It was a comfortably sunny afternoon when I headed down to Nexus theatre on North Terrace at the invitation of some of Australia’s most accomplished Indigenous performers to have a chat about their upcoming tour, First Nation Voices, at Adelaide Fringe 2021.
Russels’ vision of bringing together three Indigenous performers up front in a show, around a fire to share their stories is just days away from it debut.
Fire has played a big role in their music and their lives growing up. Glenn says “to put that on stage and have the circle with a fire in the middle and with the band behind us, and we’re telling our stories form where we’re from – this is probably one of the first of its kind.”
Growing up in Dooga, fire was an essential part of growing up and living for Glenn. The camp fire is where they would tell stories, play guitar and listen to music. First Nation Voices is his invitation for us to join him in that experience.
First Nation Voices brings together three Indigenous voices from three different parts of the country to tell their stories and experiences, and to share their unique music.
Vonda’s love of country reverberates through every note she sings, and her song “For Love Of Country”, which honours Indigenous soldiers and the solidarity they have shown dating right back to the Boer war, is sung in schools throughout South Australia.
“It’s really very rewarding to know that something you’ve created in your own personal space can connect and resonate with young and old, and particularly with young people in schools. The song was used a part of the Festival Of Music in 2015, and since then has been used by a number of schools as part of ANZAC Day commemorations. Vonda is thrilled that the story of Aboriginal men and women who served can be told through a song.
According to Vonda, an increase in social media and improved accessibility to music production, along with funding to support Indigenous artists is helping to artists to find their audience and satisfy an appetite for Indigenous stories and music the has always been present.
Russell Smith has travelled all the way back from Mount Tambourine in Queensland to share his stories and music. Fire, again, is a central part of his life as Chairman of his local fire brigade. He tells me “we actually combine traditional burns now, so fire sticks are involved,” thoughtfully adding “it’s funny you’re talking about fire on a music show, it’s quite interesting, but I think, culturally, it’s the most important thing; fire and music and telling the stories is exactly the same thing.”
The stories they are here to share include their journey. Russell and Vonda grew up together as kids in Community. Russell speaks of having toured with the likes of Archie Roach and Paul Kelly throughout his career. For Russell, there’s great value in telling and listening to other people’s stories, acknowledging that “you learn from other people”.
Glenn’s journey began in “the Dooga” which he comically suggests is known as the most boring town inAustralia. He tells the story of growing up on the river, which he sees as just as important as fire.
Connection to Country is at the foundation of Vonda’s identity as a musician. For her “… it’s always floating in the background… people always say ‘there’s a lot of the Australian landscape in your singing and your songs,’ and think that just reflects my heart and my love for country, for family, my communities, just growing up was just great connection to Country and communities in WA and the eastern goldfields.” It’s no surprise that one of the songs she will be singing is about driving through many many miles across country. It’s the images of red dirt that really make her yearn for home.
Glenn has crafted a songwriting career around telling stories that other people relate well to. “I’ve got a style of writing where I put myself into the song and get a lot of people walk up to me and say ‘you know, that song is about me’, so if you get people coming up to you and saying that, well then you’re doing a good job at it”.
For Russell, it’s not about angst-ridden lyrics or pointing out what’s wrong with the world like someone younger might feel motivated to do, saying “I think the older you get, the more you think about the world and kids and family and all that sort of stuff. For me, our country is about mission life in Port Augusta, so far away, it’s about people that you know that have died from overdoses of drugs or alcohol and that sort of stuff. You see things. For me, I’m writing differently now.” He explains that he is collaborating more via Zoom with his writing team from Melbourne, seeing the effects of life and writing it down.
There is also the hint of an album to support the tour, which kicks off at Adelaide Town Hall on Friday 19th February 2021. Get in quick for this special event!