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Not Drowning Waving
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A Note from the Musical Director
David Bridie

Many of the artists involved in Sing Sing have been thinking about this idea for a long long time - a collaboration between artists from Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait Islands and both black and white Australia, exploring the shared links and differences, the commonalties both historically and culturally. In some ways the Arts in Australia has been reticent to place itself in the Pacific, to see itself as part of this region and to acknowledge the rich and diverse cultures of its neighboring islands. This concert has been long overdue. Connections between many of the artists have been developing over the past ten years, and the twenty singers, musicians and dancers are all set to congregate for the Sing Sing.

From a personal perspective, I guess my first exposure to the themes that underlie the Sing Sing project began with Not Drowning, Waving’s first venture to Papua New Guinea back in 1988 to record the Tabaran record with musicians from the vibrant Rabaul music scene. Working with people such as George Telek, Pius Wasi and Ben Hakilits in the tropical surrounds of the Pacific Gold Studios, we fell in love with Papua New Guinea, learning about the many diverse traditional songs forms, the oral culture, the hybrid style of stringband music which fuses the influences of missionary choral styles with country and western, blues and village based stories, and the reggae-fused island rock styles. This was an eye opener for all of us in NDW, especially as we were all young lads at the time. From this initial trip the Tabaran project resulted in a subsequent 3 trips to PNG resulting in the Tabaran CD, who tours of Australia and PNG, including a WOMAD performance, as well as many long-lasting friendships and working relationships with various PNG musicians.

Since then I have been fortunate enough to have worked as producer with Archie Roach on the Jamu Dreaming album and with Christine Anu on Stylin’ Up. During these recording sessions, conversations often got around to the subject of PNG music and the cultural similarities between the way of life up there and the blackfella way of doing things amongst aboriginal communities and up on TI. For Christine these issues had always been with her because her island of Saibai in the Northern Torres Strait is with insight of the PNG mainland. But for the bagaries of colonial borders, her people may well have been part of the nation of Papua New Guinea. Obviously many of the traditional songs and dances of her people are very similar to those from Dar in the Western Province of PNG and these similarities will be explored in the concerts. The Creole language Christine sings in on many of the tracks on her album is understood by the Pidgin speaking PNG audiences, and her album is very popular up there.

Unfortunately, Christine will be unable to perform in Sing Sing, as it directly coincides with the birth of her first baby. However, her partner, the very talented dancer Albert David is choreographing some traditional and contemporary Torres Strait Island dance pieces with the dance group Buia, as well as collaborating with NDW and the PNG dance troupe, Kiawasi. Archie Roach and George Telek are both exceptional vocalists, held in high regard in their respective countries, and both talked excitedly about a potential collaboration when they met a few years ago. Telek is writing a duet especially for him and Archie to perform. For Archie and his partner Ruby Hunter, showcasing their songs for the first time in Port Moresby and Rabaul will fulfill a dream on both of their wishlists. The PNG music scene is very male dominated and for Ruby Hunter to perform the powerful songs about domestic violence and women’s business from her album Thoughts Within to the audiences in PNG will be a highlight of this tour. George Telek will be recording an album during his stay in Australia and anyone who witnessed Telek’s Tabaran performances will relish the chances to witness this star from Rabaul once again.

Kev Carmody is composing new pieces especially for these shows with didgeridoo and percussion, based around conversations with his uncle from up in the Cape York Peninsula, who told him about the historic trade links between their place and Papua that had been going on for generations prior to the enforced separations that resulted from Queensland Government rule. For Pius Wasi, the leader of the Kiawasi cultural group, Sing Sing offers the opportunity to perform traditional songs, stories and dance to an Australian audience whose view of PNG is often prejudiced by sensationalist media reporting of crime in his country. Kiawasi’s performance draws from the very diverse range of cultural groupings in PNG, from the haunting Highland and Sepik bamboo flutes, the manic garamut of drumming of Manus Islands, the intricate melodies of Papua songs, to the sorrowful laments of the Bouganville people whose lush island has recently been ravaged by civil war. After 12 years and nine albums, NDW called it a day in 1994, so for all of us the lure of getting back together to perform with Telek, Ben and Pius and to continue on the spirit of the Tabaran project was enough to dust off the cobwebs and jump back onto the concert stage.

We believe that these Sing Sing shows will be a hoot. With a dynamic accompanying visual show, these concerts will be a unique and significant celebration of our region featuring some of the most important and fast emerging Pacific artists. We hope you enjoy.