nights. Few people drank alcohol. Jim explains:

there’s a code of conduct based on respect: respect yourself, respect others, respect other people’s property and respect other cultures. And that was the Kanya Code of Conduct, Kanya meaning, shame, behave yourself.

But Jim admits it would have been unusual if there weren’t any problems because:

it’s part of our culture. That’s a culture thing. If we’re going to disagree we’re going to do it publicly so you accept it. But mostly, they’d never bring their fights to a fundraiser.

And there were the unmistakable sounds of Noongar talk – the words, tones of voice and the accents – as families reminisced about the good and sad times and the texture of the singers’ voices and their choices of nostalgic rock and country songs – Johnny B. Goode, Brown-eyed Girl, Neon Moon, Satin Sheets, Seven Spanish Angels – from the Noongaroke Top Ten and a book called Lubbli Songs.

And there were Noongar people dancing – young girls and women in groups and couples skilfully negotiating their way around them. Jim explained:

When you go to a karaoke night, it’s mostly singing. But ours was about singing and dancing … you had to do it – it was a bit of a balance.

Noongar music

Community music-making continued down the generations. In rural areas, families segregated in town camps and the bush made their own entertainment: corroborees with traditional singing and accompaniment and family dances round the campfire with singers, harmonica, piano accordion and guitar.

In the early 1950s, when the policy of assimilation was in force but Perth was still a prohibited area for Noongar people, an Aboriginal political organisation, the Coolbaroo League, held popular dances at the Coolbaroo Club in a hall in East Perth with Noongar musicians like drummer Ron Kickett and singer Gladys Bropho and visiting Afro-American performers.

New song and dance styles spread through the Noongar community at Coolbaroo dances organised in country towns. Noongar rock bands were playing in Perth in the 1970s for youth dances at the Aborigines Advancement Council Hall and in the 1990s at the Kyana festivals on Perth Esplanade. Whenever the opportunity arose, Noongar people joined in to sing and dance.

During the rush of deaths in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Noongaroke helped to clear distressed bodies and minds of sorrow and haunting spirits.

Jim described how DJing and singing at the events raised his sense of wellbeing:

You see, singing is really good for therapy, you know, to really tear yourself inside and sing a good rock and roll song … and with all the people in the room, the temperature goes up.

This link between singing and wellbeing, known intuitively by singers, has been the subject of much research in recent years, demonstrating improved physical and mental fitness and relief from stress, depression and anxiety. Noongaroke performances were special events that we were all privileged to attend. Sitting in the audience we were carried away by the power of the singing to unite us and to evoke memories and emotions.

This is an edited extract from an essay by Anna Haebich and Jim Morrison that appeared in the Griffith Review 46: Cultural Solutions.The Conversation

Anna Haebich, Senior Research Professor, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

http://theconversation.com

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Undermining Adani with the Melbourne Climate Choir

“This particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.” 

If you were in Melbourne’s Fed Square last Saturday evening, chances are you’ll have heard the recently re-formed Melbourne Climate Choir in action on stage as part of their quest to raise awareness of the ongoing ‘Stop Adani’ campaign.

The Climate Choir first came together two years ago, formed by community musician and activist Jeannie Marsh, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to bring a singing component to the People’s Climate March.  Jeannie was aware of the need for accessible, catchy songs and simple call and response material  for the choir to sing on the steps of the State library and along the Climate March route, as an alternative to the throat-wrecking cry of ‘what do we want, when do we want it.’

In her quest, Jeannie unearthed not only the extensive array of tune-age available on the Carbon Canaries website but also dug up Do it Now, a re-working of Bella Ciao, an Italian Partisan song popular in the Union movement and arranged by an ‘excellent’ group of choral activists based in Belgium, called Sing for the Climate.

“Their version of the song comes with all the resources you could possibly need to use at a rally or action: sheet music, instrumental parts, lyrics sheets, different keys, etc and it’s one of the most powerful and catchy pieces of “protest art” I have ever seen”, says Jeannie. “We have sung this song repeatedly at many events around Melbourne, and people always love it.” Do it Now is an urgent plea to world leaders to commit to ‘reducing carbon emissions, year on year, and highlights the need for strong leadership on climate change to put a stop on the devastation it brings to the world.’

Jeannie has found the song’s structure works really well in a protest setting because it’s bouncy, it’s fun, people know the tune and it’s easy to pick up and sing along to:

We need to wake up
We need to wise up
We need to open our eyes and do it now, now, now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now…

“It’s incredibly powerful to be there standing on the steps of the state library with a choir of forty people, an accordion and a trombone and people say that they find it very positive because, you know, Climate Change is a depressing topic…”

Th increased presence of Stop Adani campaigns in the press over the past year or so and the depressing prospect of Australia leading us all into a fossil-fuelled future re-ignited in Jeannie a desire to bring members of the Melbourne Climate Choir back together with a renewed sense of purpose, tuning in once more to the work of the ACF and the group of community singing activists reformed earlier this year:

“I saw all these actions around the place and in politicians’ offices and just thought ‘isn’t that great’ and that maybe it was time to get singing again.”

