Reviewed by Cicely Binford
During the month of September, Tura New Music embarked on their 13th tour of the Kimberley region with Mark Atkins, Stephen Pigram and the Narli Ensemble. The final stop of their tour brought them to Perth Concert Hall on September 21st, and featured guest artists they met and collaborated with along the way, sharing stories and songs from country. Audiences came together from all around WA to witness a wide range of music inspired by the land, the people, and the history of the Kimberley region.
Artistic Director Tos Mahoney hosted the informal evening, which got off to a flying start with Mark Atkins performing a demanding didgeridoo solo that made me wonder if he had a second set of lungs hiding somewhere. Following Atkins, we were introduced to the rest of the ensemble as they each entered one by one in the next song. They sat in a slight arc across the stage, under a large screen which occasionally showed projected images of video and still photography taken on tour.
There were so many wonderful moments, too many to describe each one in detail, but a few of the highlights along the way were a beautiful, heartbreaking song by Bunuba man Danny Marr called “Water on a Rock,” which describes hearing the cry of the Bunuba people, their longing to return to their land and for their land to be returned to them; percussionist Greg Sheenan performed an incredible, driving solo on nothing but a kid’s tambourine and an empty cake tin; Warmun artist Gabriel Nodea presented a painting he created for the opening of the Warmun Arts Centre and described it while accompanied by the ensemble; cellist Judith Hamann performed an intense solo inspired by the saltwater country, where her instrument took on many similar sound properties to the didgeridoo; Mark Atkins‘s multi-instrumentalism and his smoky-voiced, mysterious story of the mimis (spirits you see out of the corner of your eye, but when you look they’re not there); and Stephen Pigram‘s “Mimi,” a song about our grannies who watch over us and look out for us.
Mahoney and some of the other musicians described the origins of their pieces as well as a bit about their time on tour, the landscapes that affected them, and the perspectives that inspired them to create. Some of the compositions were experimental, such as violinist Erriki Veltheim‘s two compositions Wirraburu and Laja, while others, such as songs by Stephen Pigram and guest artist Ashley Oobagooma fell somewhere in folk/country/rock regions. One song even seemed to borrow from Louisiana zydeco, but all were imbued with a sense of connection to land, seasons, animals, family, spirit and ancestors. The tour finale was a celebration of the uniqueness of the Kimberley region and its traditional owners, but it also allowed musicians and audience to share a welcoming, limitless space where music was the common ground.