Bidyadanga man John Bennett is making a name for himself as the ‘voice of the Kimberley’ and his new album Country Is Calling transports listeners to his unique hometown on Karrajarri country where the desert meets the sea. In Bennett’s remote community English is still a second language among most of the population, and freshly caught food remains a staple. The region now has a powerful voice in John, whose latest album is a dedication to Bennett’s brother, and tells stories of homecomings, family, community, and the raw, wild beauty of our Australian landscape, as MOLLY SCHMIDT reports. Catch John Bennett’s album launch on Friday, December 1 at the Charles Hotel, North Perth.
As it features so strongly on the album, tell me about your hometown?
Bidyadanga is on the coast, it’s about two hours drive to Broome. Bidyadanga has a landscape where the red sand meets the blue sea. I grew up in Bidyadanga but I was born in Derby. That Karrajarri country is who I am – the surrounding area and Bidyadanga community is where I think of with my music.
What parts of your hometown in particular can be heard within your music?
The country and the red sand, the spinifex and the wild bush and the blue sea. You go out fishing and hunting for mud crabs and things like that. It’s just a really amazing place.
What does this album mean to you?
The album is a dedication. It’s for my brother, who I lost two years ago. Country Is Calling is something special, cos you grow up in the country, you grow up in our father’s country and we grew up in our mothers and grandmother’s country. My music is taking you back to the country you know, it’s tradition. The album is really special to me and my family.
What’s it like sharing the album with people outside of your Bidyadanga community?
I’ve recently done a show in New South Wales and I played a bit of old stuff and a bit of new. It was just amazing; you get people coming up to you after the gig giving you the feedback that “I really love your music John, you made me cry…” The audience can hear I’m talking about my country and how much I miss it and how connected I am to it. You get that buzz after a gig and its just amazing.
I’ve heard that in your hometown, English is still a second language. What is it like singing in English?
My grandmother, she speaks Karrajarri and she passed away a few years ago, and it’s hard in our family to pick up the language again. My mother speaks Karrajarri a lot, but in music, and in the singer songwriter thing, it’s hard for me to sing in Karrajarri language. Back home I sing in Karrajarri sometimes. Once in a while I get up with the local bands and sing in Karrajarri, but the album is in English and then I can share it with everyone.
Your music has been said to transcend cultural barriers. How have you achieved this?
Back home it has connected to my people and my community. I think it’s everything to me, you know? Sharing my music with people that I don’t know and people that I do know. If you go out of one circle and to another place, you can surprise all the people who don’t know you; you can bring your music to their place. It’s beyond amazing.
You collaborate sometimes with musicians Lucky Oceans and David Hyams – what is it like to share your music with them?
They’re really, really good. I’ve been working with them for a couple of years now. If I’ve got any gigs in Perth I do gigs with them. Just recently Dave Hyams was over in New South Wales and did a folk festival with us. Dave produced my second album and working with him is just amazing, you know, the connection when you’re working with good mates is really special.
When did you first start playing music?
I started when I was about 14 and I played since then. I’m self taught myself. Music is my life now, it’s running through my veins and I cant stop that.