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SPINIFEX GUM @ Chevron Lighthouse gets 10/10


Spinifex Gum @ Chevron Lighthouse

w/ Odette Mercy Trio
Saturday, February 8, 2020

10/10

It was a windy night at Chevron Lighthouse, Perth Festival’s all new contemporary music venue. Following a killer opening set from local funk and soul queen Odette Mercy in a rare trio format, a dozen or so hooded figures filled the stage. The Welcome to Country had grounded the audience, reminding us of the traditional owners of our land, prepping us for what was about to come. Only nothing, really, could have prepared us.

Spinifex Gum

The hooded figures were young, Aboriginal women from Far North Queensland, AKA the Marliya Choir. What we witnessed was their collaboration with the Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill. Choreographed by Deborah Brown and conducted by Lyn Williams, they are Spinifex Gum. (You can read more about Spinifex Gum and how they came to be here, and meet them via this introductory video here.)

Spinifex Gum

Leave your perception of “choir” at the door. There were no long socks and ribbons here. There was power, sass, beauty, love and rage. The energy of these women overflowed from the stage to the audience, to the food and drink vendors and beyond.

Spinifex Gum transported us somewhere else entirely, backed by a cinematic display of wide open views of the Pilbara – the red dust, the freight trains, dry creek beds and the wizened faces of Elders. The first few songs, starting with their self-titled track Spinifex Gum, expressed their incredible skills as a choir. Their impressive vocal range and interwoven harmonies were accompanied by percussive beats that elevated the whole performance with a bit of “swagger”.

Spinifex Gum

Then, we started to hear something else. We saw raised fists. We heard them shout.

VOICE. TRUTH. TREATY. NOW.

I didn’t expect the extent of their sharpness. They were hard to swallow in the most important and poignant way. Spinifex Gum touched on not only the uncomfortable, but the heartbreaking. Their track Ms Dhu was dedicated to Julieka Ivanna Dhu, a 22 year old Australian Aboriginal woman who died in police custody in South Hedland, Western Australia, in 2014 as a result of untreated sepsis and pneumonia. The track featured audio from a phone conversation with Julieka’s grandmother, before Felix Reibl joined the women on stage to bring the story to us through rap. “But we’re not going away, it’s our home, our home,” sang the choir. “Our heart is breaking in two, but we stand in a row… We’ve been losing our youth for too long, too long.” I was not the only one crying.

Spinifex Gum

Some songs throughout the night were led by Emma Donovan, who gifted the audience with her vocal prowess which wove in well with the choir – somehow, neither were centre stage but shone side by side.

A very special moment of the night was in Make it Rain, when a soft rain began to fall. The rain stopped the moment the choir changed songs, but our goose-bumps remained. They really were showing us their power.

Spinifex Gum

This performance was so much more than a “gig”. It was young, Aboriginal women stepping front of stage and standing up. They told their stories with strength, and even with raised fists they left with a feeling of grace. This act is a must see musically, culturally, politically and spiritually. It is the best live act I’ve ever seen.

MOLLY SCHMIDT

Photos by Marnie Richardson

 

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