Black Arm Band kicks off U.S. tour with ‘Dirtsong’
By Laura Sim, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Tonight, audiences will spend the night enraptured by the sound of beating drums and didgeridoo as the Black Arm Band, an indigenous Australian music group, opens their U.S. premiere with “Dirtsong.” The production is a collection of music performed in 11 languages that focuses on Australia’s Aboriginal history, culture and the recent Aboriginal rights movement.
The Black Arm Band, formed in 2006, is composed of two dozen artists and uses traditional indigenous instruments and dialects. Past shows include “Murundak,” which focuses on protest music and “Hidden Republic,” which looks at the future of Australia. The group will kick off its U.S. tour with a stop at the College.
The ensemble aims to tell stories of Aboriginal history to wide audiences, feature artist Shellie Morris said.
“It was an idea that came about many years ago,” Morris said. “About twenty or so aboriginal singers and musicians wanted to create a show that was able to be seen in big, big theaters and also tell their story, tell about our struggles and tell about our hopes and dreams.”
The groups’ stories are derived from indigenous Australian cultures prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Since colonization, Australian Aboriginals have struggled to preserve their traditions as indigenous languages disappear from the continent. The Black Arm Band hopes to preserve this dying culture through song.
“One [message] is that we are alive,” Morris said. “The other is that our culture is strong. We come from many different clans and language groups and tribes, and we are able to share that with the audiences through our song and watch that and enjoy that experience.”
This idea was clear to programming director Margaret Lawrence, who wanted to stress the significance of culture preservation. “The members of The Black Arm Band are expressing tremendously important ideas and concerns coming from their own communities from the Aboriginal situations,” Lawrence said. “They are singing about the history, the story, the problems that they see. They are even singing in multiple Aboriginal languages. It’s the context and the expression that are so important.”
In addition to emphasizing traditional melodies, the Black Arm Band sings in multiple Aboriginal dialects to accurately represent various languages of indigenous Australia that now cease to exist.
“We all care about animals and extinction, but think about language extinction — langauges are drying out,” Lawrence said. “Before the Europeans got there, there were hundreds of these different languages spoken. So it’s a passionate evening about song, but it also represents something that’s very precious.”
Touring the world while performing indigenous music has provided an opportunity to preserve the ancient cultures of Australia in a way that entertains and educates global audiences.
“Music has been a part of culture for tens of thousands of years and it’s just great to be able to work with modern musical instruments and also through just voice and song,” Morris said. “It’s a very powerful thing, and we are so looking forward to meeting everyone at the College and sharing our stories together.”
“Dirtsong” will be performed in Spaulding Auditorium at 7 p.m.