Monday, September 30, 2019

Myall Creek

Myall Creek Memorial

I started to tear up from about 20 kilometres out. I started looking at the landscape as it may have been in 1838; tried to imagine how it might have looked then. I tried to imagine Aboriginal people wandering the land as it was and was just overcome with the realisation that it was THEIR land. In a way I had never really grasped before. And it has been taken from them. So I was already filled with a deep sadness before I arrived at the Myall Creek memorial.
Happily (for me) there was no one else there. Just a dusty carpark with a sign pointing down a winding track. I reached the monument and just let it all wash over me …..
Off and on over the years I had heard tales of Aboriginal massacres. Like many Australians I imagine I just somehow pushed the information aside with thoughts like ‘it was a long time ago’ or ‘it wouldn’t  have been that many people’ or ‘it was just the same as what happened in many places where the New World met ancient cultures’. An inevitable consequence of progress or something. It didn’t really have much impact on me.
But I have now read Henry Reynolds’ work. (The Other Side of the Frontier, This Whispering in Our Hearts). Reynolds lays bare a tale that has been ignored for more than 200 years. And the most recent research reveals that at least 6,000 and up to possibly 70,000 Aboriginal people were killed during the first decades of white settlement. We will never arrive at a finalaccurate figure; suffice to say it was in the thousands.

What sets Myall Creek apart is not the fact that a group of Aboriginal people were killed there in cold blood. That, it turns out, routinely happened all over the land – but in this case witnesses came forward and at least some of the perpetrators were tried, convicted, and hanged. So while the simple monument at Myall Creek was created to honour the memory of the 28 people who were killed there, in the shameful absence of memorials for the other tens of thousands who suffered a similar fate, it also stands as a de facto monument for all of them, and is a stark reminder of the fact that white Australia has yet to fully reconcile its past.


The fact that white Australia has yet to confront and accept this part of our past is sickly ironic in the light of our obsession with the “Lest We Forget’ mantra for soldiers who fell in wars.
As far back as I can remember I heard about ‘the Aboriginal problem.’ As I grew older and lived longer I came to understand the complexity and depth of this ‘problem.’ I don’t know the answer but I still see evidence of an ongoing, persistent trauma that has reverberated down through the generations. As Stan Grant says in his recent documentary, TheAustralian Dream, it’s hard not to inherit the DNA of trauma, and as long as that trauma persists there will be cultural breakdown.
And I have a longing to quieten the whispering in our hearts that Henry Reynolds speaks of. To once and for all reconcile our past with our present, and publicly acknowledge what we did to indigenous Australians. Perhaps this kind of meaningful reconciliation just might act as a circuit breaker and lead to Aboriginal Australians once again feeling like they belong in their own land. Feel as if they are respected. Valued.
Right now I suspect many of them don’t feel any of these things.
Australians need to talk about this stuff. We need to know the truth of our past. I taught Australian history in schools in the 80s and found no reference to the events that Reynolds writes about. These materials – letters, newspaper articles, public notices, church correspondence, reports to the British government, all documenting decades of atrocities, have lain hidden and ignored for two centuries.

Gradually I experienced the central truth of Aboriginal religion: that it is not a thing by itself but an inseparable part of a whole that encompasses every aspect of daily life, every individual, and every time – past, present, and future. It is nothing less than the theme of existence, and as such constitutes one of the most sophisticated and unique religious and philosophical systems known to man. (Richard Gould, American archaeologist, quoted in Deep Time Dreaming.)



Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Eclipse of Liberalism - Australia 2019


