Review By Matthew Hocter
I love intimate venues. This Fringe has been a reconnection and a reawakening of sorts and on many levels. The reconnection to my home city after having lived away for so long and the reawakening of far too many things I have suppressed for far too long. Nexus Arts, a sublimely intimate venue nestled in the Lion Arts complex, was home to yet another performance that not only reawakened my senses, but reconnected me with something so much bigger than just the music; culture.
First Nation Voices is the brainchild of acclaimed Australian Indigenous artists, Vonda Last, Russell Smith and Glenn Skuthorpe and brings together the stories of their individual communities, whilst finding the connection that many Indigenous Australians share through the movement of mob (people) across the many traditional Nations that lie within modern Australia.
After a beautiful Welcome to Country, coupled with the sounds of Smith on the didgeridoo and Skuthorpe on guitar filling the room, Last took to the microphone to sing “Secret River,” allowing for the audience to understand how and why the term “nomadic soul music” exists. With a voice as crisp as a glistening winters morning and a tone that not only gives licence to the genre above, Last captivated the audience from the get go, yet again bringing a sense of emotion that is becoming increasingly rare in live music.
As the three interchanged, each displaying their skills, they told stories of connection to country and the connection between country, mob and music. Last told of a recent trip to the Murray where she sat with the Elders yarning (talking) over cups of tea, some who have now passed and whom provided the inspiration for the beautiful song; “River People.” There is something to be said of artists that write their own music such as this trio, especially when the stories are of a people that span 60,000 years of cultural heritage. The sharing of their stories is raw and honest and stories that whilst still rare, are finally gaining traction to be heard.
As each artist took their turn to share their stories, it became clear that these stories, which in turn became songs, were more often than not pulled from personal experiences. As the audience heard about the shocking and ever increasing number of young indigenous girls that have gone missing in Northern NSW, it was the song “So Far Away” which paid respect to those that had decided to check out of life, which created a solemn feeling throughout the theatre. A heartfelt and emotional ode to those that didn’t have the strength to fight anymore, which became a space for contemplation as the music engulfed our thoughts and feelings on the subject.
Small venues like the Nexus Arts allow for intimacy and given that intimacy has been something that has been so alien to most of us due to the recent pandemic, it was clear to see that it was welcomed with open arms by all in attendance. As the trio continued their story telling and how each was connected to the other, it was something that Smith said as the show came to a close that really resonated with me. “The importance of song and culture and ensuring that gets passed on, is at the very roots of who we are as Aboriginal people.” Tonight, there wasn’t a soul in that room that could say they weren’t touched by the importance of song and culture that has stood and defied the test of time by a group of people who have felt it the most.
Aboriginal music in its finest and truest form.