In Black Arm Band, musicians from all over Australia, from rainforests, deserts, coastal towns and inner cities unite to tell the stories of their ancestors. Unveiling the fascinating story of their heritage, the Black Arm Band performers sing in eleven languages, allowing us to experience their history with a human voice.
Last time, we learned more about the themes behind Black Arm Band’s dirtsong, discovering the ‘Aboriginal voice’ and its place within Australia’s cultural history. Here, we meet some of the performers who bring this history to life through their performance…
Fred Bulanyi Leone
I’m proud of my culture and determined to see positive changes…
‘Music and dance are such productive outlets for young people, who get to express their feelings creatively. We need to realise how important it is to know and document the stories of our Elders.’
Artist and community leader, Leone’s family hails from the Garawa & Badtjala tribes of Queensland, north Australia and boast Australian Aboriginal, Tongan and South Sea Islander heritage.
I walk with my head up. I know where I’m from
‘I know my ‘country’. Black Arm Band has been a real support to me. They expect a lot but they give as much back.’
Briscoe is a strong Yalanji woman with roots in Mossman in Far North Queensland, whose heartfelt music has been described as ‘Rainforest Soul.’
I can’t remember a time without music.
‘I’ve been in a lot of bands where non-blackfellas want to help tell my stories as well. My grandparents grew up in a (Aboriginal) mission, and took a lot of their musical influences from the church. They invested a lot of music into the rest of the family. I can’t remember a time without music.’
On her father’s side, Donovan is Naaguja and Yamatji (from Western Australia) and her mother was a Gumbaynggirr/Dhangatti woman from coastal New South Wales. She has worked with disadvantaged men and women in juvenile detention and correctional services and countless Aboriginal communities for more than a decade.
Black Arm Band co-founder, virtuoso didgeridoo player Atkins is a descendent of Western Australia’s Yamitji people as well as Irish/Australian heritage. He has collaborated with some of the world’s leading composers and musicians in orchestral works, theatrical productions and dance pieces, incorporating this ancient, trance-inducing instrument into an array of unlikely musical environments. Highlights include Phillip Glass, Robert Plant, Ornette Coleman and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. His home in Tamworth, New South Wales, is filled with painted didges that Atkins creates from the logs he collects from the bush.
Music is everywhere and it is for everyone
Irish Australian percussionist Greg Sheeran takes inspiration from his Celtic roots while embracing sounds from Polynesia, South East Asia, Latin America and Africa. And of course, from the geography, seasons and Indigenous culture of the wide brown land he calls home.
A proud Yanyuwa and Warduman woman from the Northern Territory, the opera-trained Shellie Morris (with a five-octave range) has devoted her life to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For Morris, music is a tool for healing and education, a way to bridge divides.