America already has Trump. Australia has Scott the evangelist Morrison, and Britain has just chosen Boris Johnson as their PM. Scott Morrison belongs to a church that believes that personal wealth is a sign that God is shining on you for God’s sake!!!! The fact that such characters have risen to be heads of nations bothers me for many reasons, and I grapple with the idea that the contemporary world has made such choices.
I wrote elsewhere about how I felt about the Trump triumph, and that feeling of being on the sidelines grows stronger. My brother suggested I read up on ‘the eclipse of liberalism’ to try and put these feelings into some kind of context and I’ve begun that process.
It’s strange for someone like me to accept that my views and values are liberal. So called small ‘l’ liberal. In Australia the Liberal Party is of the right, and when someone is referred to as ‘a Liberal’ it is usually to denote someone that has conservative views and more likely leans towards the political right, and vote for the Liberal Party.
I have learned that there is an optimistic tradition within Western democracies which holds that the world is on an inevitable trajectory towards a more moral and ethical future; that we as a species would continue to evolve and come to see a kind of collective enlightenment where people are cared for, and mutual understanding of human differences would flourish. That certainly sums up how I had seen my world until recently, and that’s why Trump’s victory came as such a shock. It has been surprising to learn that me and my kind (small ‘l’ liberals in a democratic nation) are merely a type peculiar to a certain set of circumstances and that many in the world don’t see existence as an inevitable path to a collective moral and ethical betterment.  Trump voters are clearly in this camp.
To flesh this out a little more I want to list some of the issues that might illustrate what I’m talking about:
Mental health care: funding for treatment and care of those with mental health needs has been progressively cut over the last decade. The result: a health system bogged down by people with mental health needs seeking treatment and taking up hospital beds because there is nowhere else for them to go. Ditto for the prison system. It is estimated that upwards of 40% of prisoners have mental health issues and would be better treated in more appropriate facilities and not jailed. (For the record Holland has closed more than 20 prisons since 2013.)
Detention of refugees: Australia has imprisoned several hundred refugees on offshore islands for 6 years now. In the 70s and 80s Australia had a bipartisan approach that used a system of offshore refugee camps to methodically process applications for asylum and refugee status. There was an orderly and continuous flow of migrants from war zones that was humane and of practical advantage to an Australian economy that always depends on a level of migration to help it grow. The present charismatic governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, and comedian/painter Anh Do are two who found our shores via this enlightened bipartisan approach. Now we just round boat people up, dump them on an offshore island under insufferable and (secret) conditions and leave them there.   
Levels of welfare: Australia has not increased the Newstart allowance, the primary source of income for unemployed people for 25 years!!!
Privatisation: bit by bit, little by little, our governments of all political persuasions surrender provision of basic services to the private sector. Here in South Australia we have been hit particularly hard by extreme increases in the price of gas, water, and electricity – all since privatisation. And soon our trains will go the same way. And health services. Bit by bit basic services are sold to the private sector who of course run them as businesses to make a profit and gouge the consumer accordingly.
Climate change; when over 90% of the world’s scientific community believe that, based on all the available evidence, climate change is a fact and that it is at least in part man made, the refusal of conservative governments to accept and confront these facts with proactive solutions is just monumental stupidity. The world’s leading naturalist, David Attenborough, is surprised and dismayed that Australia is governed by those who continue to deny the science behind climate change.
The Planet: nothing else matters. And yet we continue to plunder – coal. Dump plastic in the oceans. Sell our water to wealthy agriculturalists and shrug as tens of thousands of fish die in our national river system. Do nothing as foreign seals devour native species in the Coorong. Australia has the highest rate of animal extinctions on the planet by a golden mile. And we would rather open another coal mine and further endanger one of the world’s greatest natural resources, our Great Barrier Reef. And don’t believe the nay-sayers - Australia can run on sun and wind and hydro energy. Germany has committed to closing all coal plants by 2030, and nuclear power plants by 2022.
Freedom of the press: recently ABC journalists had their computers and files confiscated by Federal police because they dared investigate a story about alleged appalling behaviour of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. And now they want to finger-print these same journalists. There is an organisation called the Institution of Public Affairs (IPA) that is closely aligned with conservative forces and whose avowed agenda is to ‘privatise’ (read shut down) the ABC. These attempts to curtail a free press are the tip of an iceberg. They are coupled with a series of incremental incursions on the rights to privacy of average Australians – all in response to an undue obsession with terrorism – and are part of a slippery slope to an authoritarian state.
There are many other issues I could add but this will do for a start. I have probably conflated a number of issues here but according to my liberal values levels of public spending on education, health, and welfare should never be cut. They should be indexed against the cost of living and never become the focus of political wrangling. A humane and decent society has at its core a desire and willingness to assist and reach out to those in need. Australia’s foreign aid budget is the least generous it has ever been. We refuse to pay the unemployed a decent minimum dole, we lock up people who need proper mental health care, and we maroon people seeking asylum in offshore hell holes for years on end. Australia was not like this once. When did we get so mean? Where is our heart?
I feel as if the wheel has turned quite honestly. I feel like these small ‘l’ liberal values are no longer what drives us. I don’t see a society that cares about its weakest and most vulnerable citizens anymore. I don’t see any sense of an ethical or social responsibility that might guide how we treat the underdog and show compassion as a society. Of course there are individuals doing good deeds out there every day, but as a nation I believe Australia has lost its soul. Liberalism has indeed been eclipsed.
There are pockets of hope, and they seem to be mostly in Europe. I have already mentioned Holland and Germany; Finland is achieving remarkable things in education and is enjoying all time low recidivism rates by making prison cells more like hotel rooms – the focus is on rehabilitation not punishment. But we here in Australia have just voted for a government that eschews such liberalism and panders to some ‘quiet Australians’ who just want to ‘get on’ – whatever that means. I think it’s code for ‘bugger you Jack. I’m OK’; a government that seems stuck in past paradigms without any of the kindnesses of previous eras. And now we can sit back and watch the incompetent wrecking ball that is Boris Johnson, cheered on by his mate Donald, before he wines and dines Scomo.
It simply beggars belief, but a significant part of the English speaking world has lurched to the right.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bordertown

Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, Fri 5 Apr.
Bordertown is a convenient half way marker on road trips between Adelaide and Melbourne. Apparently Bob Hawke was also born there. He spent most of his childhood in Perth but a trip back to the town as an adult and a chance visit to a local hairdresser was enough to generate the urban myth that Bob’s silver bodgie hairstyle was born in Bordertown.
This is important to Patricia Barnes, the local hairdresser. In fact hair in general is important. It has to be or she has nothing. She complements her empty life with the inane trivia of celebrities because they matter. They’re successful. And she decides that her daughter must escape to Hollywood where people find success.
Chris Asimos as Emilio Sanchez bursts on to the stage and regales us with his charisma and de rigeur larger than life star behaviour. He’s funny, and genuine, and he falls completely for that girl from somewhere near the border. The scene where he and Felicity (Kim Fox) flirt with each other on first meeting is beautifully choreographed and exudes romantic chemistry.
Dennis the taxi driver doesn’t really go for this celebrity stuff. Although he has a tendency to fall under the thumb of the women in his life, in his own yokel way he’s become his own man. His quirky manner provides a glimpse of the Australian psyche that provides a telling contrast to the Hollywood way. It’s a lovely and endearing performance from Brendan Cooney.
Bordertown is an entertaining and funny show, with strong and convincing performances all round. Katie O’Reilly’s portrayal of Patricia is wonderful. But beneath the humour is the sad fact that many of us seem to need this link with the lives of celebrities to make our own lives more palatable. People’s lives become more important if they’ve had a chance meeting with a celebrity, or they know someone who is a cousin of a famous actor, etc etc. It’s really quite pathetic.
But that is Patricia’s reality. You have to find that connection with fame, and it matters not if it’s true or otherwise. What matters is that people believe it happened, that you’ll be remembered and talked about for years after, because you knew someone famous. And you cared about your hair!

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

What then, are our responsibilities, as elders, in this world which carries the scent and spoor of our youthful enthusiasms?


A colleague on the TALO email list (yes there are some still) posed this question in regard to our collective role in promoting use of the internet before it all went wrong. I felt compelled to answer: 

I don’t know if this was a serious question but I’m going to assume it was. Because this has been on my mind. Where the Internet and social media has led us has me worried. And when Tim Berners-Lee says much the same I feel my concerns are well founded.
I’m trying to reconcile my own part in all of this. Like many on this list I was an enthusiastic advocate for teaching and learning online. I don’t know if I was an advocate of the Internet in particular. I was certainly fascinated by its potential, and what it might do to our lives. But I don’t think I was an advocate per se in the way that people like Mark Pesce may have been. I remember Pesce boasting unashamedly that ‘the Internet is coming and I am a pusher!”
I still stand by the Internet’s potential to improve education, in the hands of experienced and wise facilitators. But there are still so few of them. But after 22 years of watching its impact I am worried about what the internet and mobile technologies have done to our lives.
I am feeling a sense of professional embarrassment. How can I/we not have seen this coming? For me it’s connected with the election of Trump. That stunned me. I was one of those who thought it would never happen. Don’t laugh, but I thought humanity was evolving to a point where trogladytes like Trump would be left behind.  It was as if his election snapped me out of a na├»ve dream.
Similarly I knew the potential of social media to spread evil, but like all good fairytales I thought good would prevail. And it still might. But with all the good it has done, it has connected all those with a message of hate and division. It fosters unrest based on lies and misinformation in Ukraine, genocide in Myanmar, subverts democratic processes, and provides a platform for murderers, racists and child pornographers to peddle their wares.
And I do think it’s time to call a spade a spade and declare as T Bone Burnett has done that it is stealing our culture on the basis of some flimsy pretext like ‘all knowledge wants to be free’.
So I do feel like making a public apology quite honestly, where I can admit that I was naive about a lot of things. That may absolve my conscience but do I/we who were at the vanguard of the changes have a responsibility to try now and fix up the mess and redress some of the mistakes?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Laraaji


RCC Fringe – Elder Hall, Sun 17 Mar.

