Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Raised Voices, Raised Hearts

Nominated for five AFI awards documentary for the music documentary Words in the City, Natasha Gadd is set to launch her latest feature about The Black Arm Band on tour, Murundak- Songs of Freedom. Paul Andrew speaks with the Filmmaker.

Philosopher/guitarist Archie Roach says it best: “We used to take our messages to the streets, now we’re taking them to concert halls.”  Natasha Gadd is quoting Roach from a quiet  moment in the film; an elder of aboriginal protest music, a founding member of The Black Arm Band, reflecting on three decades of resistance.

In the small hours of the morning on January 26, 1972 a group of aboriginal protesters erected a small semi-permanent structure on the lawns of the Old Parliament House in Canberra; a vigil set to change the course of Australian history. In the Tent Embassy bolstered with a list of demands including aboriginal representation in parliament, recognition of land rights, recognition of sacred sites and compensation for the damage done to the soul of a people, activists including Roach, chanted their way towards revolution.

It wasn’t for another 20 years - Mabo Day, June 3, 1992- when some of these demands finally became law and even longer still - Sorry Day, February 13, 2008- when Prime Minister Rudd apologised for state-sanctioned violence towards aboriginal people.

Gadd is an adept at setting the mood for her documentary which was four years “and lots of dusty road trips” in the making. 

“The film uses lots of archival material including tent embassy footage juxtaposed with recent concert tour footage of the band as they take their songs from Sydney Opera House to Alice Springs and to remote communities," she says."Many of the songs from this tour were first sung on the streets and protest marches by musicians like Archie Roach, his wife, the late Ruby Hunter and Bart Willoughby. Since then they have become aboriginal anthems, audiences know each and every word. Songs like We Have Survived by No Fixed Address (1978) or Joey Geia’s, Yil lul [I sing].

A "one-off, once-in-a-lifetime concert” was planned for the Melbourne Festival 2006 when a gathering of protest music pioneers decided to take their songs to a wider audience and The Black Arm Band was formed."

Explains Gadd of the band’s formation, “This concert was the result of many conversations between black and white performers over quite a period. Ngarrindjeri-born singer Ruby Hunter is often quoted expressing a long heartfelt need for an Aboriginal Orchestra.”

It was a once only affair that has become “a music phenomenon”.

Gadd alongside co-director and husband Rhys Graham has charted The Black Arm Band during the last four years.

” It’s been great. The friendship, the intimacy, the bonds formed along the way is extraordinary. I don’t think we fully understand the full extent of this journey just yet. It’s been such a joy to work alongside these singers and their communities, to witness collaborations with newer talents like Dan Sultan and Emma Donovan with their songs about love, about hope.”

Directed by Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham
A Daybreak Films production, presented by SBS, Film Victoria and Screen Australia
In association with Film Camp, City of Melbourne and The Black Arm Band-A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF ABORIGINAL PROTEST MUSIC
Exclusive World Premiere screening to be held at the Forum Theatre, on Thursday 10 February, 

Followed by Free Public screening at St Kilda Festival, O’Donnell Gardens, on Friday 11 February in conjunction with St Kilda Festival.

PHOTO: Emma Donovan at Fitzroy Crossing

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