There could have been no better way to open the Chevron Gardens for business this season than with a night recognising Aboriginal sovereignty and highlighting these important intergenerational Indigenous voices in music.
The venue’s stage opened with a flourish of colour, dance, and chanting, with a phenomenal Welcome to Country, orchestrated by the Noongar dance troupe, Gya Ngoop (One Blood Dancers).
Contrasted with the setting sun upon nearby city skyline to one side, and the Derbarl Yerrigan’s quiet surface to the other, the ceremony roused emotions and brought goosebumps to skin – all shades.
This night was one of contrasts, but consistency too. Archie Roach is a patron of the arts in WA. His influence has spanned generations, his grace is yet unwavering, and this night was a representation of that influence.
In 2016 Emily Wurramara’s debut EP Black Smoke spent 10 weeks on the AMRAP charts. She was a 2018 ARIA nominee for her album Milyakburra. She is a young woman already blazing a trail for a new generation and has toured a message of community and healing – nationally and internationally. At 23, she already carries herself up onto the stage so strongly, you can’t help but stop in your tracks and watch it. She performed calmly and with a minimal set up. Her voice is one of the best in emerging Australian music at the moment, it simply cannot be denied. She is fast becoming known as one to watch in coming years, and already using her position to try to encourage and inspire other Indigenous girls to pursue music.
Her songs drifted between English and Anindilyakwa, her language from Groote Eylandt country in the Northern Territory. Her vocal runs were just phenomenal. She seemed at ease in front of the seated crowd and delivered a mesmerising, memorable performance. If you take anything away from reading this – look up her music and listen to it.
Radical Son, the project of Indigenous and Tongan singer David Clive, was up next with strong, grounded vocals. Radical Son dips between hip hop, reggae, R&B, and soul with a modern edge. In 2014 Clive released a debut album through Wantok Musik called Cause ‘N Effect, which included a feature by Archie. Radical Son was certainly programmed to take up the space in the demographic between Emily and Archie, and did so well, flowing on in theme while also relating to an older crowd. His performance was reserved and successfully relied upon his large presence – centre stage and in our ears.
In his 30 year career Archie Roach has toured internationally with some of the biggest names in music in the world. In 2013 he was awarded a Deadly Award for his years of work healing the national trauma of the stolen generations. He concluded the night as well as you would expect from an ARIA winning, Australian music veteran.
He and his accompanying musicians gave a modest set with that signature grace and humble nature replacing any need for a visual demonstration. His songs weaved in and out of stories told with earnest emotion and charm. He mentioned potently at one point: “We’re all a work in progress”. Archie is one of those names who isn’t afraid to open up before a live audience. The emotional work involved in this kind of set is almost more commendable than the act of playing music, not that you can even separate the two with an act like Roach – who pours mourning and healing generously both into speech and song.
The Opening of the Chevron Gardens – Wanju Ba Boorlo: Welcome to Perth – was a special and important beginning to the season and I’m sure a pinnacle of the Perth Festival’s opening weekend.
Photos by Linda Dunjey