Like many, I was introduced to the concept of ambient music via Brian Eno’s Music For Airports in the late ‘70s. LARAAJI was ‘discovered’ by Eno around that time. Ambient music is about space and silence as much as it is about sound. LARAAJI’s single composition 90 minute concert began slowly with lots of space and silence. Gradually the sonic voids are filled as he builds a wall of soothing sounds using an array of instruments (zither, kalimba – the African thumb piano, gong, brushes, bells and other assorted percussion) and boxes of effects with sounds of nature and multiple looping possibilities.
Musical events like these tend to challenge preconceptions and can lead to fascinating ‘what is music?’ discussions. It’s interesting that in the contemporary and related unsound movement the performer(s) is barely even visible at live events, and there was a similar sense of that here too. It’s meditative music where the agent or performer is of less consequence than normally is the case but it was intriguing to see the orange clad LARAAJI play the various parts of musician, composer, technician, and percussionist. The ‘kid in a candy shop’ analogy came to mind!
It was largely instrumental with some occasional spoken sounds of affirmation – ‘light is everywhere,’ ‘I am consciousness,’ ‘pulsation’ – and vocalised effects that were looped back into mesmerising chants.
Ambient music has the potential to bore or exhilarate – it’s your state of mind that dictates how you receive it. After a period of adjustment I settled in and just let it all wash over me. A unique experience – literally. I’m sure LARAAJI’s live compositions are never played the same way twice.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Ukulele Death Squad – “Fifty Shades of Uke”

Regal Theatre, Sat, March 16th
Arriving on stage looking like the Blues Brothers’ ukulele cousins the Ukulele Death Squad don’t waste any time launching into their peculiar brand of musical freneticism. Three ukes and a saxophone is the line up as they attack their original songs with a dramatic and physical style that exudes and creates energy.
The three ukulele players may be playing little instruments that look like ukes, but such is contemporary sound technology that much of the time they sound equivalent to the standard bass, rhythm and lead guitar line-up of many groups. They do play songs where they actually sound like they’re playing ukulele, but often they occupy this curious space that crosses the lines of many musical boundaries – think Dan Hicks, or Pokey LaFarge. It’s a blend of jazz, swing, gypsy, flamenco and a fast paced shuffle. But whatever it is they’re playing they play it really well. Julian Ferguson on baritone and Ben Roberts are almost in the virtuoso class such is the speed of their playing – all the while hamming it up with comic movement like Split Enz used to do. It’s no mean feat, compelling to watch, and must be totally exhausting to play.
Lots of comic banter spills out between songs – Eamonn Burke on bass and Reuben Legge on sax seems to cop most of it, but they also give plenty of it back. A deliberately out of key sax solo played with great feeling was a really funny moment. Everyone shares responsibility for vocals and many songs feature all four voices in harmony.
The Ukulele Death Squad has created something special and the big crowd was testament to their appeal. They’ve cannily exploited the incredible recent rise in popularity of the ukulele. Someone wrote that the Death Squad may just make the ukulele cool again. Well it’s mission accomplished! I think I might just go and buy one.

(This review also published in The Clothesline.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ralph McTell - Church Of The Trinity (14 March, 2019)

Streets Of London is 50 years old this year, and both the song and its composer are aging gracefully.
Ralph McTell is a Londoner born and bred but learned to play guitar by listening to black American blues and ragtime players like Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Blake, so there’s a lot more in his musical repertoire than just standard folk. Indeed, the breadth and scope of his original material covering several decades is just awesome.
In a wonderful concert he played songs about his childhood (Barges, Mr Connaughton), a mate he met on a building site (the beautiful From Clare To Here), his affinity for Australia – a song written for Billy Connolly (In The Dreamtime), a paean to the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and a dedication to the black musicians he is indebted to in what was my favourite of the night – The Ghost of Robert Johnson. Inevitably there was reference to those who have gone, and After Rain was dedicated to his old friend and musical collaborator Maartin Alcock (ex-Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull). McTell suggests “tears refresh the soul.”
Every song comes with an interesting tale – told many times I’m sure – but still told again with sincerity and enthusiasm for us as if he were telling it for the first time. And the music aside, that has always been one of McTell’s strengths as a performer. He just has that knack of effortlessly bringing you into his world – two hours of chat and songs just flew by.
I could be picky and say I noticed a few occasions where he didn’t quite hit the melody as purely as he might have decades back, but his voice is still strong, deep and rich. His songs are also rich in metaphor (Peppers And Tomatoes), and frequently come with a tinge of melancholy but it’s more the pensive type of melancholy that comes from an acceptance of what life brings rather than sadness. An evening with Ralph McTell is in fact quite life affirming. He certainly refreshed my soul.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Tim Ferguson – A Fast Life On Wheels

The National Wine Centre – Exhibition Hall, Tue 12 Feb.

