NT Ancient songs go digital
[by Chryss Carr]
Five years is a long time in the lives of men. In the life of a country it’s the blink of an eye.
Balang Lewis and the four senior Wagalak, Rembarrnga and Dalabon Songmen on this landmark Australian album are all sadly passed since its original, strictly limited release in August 2007. But their songs, as captured in an inspired collaboration with some of the most respected and inventive contemporary musicians in Australia, will live forever.
Songs from Walking With Spirits is a unique document to celebrate the potency of an ancient storytelling tradition. For more than 80 years, ethnomusicologists have travelled to the Beswick/ Wugularr community east of Katherine to witness the rare gravity of First Nations Songmen singing their country. A constant and indelible presence in a changing world, these men are keepers of the codes that unlock the map of kin, country and culture.
It was the late actor, singer, musician and Beswick elder Balang T. E. Lewis (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, The Shadow King) who brought Roy Ashley, Micky Hall, Victor Hood and Jimmy Wesan together with revered Daddy Cool guitarist Ross Hannaford (who also passed in 2016), Gurrumul bassist Michael Hohnen and select other rock/ jazz/ contemporary musicians to help these ancient songs of country resonate anew.
What at first glance might seem like an odd pairing of musical cultures, in retrospect can be seen as a unique experiment in Australian genre-bending and blending.
The results are unlike anything heard before in Indigenous or western music: a breathtaking sound and energy that brings progressive dialogue to timeless concepts in an era when the promise of First Nations recognition has returned to the forefront of national awareness.
The momentum of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a proposed representative Indigenous voice to Australian parliament has led Djilpin Arts (Beswick) to take the bold step of bringing “Songs from Walking With Spirits” to digital streaming services worldwide this November. Djilpin Arts is committed to holding the legacy of its cultural leaders and sharing these remarkable voices. The album’s importance, authenticity and unusual quirky quality is now digitally available world-wide.
The land is our church and everything in it is one, the singers not only represent, but enter into the spirits of the animals, plants and seasons. The corroborree ground is a theatre, with the fireplace as its centre. We warm our spirits at the fireplace and around it, and we pass on the stories and sing the songs and thus keep our history and our culture going. Therefore the listening ear and the watchful eye of you in the audience are as important as the people singing and dancing. Tom E. Lewis 2007
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