Indigenous Australian, World
Torres Strait Regional Authority TSRA 005
Reviewed by Tony Mitchell, March 1st, 2014
This CD/DVD set is a collection of traditional Christian hymns, contemporary songs, contemporary Christian kores (choruses), love songs and childrens’ songs performed by the Erub people in the Torres Strait Islands. It opens with seven hymns sung in harmony in a mixture of the Meriam Mir and Erub Mir dialects of eastern Torres Strait, Torres Strait Creole and Australian English by the All Saints Choir, accompanied by a single drum beat. This is followed by four contemporary songs in English by Fred and Richard Kiwat, which include Erubans, sung in English to a reggae beat, a country song, a Hawai’ian style song, and a pop ballad. There is a series of kores performed solo in the Meriam Mir language by Billy Bourne (Snr) and in English by the All Saints Choir accompanied by guitar. There is also a medley of Erub love songs by Erub elder George Mye and his wife Jenny, in English and Merian Mir with ukelele accompaniment, and four childrens’ songs by pupils of the Tagai State College sung in the Erib Mir language with drum and guitar backing. Most of the songs blend traditional and contemporary forms and idioms.
It is produced by Canadian ethnomusicologist Karl Neuenfeldt, an Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at the Central University of Queensland in Bundaberg, and Nigel Pegrum, a former drummer with the English rock group the Small Faces and folk group Steeleye Span, now director of the recording label Australian Sun Records and Pegasus Studios, near Cairns. Their recording excursions have included previous work with 2009 Aria Award winner (at the age of 79) Seaman Dan, and numerous compilations of songs by other TSI artists. Neuenfeld has also played on most of the recordings he has worked on. In this case, co-production is by local musician Will Kepa, who plays most of the instruments accompanying the beautiful singing in a variety of genres and styles, ranging from hymns to folk songs.
Erub is situated in the Eastern TSI, with a population of just 350 people divided into four tribes, who have traditionally lived on fishing, the land, and pearl diving. Indigenous music, dance and art has survived in what is known as Ailan Kastom (Island Custom), along with multicultural maritime influences. The DVD, filmed by Brett Charles, contains interviews with local islanders on issues such as Erub Arts and Culture, shows a re-enactment of The Coming of the Light, which celebrates the missionaries’ arrival every year, along with sections showing traditional Erub dances, Erub gardening, fish traps and music.
This may look on the surface like an ethnomusicological project, but both CD and DVD are produced in an immediately accessible fashion, and are full of life-affirming music, dance and cultural practices, that show a community at one with its land, culture and environment in a way which we could all learn from.