‘Emerge in the West’ Festival, Footscray 18.05.13

Dancing in the Street

by Lochie Bradfield

As part of the 10th anniversary of the ‘Emerge Festival’ , which kicked off last Saturday, Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) and the Maribyrnong City Council threw a street party called ‘Emerge in the West’  – a celebration of the contributions African communities have made/are making culturally, socially, musically, economically and gastronomically to Melbourne’s West.

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Burundian drummers performing @ Emerge in the West, Footscray. Photo by Lochie Bradfield

Despite a few showers in the afternoon, people were out in Nicholson St, Footscray, dancing to the sounds of Sudanese pop, Ethiopian jazz, Azmari banter, Somali pop, traditional Burundian drumming, West African dance and Cape Verdean reggae. The best part? All the performers now call Melbourne home.

There were performances from Ajak Kwai, a Sudanese singer from the Malakal Region of the Upper Nile. She sings in her native Dinka language as well as Arabic and English – songs of freedom, love, peace, death, marriage and cows.

One of the highlights of the afternoon, technical difficulties aside, was the pop stylings of Somali group, Aussom Band, led by Abdi Mohamed Abdi, aka ‘The Man with Ten Hands’. Abdi is is originally from the southern Somali port of Kismayo. Since the civil war in Somalia, which saw the banning of music (among other things), many well known musicians have been persecuted by fundamentalist insurgents, including Abdi. He lived in exile in Kenya for 18 years before settling in Australia in 2008. It was amazing to hear the Somali group here in Footscray, reconnecting with their country’s music after such a long and dislocated experience.

Other highlights included Ethio-Jazz ensemble, Jazmaris, led by Ethiopian pianist Danny Seifu, with powerful vocals by the ever-exceptional Seble Girma. This band just finished supporting the legendary Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed on his recent Australian tour in January 2013. The band was sounding tight, well rehearsed and very comfortable with their arrangements.

Bitat Seyoum, accompanied by Anbessa Gebrihiwot, played a wonderful set in her native Amharic language, even as the rain fell and audience members sought cover underneath the roofs of shops in Nicholson St.

The Burundian Drummers provided a trance-inducing set of traditional Burundian rhythms with 7 big drums or ingomas, knocking out ever evolving polyrhythms. In Burundi the use of the ingoma was historically a symbol of power, used to commentate on the daily life of the king. The drums were believed to bring peace and unity throughout the kingdom, a belief that continues to present today  – 12 years of civil war notwithstanding.

The afternoon came to a close with roots reggae outfit Ras Jahknow Band, fronted by Cape Verdean born Jorge Abreu (aka Ras Jahknow) They sing songs in English, Portugese, and Creole. The band never strays far from the deep and slow rhythms of roots reggae and created a good vibe to end proceedings on.

‘Emerge in the West’ was a fantastic opportunity for many of the people and communities who make Melbourne’s West what it is – to show their talents, share culture and partake in some good ol’ fashioned dancing in the street.

As a final thought, I was struck by the Burundian drums – upon which they have painted the Australian flag, alongside the Burundian flag. Hitting the sides of the drums with their sticks, the Union Jack on the Australian flag looked as though it were being beat in to submission. I, for one, am very excited about the impact these cultures, musical traditions and musicians themselves are going to have upon the future of Australian music.

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The Show goes on!

The Emerge Festival continues until July, with ‘a colourful series of performances and unique cultural experiences encompassing music, dance, visual arts, exotic foods, ancient crafts and ceremonies.’ These include:

–       ‘Main Event’ at Fitzroy Town Hall on Sunday June 16th (12-5pm, FREE)

–       World Refugee Day Rally 2013 at Melbourne Museum forecourt, Sunday June 16th (rally will march to Fitzroy Town Hall)

–       Remastered Myths, Sunday 2nd June at the Toff in Town (3-5pm, $10)

–       Restoring Hope – A Creative Refugee Week Performance, on Saturday 22nd June at Fortfivedownstairs, Melbourne (3-5pm, FREE,)

–       Emerge @ Drum Theatre, Dandenong, Saturday 20th July (2-4:30pm, FREE)

–       Don’t Be Left Out in the CALD – a series of Music Business Skills Workshops for musicians from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) backgrounds. Topics include: Getting Gigs, DIY Releasing, APRA & Licensing, Music Law, Grant Writing, amongst others. Saturday 8th June – Monday 10th June. Places are limited and acceptance is by application only. You can send expressions of interest to: projects@multiculturalarts.com.au or call (03) 9188 3681 for more details.

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