Kimberley Echoes is a powerful cross-cultural celebration created over five years of musical collaboration and experiences across the Kimberley, its landscapes and its people, brought to life by The Narli Ensemble. Tos Mahoney, Artistic Director at Tura New Music, tells us about Kimberley Echoes, which travels to Melbourne Recital Centre in November 2019.
After eighteen years of relationship-building, community experiences and projects across the Kimberley, it's been an absolute privilege to be part of the growth and development of a suite of engagement and development programs in that country.
It's the building of trust over many years between local individuals, organisations, communities and the many visiting artists involved in all those programs that has allowed for an ever-increasing number of projects of scale to be developed, including Kimberley Echoes, The Wreck and Topography, which are now to be shared around Australia and the world for, we hope, many years to come.
This is why Kimberley Echoes can't be taken out of context as a singular entity or production - it is part of a multi-layered set of historical and current collaborations and outcomes that are continually evolving. The key ingredients are the commitment to long-term connections, commitment to not assuming we know or understand, but remain open, to not defining outcomes but to keep facilitating the opportunities to collaborate and connect, no matter what.
For Kimberley Echoes the intent is for audiences to experience, through music and image, what the Narli Ensemble artists experience while on country in the Kimberley, collaborating with community. Obviously, for local Kimberley artists Stephen Pigram and Gabriel Nodea, this is their life. Though of course they don't, for a minute, say they represent 'Kimberley culture' - there isn't such a thing. There are 30 distinct language groups across the region that we now call the Kimberley. So, for non-Kimberley and Kimberley artists alike, Kimberley Echoes is their response to travelling through all those vastly different lands and cultures. Kimberley Echoes covers a vast musical landscape juxtaposing style and genre, reflecting, at least to a point, the complexity of experience across time, country and culture.
Gabriel Nodea is a senior Gija songman, dancer, painter and storyteller who we have been working with since 2008. Gabe is Chairman of Warmun Art Centre and a leading community advocate, not only in Warmun but right across the top end. Gabe has performed for us with Gija Dancers for Joonba, and helped us coordinate and be part of several residency programs including one with Philip Samartzis and another with Jon Rose. For the 2016 tour in the Kimberley, and following a collaboration with Stephen and Gabriel, we made time for collaboration with Gabriel. It was when he took us on a story tour of Warmun using a painting of his of that country, that we followed the idea of his telling of that story to his painting (projected) all set to Narli music. It was an incredibly moving moment when performed at the Perth Concert Hall at the end of that tour.
I've repeatedly witnessed the two-way impact of touring Kimberley Echoes through the Kimberley: the powerful impact, on the artists, of performing to Warmun community on the Gija Joonba ground, followed by Gija dancers and songmen performing to us, cannot but transform how a visitor experiences and thinks about the world. And, equally, seeing communities transfixed when, for example, the ensemble performs one of Erkki Veltheim's works commissioned for the ensemble and reflecting the Kimberley seasons (a piece which would fit into any hard-nosed new music concert or festival). And, afterwards, the high level of engagement with talk about the work and how it has affected them.
I can't talk about impact without talking about the parallel schools' program - whether it's the widest eyes and biggest smiles on an ocean of faces in the bigger centres, or shaking excitement of someone's chance to play a didjeridu or a cello.
We don't, for a minute, claim to 'represent' Kimberley culture - a notion that doesn't exist anyway - and we don't take or misappropriate stories from the many cultures therein. The main story is of the artists' experience of being there, of living there, and the effect that has had on them. In its own way, Kimberley Echoes has, and is, making its own stories with and in the many communities which it has spent time in over the past 5 years.
The 'program' - the collaborations, the works - are constantly evolving. It's a process rather than a 'product'. I certainly hope that, under the banner of this process, more and new artists both from the Kimberley and from elsewhere become involved in the two-way learning that happens. That, of course, will be fed through our other community-based programs in the Kimberley, such as Gillian Howell's Fitzroy Valley New Music Project. Our regional and remote programs will be expanding in the next five years, not only in the Kimberley but also in the Northern Territory and Pilbara. All these programs cross-pollinate and, no doubt, we will see new outcomes in projects like Kimberley Echoes - or, maybe, just Echoes...