Tim Ferguson is fortunate enough to have had a glittering career, and much of it is on film, so this show is peppered with filmed highlights and funny stories of his rise and fall. The fall in Ferguson’s case is, of course, quite literal – it happened when he got out of bed one day and couldn’t stand up.
He begins with tales of his journalist father and his dedication to sedition when covering the Vietnam War, and places much of what he himself has done over the years in that same ‘tradition of sedition’. He’s a natural born story teller, and has lost none of his hard edge. That outrageous politically incorrect bravado from the days of the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS) is still there. Among tonight’s unfortunate targets were millennials – maybe it explains why there weren’t many in the audience – and the ABC.
His old mates from the Allstars, especially the now very hairy Paul McDermott also get to be the butt of many good jokes, but it’s important to reflect on just how big those guys were. They even had their own show on British television! Ferguson is older now and acknowledges that he too was once a stupid millennial, and he has the poetry to prove it!
Of course the MS elephant in the room has to be addressed at some stage so frank descriptions and incredibly candid footage lays it all bare for the world to see. Then we move on… just as Tim Ferguson has done. His personality, his track record, his network, and his talent will always ensure that he has satisfying options to distract him from his MS, and he capitalises on them to the max and leads a remarkably full life.
Thoroughly entertaining, irreverent as ever, funny, sad, intelligent – Tim Ferguson is still very much a star.

(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

WOMADelaide 2019 ~ Day 3 Musings

Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Sun 10 Mar.
Sona Jobarteh
No music was scheduled until 2pm but hundreds of early birds took advantage of the free yoga sessions and performed mindful stretching routines in front of two of the small stages. I thought I’d check out the new expanded Planet Talks venue. There was a talk advertised on the Magic of Mushrooms! I was pretty sure it was not going to be about tripping around in the Adelaide Hills but I was curious. It was in fact about a ‘mycelial path to save the planet.’ I now know that there are people working to use fungi as a substitute for plastics in the making of construction materials. Fungi can also apparently eat plastics, absorb radiation, and treat illnesses. Who knew? WOMADelaide is not just about music…
But that is why most of us go there, and down on Stage 3 Sona Jobarteh was about to start playing her kora. The 21-stringed African harp is associated with some of the finest WOMADelaide moments over the years and this performance didn’t disappoint. Perhaps the most photogenic performer that has ever graced a WOMADelaide stage, Jobarteh has a soulful husky voice and soon had the audience singing along with her in a west African language. And in what is always a good sign, her band were clearly having a great time playing together.
Sometimes WOMADelaide challenges you with really hard choices. Back at The Planet Talks The First Dog On The Moon was talking about how to survive the impending apocalypse, and the Silk Road Ensemble were on the main stage at the same time. Decisions, decisions… I chose Silk Road. Silk Road are like a travelling promotion for WOMADelaide festivals. A collective of about 60 musicians from all continents, it was established by cellist Yo Yo Ma. This performance featured about 10 members of the collective. It began with a duel between Galician bagpipes and a traditional Chinese horn called the suona. A curious 3 person hand percussion piece followed, and then an eclectic melange of instruments and styles from everywhere and anywhere. This is truly world music.
Two ethnic communities that have had huge impact on the fabric of Australian life have been strangely absent from WOMADelaide over the years – Greeks and Italians – but happily not this year. The Italians were forcefully present in the form of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino. With no looping or other electronic interference in sight they generated tons of excitement with high energy, high speed playing with accordion, guitar, traditional pipes, bouzouki, and tammorra (like the Irish bodhran). Exhilarating.
Greece was represented by Rembetien, exponents of Rembetika. Rembetika is sometimes referred to as Greek blues. It certainly has a moody feel that one could associate with blues, but the music of Rembetien is more deft and delicate. Nothing too raw here. Lead vocals were shared around, and the impromptu dance group off to the side of the stage grew as the pace got quicker. Soulful and soothing. I started to wander off to the Greek Islands….
Earlier Sharon Shannon (ex-Waterboys) and her band from Ireland entertained a big Foundation stage crowd with largely instrumental music based around the accordion. Her countryman, Alan Kelly, introduced WOMADelaide audiences to this delightful form of Celtic music several WOMADelaides back. But this wasn’t just Celtic music. Some of it was, but much of it had a more modern feel in what the program described as “genre-defying music”. It is hard to place. But strong insistent melodies were a feature in a thoroughly enjoyable set. A cameo performance of Janis Joplin’s Piece Of My Heart from a guest female vocalist was a knockout!
The honour of performing the sundown concert on stage 2 this year went to Morocco’s Maalem Hamid El Kasri. El Kasri’s featured instrument is the guembri, a traditional 3 string bass instrument. Languages spoken by peoples across adjoining borders often sound quite similar. And so it is with music. Tinariwen are another north African group that have played WOMADelaide and their style of ‘desert blues’ sounds very reminiscent of El Kasri and group. Driving bass undercurrents and repetitive rhythms create a hypnotic feel for the chanting vocals to float across. And his percussionists looked wonderful in their robes and dreadlock caps.
It was a shame to leave before the headline act of the day, Angelique Kidjo, but I’d had my fill. In terms of the weather you couldn’t have ordered better for a day at WOMADelaide – just a gentle breeze, overcast, no rain and about mid-twenties. And I found enough of ‘old WOMAD’ to keep me interested all day – ethnic music that stayed close to its roots.
WOMADElaide has changed a great deal – many more Australian acts, and many more amorphous global funk acts save money and attract a different and younger crowd. But as mentioned earlier, it’s not just about music. WOMADelaide is an experience. It’s just as much about ideas – whether in The Planet Talks program, the agitprop stalls that dot the park, or in the informal conversations that take place under the trees and in the bars. There’s the hugely popular Taste The World program and the ever expanding range of food options. It’s about kids playing safely, and enjoying activities just for them; the healing village, the market stalls, and it’s one of the few places where all generations gather to celebrate being alive. It’s still a remarkable event.

