Aboriginal Arts and Music: an interview with Mark Atkins
Australia and New Zealand
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Dawn Until Dusk
A special recording made by Euro-Australians Adam Plack and Johnny White Ant, and Aboriginal artists William Brady and Luke Crimmins. Plack and White Ant have thrown themselves into the life of the aboriginal people, learning not only the music but the culture, the spiritual process and the earth nurturing traditions of the people of "the dreamtime." This music defies any sense of history you may have. The music of the digeridoo, the dreamtime stories of how the world came to be as it is, are as much as 40,000 years old, so words like traditional and folk have little meaning here. There are two types of events: stories, told or sung by the aboriginal artists, and "totems," musical homage to the life and sounds of the bush, interpretations of the animals and the environment that have a powerful effect. The album was recorded in the bush, and is presented as a chronological "day" that starts with the call of the kookaburra and ends with the campfire and the bullfrogs as night comes in. Moving sounds, very well recorded.
Utilizing the highest and lowest of technology, from the silicon pulsations of the keyboards to the hollowed log of the yidaki (digeradoo), this primarily aboriginal group has a clear message to the world, that all land is sacred, and theirs has been taken and defiled by men and women who don't understand that simple theme. The lyrics on these songs speak for a people who have preserved and treasured their home for a million years, who respect the earth and its inhabitants. But curiously, the message come through clearest on the simpler songs of percussion and drone sung in their native language. The rhythms and chant say more than words alone can convey about what their land is like. Where this record gets bogged down is in the over-blown Euro rock of songs like "Hope" or the radio single "Treaty." While the message is important, they come off as just another imitative band with a simplistic rehashing of the same old anthemic pop formula. The digeradoo becomes clever rather than spiritual. There is so much potential for modern innovation in the aboriginal music of Australia, but here it is wasted on an attempt to cross-over to the mass market. Stick to tracks like "Gapu" and "Beyarrmak" for the real roots of life, the real point of all music.
Archie Roach takes American/British folk as his vehicle in an album of powerful stories and simple guitar strumming. Easy comparisons to give you an idea: Bruce Springsteen's voice without the straining blood vessels and pecs and musically as sparse as his Nebraska; Si Kahn's grasp of the personal and Andy Irvine's sense of the universal hero. Charcoal Lane has to its credit that it never attempts a fusion. Straight forward guitar based folk songs (backed by a minimum of keys, accordions and strings) tell of real events, children taken away, men unjustly accused and women hurt and ignored, all facing life with measures of hope and despair. His view of the urbanization of a culture so tied to the land is wrenching. "Took The Children Away" is as strong a news story as you are likely to hear, a message of broken families and suppressed cultures that rings true from Adelaide to L.A. It's the hopeful empowerment of his songs that makes them so poignant. Archie Roach firmly believes the down-trodden of his world can still hold onto dignity and history in the face of the impossible lure and oppression of the dollar and the yen.
Roach has a full band (produced by Not Drowning Waving's David Bridie) here and hits some powerful chords. The title track is a phenomenal fusion of local effect and high-tech, with some of Roach's best lyrical imagery. His visions of life for the transplanted culture of Australia inspire some of his strongest songs yet. Unfortunately, the bulk of the album wanders through less than brilliant pop love songs overburdened by too much band. This one will provide some great songs for the air, but it does not pack the overall punch that last year's Charcoal Lane did. Recommended: "Jamu Dreaming," "Weeping In The Forest" and "There Is A Garden."
These two records are from a new label that hopes to explore the new acoustic music being made all over the world. Both are interesting but ultimately unsatisfying blends of cultures by Australian instrumentalists. While Windshift does show Atherton's versatility on the instruments, and his passing knowledge of many cultures, it fails to ignite the listeners interest in any of those cultures nor Atherton's own musical ideas. About the only tacks that really set any fire are the ones where other musicians intervene. The trio of Atherton's koto with a sax and bass accompaniment approaches real live beauty on "After The Rain." But there's too little of that fire to keep you very warm. Bloodwood fares better, with some real insight and wit in the presentation of the didjeridu and its music by Dargin. There are some intense moments like "Storm Warning," but these are often diluted by too much pseudo-dramatic synth. Dargin's solos display skill and energy ("Gaia" and "Fantastic Plastic"), but he is often overshadowed by the production.
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