Melbourne Music

I’m finally in Wellington, and soon this blog will become all New Zealand, all the time. Before that happens, I’d like to wrap up one last little thing about my time in Australia. Whether I’m in Chicago or abroad, I’m always on the lookout for a good concert. As it turns out, Melbourne is an incredible town for music. Take this as a “you should check this out” post, no more, no less.

After the march and rally I took part in on 1/26, I saw six different bands between the Share the Spirit Festival in Treasury Gardens and the GIVE IT BACK! Survival/Invasion Day Benefit Concert at The Tote. Now, I’m no music critic, but most of the bands I saw have limited exposure in the U.S., and they’re all worth a listen.

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The first song I heard wasn’t live, but rather blasted from a pair of speakers mounted in the back of the ute at the front of the march (you can see it way at the back of the above photo). Everyone knew it but me – Treaty by Yothu Yindi, a group made up of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians.

Treaty was written to commemorate an unfulfilled promise. Unlike other first nations groups (most relevant to my current situation, the Maori in New Zealand), Aboriginal Australians do not have a treaty with their country’s government. Whether or not similar governments have followed the treaties they make, the call for a treaty in Australia was loud and clear during the march and rally on Invasion/Australia Day. In 1990, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised such a treaty, but one has yet to be ratified.

Yothu Yindi’s frontman, Mandawuy Yunupingu, was first and foremost a teacher. He served as Australia’s first Aboriginal school principal, and worked to develop a culturally-appropriate pedagogy for his students. Treaty, his most famous song, is the perfect mix of message and music, with the driving refrain breaking up lyrics in English and Gumatj, backed by guitar and didgeridoo. For me it was a history lesson.

I followed the ute to the Share the Spirit Festival, which served as a necessary come-down from the events of the march and rally. Chants and speeches were replaced with informational booths, food trucks, and musical acts, none of which disappointed.

The first act I saw live was Kaiit, who had a bit of a Lauryn Hill feel and idolized Amy Winehouse. Here’s her big song, Natural Woman, which is an ear-worm if I’ve ever heard one.

She’s got other songs worth checking out, including the subdued 2000 n somethin, a meditation the artist’s space in the world. In the video, Kaiit wears a Free West Papua shirt, a cause which she mentioned during the show.

I listened to a couple of songs by Dan Sultan, who played solo electric without a band. At the festival his voice was set to ballad and his guitar was set to crunchy. His stuff with a band – like the song Kingdom – may give a more complete understanding of what he’s about.

Closing out the Share the Spirit festival was a Philly, an Aboriginal Australian rapper from Mildura, 500 km northwest of Melbourne. He brought energy and political commentary to the stage, though he had to settle for “featured” in the most important song his group performed on the day – Australia Does Not Exist.

Philly stood on his own on tracks like Dreamchaser, which you can hear in a studio session here. Other tracks focused on themes far too familiar to Americans – police brutality and the struggle for equality in an unequal nation. Sadly, Black Lives Matter is as necessary a statement in Australia as it is in the United States.

After the festival ended, I had two options: find a way to watch the Australian Open, or head to the Tote for more music. I chose the latter. Though it’s late and I’m too tired to do them the justice I’ve tried to do the above musicians, each of the following is worth at least a few minutes of your time.

  • MoonloverMy notes from the night tell me they were something of an early-’90’s Radiohead mixed with Bowie. Thou Shall Be Free is a representative track with dreamy guitar and lazy layered vocals, though most of what they played at the concert was more up-tempo.
  • Dave Arden. A living history lesson, Arden actually took the stage twice (the second time when Philly didn’s show up for his evening set) with two different bands of Aboriginal Australian artists. He was at turns hilarious and thought-provoking. Listen to Kookatha/Gunditjamara Clan, in which he layers a story about his roots atop driving acoustic guitar.
  • Squid Nebula. Questionable name, good band. That’s their picture at the top of this post. Really enjoyed the singer’s mellow voice and the professional rhythm section. I was ready to ignore the two guitar players until each ripped off a more than serviceable solo. Try Ricochet.

If you’ve read this far, hope you found something you liked to listen to – I certainly did. If I had to pick two musicians to keep following from this group, it would be Philly and Kaiit. Each packs a vital energy and essential voice that I’d love to hear more of. More than anything else, my time in Melbourne reminded me that it’s always worth keeping your ears open for new music. You never know what you’ll find.