(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

WOMADelaide 2019 ~ Day 1 Musings


Botanic Park/Tainmuntilla, Fri 8 Mar.

WOMADelaide
  #23. But who’s counting?! A gentle breeze blew across the park under an overcast sky as the first act on the Foundation Stage got underway. In a WOMAD first they actually started early (WOMADelaide has been incredibly punctual over the years and shows have typically begun smack on the hour.)
Amjad Ali Khan was back at WOMADelaide after a 13-year break. This time he was with his two sons and together they sat front of stage and played sarod. With the better known sitar, the sarod is a central instrument in Indian Classical music. Also joining them on stage was a stripped back version of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to present Khan’s Samaagam – a piece that purports to demonstrate the bond between eastern and western classical music traditions. Devoid of any wind or brass sections it is strings that assumed the major role in the orchestral parts. As the sarod is a largely plucked instrument it was curious to hear the difference between the plucking and bowing techniques of the different strings. There were times when a violinist or three played together with Khan and sons but in truth much of the piece was more about turn taking rather than playing together. A beautiful piece of music nevertheless and it was an ideal way to kick off a world music festival.
As I walked towards Stage 2, rainbow coloured people began to appear in the crowd – courtesy of the Colour Of Time, another of India’s cultural gifts to world music festivals. On Stage 2 several women from central Australia had gathered to appear as the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. Singing songs in Western Arrarnta and Pitjanjatjara languages, and dressed in indigenous themed fabrics they looked fantastic in the fading dusk light. Though some of these songs are original pieces written by our desert peoples it is hard not to hear the Christian influence and much of their repertoire is basically hymns from the Christian tradition.
First up on the Zoo Stage for the weekend was Timberwolf. I don’t know how a local Australian artist comes to be called Timberwolf, or how the program notes could describe his music as folk. He does have a rich soulful voice but unfortunately the vocals were too loud and quite distorted. No one else seemed to care but once again the sound quality at a WOMADelaide performance was inferior to years gone by.
But things were about to get magical back on Stage 2. Yo, Carmen is a reimagining of the operatic tale of Carmen, and was a stunning spectacle in every respect. Wonderful songs from live musicians at the back of the stage provided the musical palette for a group of female flamenco dancers to strut and twirl about the stage in scenes from the opera. What a fabulously sexy phenomenon is flamenco! The dancers from Maria Pages Compania from Spain were so elegant, so dramatic, so bewitching.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)