Jeannie put the word out to all the people who’d identified themselves previously through the work with the ACF in 2015 and before long had a flock of songbirds congregating to sing ‘Do it Now’ outside the office of Josh Frydenberg, Federal MP for Kooyong and Minister for Resources and Energy. Jeannie recalls the event as being ‘really joyful.’

“There was an accordion, the media turned up, people gave speeches, there were plenty of placards and people with banners all processing across the middle of busy Camberwell Junction (where Frydenberg’s office is based). Passers-by were blowing their horns and waving in solidarity. So, I then decided to take up an offer from the ACF to use a room and go through some other songs.”

Jeannie continues, “this particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”

The Climate Choir has collated a sheet of songs using material from the Carbon Canaries, including Why dig up coal.. to the tune of YMCA complete with all the actions, and Love and Marriage as you’ve never heard it before, the words of which go something like ‘Reefs and fossil fuels, reefs and fossil fuels, go together like babies and power tools…Jeannie feels that ultimately it’s about keeping things fun but being heard about a subject which incites passion in people who would otherwise feel disempowered:

 “Community Choirs are such a huge thing in Melbourne. You can really make noise and it’s beautiful and it’s uplifting and it’s ultimately empowering.”

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh

To find out more about the Melbourne Climate Choir, contact Community Music Victoria

*Feature photograph and all photographs in this article were taken by Julian Meehan for the Melbourne Branch of ‘Stop Adani’ at the screening of Guarding the Galilee in Federation Square, Melbourne, Saturday September 16th, 2017

This article is part 2 of the previous CMVic blog article: Carbon Canaries sing out for Climate Change.

 

 

 

Dunroamin? Just startin! A hot stepping new street band hits the streets of Dunolly

Picture the scene: a large group of leather clad bikers on a pit stop; add a healthy dose of community musicians into the mix, and what do you get? Broadway, a street through the small, regional town of Dunolly, last Saturday afternoon.

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A scene from Broadway, Dunolly

The latest addition to the CMVic StreetSounds project shook its collective feathers and stepped blinking into the light at 2pm last Saturday as the new and perfectly formed Dunolly Street Band. Emerging from the Ministry of Fun after less than two hours playing together, the fledgling band wasted no time in taking their newly learnt tunes into the street, where the bikers proved an enthusiastic audience for the horns, ukes, flute and accordion players.

Anna and Phil Ashton who organised the afternoon in collaboration with StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers, declared it it loads of fun and a total success.

“It was nicely low key and I don’t think anybody was scared!”

Anna was inspired to start a Street band in Dunolly after hearing about the opportunities offered by other bands emerging from the project, particularly the Kyneton Street Band, led by Andy Rigby, but still more than an hour’s drive from Dunolly. For Anna and Phil,

“It didn’t make sense to be part of a street band anywhere else.”

The last community brass band in the town finished up about fifteen years ago. A Ukulele group formed a couple of months ago, but for players of more honky and stronger sounding instruments, an opportunity to gather regularly has been a long time coming. Once she knew support from Lyndal Chambers and Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds* project would support her vision of a Street Band for Dunolly, Anna felt the idea was too good to pass up and set the wheels in motion, posting publicity within the community and on Facebook. A street band is a fantastic way to bring together local people from all age groups and backgrounds, playing different types of instruments in different ways; a wonderful smorgasbord of sounds and skills.

As the promotional poster for Dunolly Street Band promised, ‘absolutely no experience needed, just come and play for fun.’

Anna admits she felt a bit nervous about numbers ahead of the gathering on Saturday. Strat (Brian Strating) and Lyndal were travelling up from Gippsland to help facilitate and Anna wanted them to have a good ole group to lead when they arrived. She needn’t have worried. Keen community musos travelled from the other side of Newstead and Bendigo to join local Dunollians, including a musician fairly new to the area which is what it’s all about, after all.  Anna knows other people are out there and keen for the band to happen, who simply couldn’t make it along last Saturday.

Following this hugely successful inaugural get together, there are plans to carry the band forwards into a bright (and brassy) future, and working together with Phil’s uke group. Anna is also hoping to encourage local school kids and their families to try it, too.

By the time the StreetSounds festival rolls around next May, it sounds like there will be a thriving Dunolly contingent out in the throng on the streets of Geelong.

And what happened to the bikers? They gave the new Dunolly Street Band an encouraging round of applause before heading off through the Central Goldfields, chasing the dissipating, freed-up notes of newly learnt tunes as they dispersed into the atmosphere.

Below is a video clip of the band in action, out on Broadway. (Thanks to band member Judy Meldrum for the footage)

Article by Deb Carveth with Anna Ashton

Join the Dunolly Street Band! The band is in the process of arranging its next rehearsal. To be a part of it, contact Anna and Phil: 0490 077 902

*StreetSounds is a major project that resulted from the Victoria Makes Music Program and started in January 2015 with the help of funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the R E Ross Trust.  The project aims to create at least 10 new street bands in Victoria and will run until Dec 2017 – find out more about StreetSounds here.