You are here: Home / Media / Sydney Festival- The Redfern focus

Sydney Festival- The Redfern focus

On November 9, in many homes (and offices), eager punters were at their computers counting down the minutes to 9am to secure tickets online for the 36th Sydney Festival reports Sandra Beeston in the December 2011 issue of The South Sydney Herald.

In January, the Festival will again take over the city and Parramatta (“Sydney’s second CBD”), with around 80 events and more than 500 artists from Australia and around the globe. One of the expected highlights of the 2012 program, and a first for Sydney Festival, is Black Capital. That section of the program refers to Redfern, “a place of many stories” and “an urban meeting place for Aboriginal Australians everywhere”, said Sydney Festival Director Lindy Hume at the program launch.

Carriage Works will host a number of exhibitions, talks and shows, such as “I am Eora”, hailed as Sydney Festival’s “most ambitious project ever”, featuring many Indigenous artists, performers and musicians in an effort to “reflect the diversity of contemporary Aboriginal practice”.

Alongside “I am Eora” will be featured “Walk a Mile in my Shoes”, a live act interweaving storytelling, singing and spoken word, performed by The Barefoot Divas, six female singers who are all from an Indigenous background: Ursula Yovich (Serbia/ Burarra) and Black Arm Band’s Emma Donovan (Gumbaynggirr) are both from an Aboriginal background, while Whirimako Black, Maisey Rika and Merenia have a Maori background, and Ngaiire comes from Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand-born creator/producer/ director Vicki Gordon has worked for more than 25 years in the music industry, taking on many different roles: musician, festival director, label manager, ARIA board director and more recently artist manager, working tirelessly to introduce Australian Aboriginal and Women artists to the mainstream.

“Lindy Hume has had an extraordinary vision in bringing Black Capital to fruition, but also in supporting Barefoot Divas, and the vision that I had in relation to bringing Aboriginal artists, women artists, and Maori artists and women from the Pacific together,” she says. “It is a fantastic opportunity to provide a platform for these women to be seen and heard in the mainstream, which is so often not available to them.”

The six women singers are also backed by six male musicians, who all come from different backgrounds like Greece, Peru, Sicily, New Zealand, Chile, adding to the cultural richness of the show.

Working with Vicki on the project is award-winning playwright, Alana Valentine, whose 2007 play, Parramatta Girls, about the infamous institution, won her critical acclaim. Like Vicki, a long-term Redfern resident, she also welcomes the Black Capital initiative: “Redfern is such a fantastically vibrant area, such a great Indigenous homeland, it’s great for Sydney Festival to have recognised that it’s a good way to connect with the community.”

As part of the writing process for “Walk a Mile in My Shoes”, Alana interviewed each of the Divas to then weave their stories into the show. “It’s been a great privilege to me to actually have the trust and confidence of a lot of Indigenous women artists and Indigenous women, who are connected with their culture,” she says. “Parramatta Girls had a lot of connection to Indigenous elders. I learnt a lot from them about how to respect cultural protocols and how to engage with what was important to them about their culture ... Every person you interview teaches you something.”

Alana says audiences want to get more involved in the person’s life and journey and the usual format where a singer gets up on stage and just says a few words between each song is not enough. Vicki says that a show like “Walk a Mile in my Shoes” gives “an opportunity for the audience to engage with these women as individuals, both culturally and spiritually, through storytelling and through music.”

“Alana brings a real depth to their stories and their storytelling,” says Vicki. “We’re trying to create something that is unique and different, and offer a little bit more substance to what would ordinarily be just a series of songs on stage.”

The storytelling also brought a greater dynamic between the women on stage and helped them relate to each other. Vicki feels that a big part of her life’s work has been to build bridges between Aboriginal, Maori and Papua New Guinea Indigenous people, and Barefoot Divas is a perfect representation of it: “You know, women are great at building bridges, that’s what we do, we do that really well!”

Vicki says she’s always felt a real, spiritual connection to Redfern, even though she couldn’t quite say until later what had drawn her to this place. “But certainly a big part of my work over the last 25 years has been with Indigenous music and I continue to do a lot of work in that area, and I believe it is directly connected to my Maori ancestry.”

Parramatta Opening Party (Free) on January 14; Carriage Works: January 8-11

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2011