The Black Arm Band Company
Contemporary, Indigenous Australian
Self-release. Purchase via the website.
Reviewed by , June 1st, 2014

The Black Arm Band is a vital part of Australia’s cultural identity.  They describe their work as music of the Australian Indigenous experience. It was formed by director Steven Richardson in 2005 and takes its name from the derogatory term that Prime Ministry John Howard used to denigrate attempts by some historians to recognise the injustices perpetrated on the indigenous people of Australia by colonial usurpers.

Archie Roach, founder of the Black Arm Band Company

Archie Roach, founder of the Black Arm Band Company

The Black Arm Band Company is a flexible performance ensemble that since 2005 has grown into a major, fully independent, Aboriginal governed performing arts company that presents innovative large-scale music and theatre productions. The ensemble has toured extensively internationally with high profile performances on the world’s main stages in Canada, the USA and the UK, as well as throughout metropolitan, regional and remote Australia.

Over 50 artists have performed with the ensemble and well over 100,000 people have seen The Black Arm Band Company since its beginning. The Black Arm Band Company showcases, celebrates and shares the contribution of Aboriginal music to contemporary Australia.

Dirtsong is a powerful musical journey through Australia’s cultural heartland utilising songs and visual imagery. It premiered at the Melbourne international Arts Festival in October 2009. The CD and DVD in this double disk set document the songs and the live performance. There are 17 tracks on the audio CD of which seven are captured live on the DVD.

Black Arm Band Company

Performed predominantly in eleven different Aboriginal languages, against a backdrop of evocative film imagery, Dirtsong comprises a series of songs inspired by the Miles Franklin Award winning indigenous author Alexis Wright in which the multiple artists reflect on their country. The result is a deeply moving show. Performed by singers Archie Roach, Lou Bennett, Deline Briscoe, Emma Donovan, Leah Flanagan, Shellie Morris, Bunna Lawrie, Bart Willoughby, Jimmy Barnes, Shane Howard, Ruby Hunter, Paul Kelly, Dewayne Everettsmith,  Djolpa Mckenzie and Lee Morgan,  this is a vocal event of extraordinary power and range.

With an extended band including the didjeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, percussionist extraordinaire Greg Sheehan along with an impressive fifteen piece band including brass, reeds, strings, tuned percussion and rock drums, the musical accompaniment provides a expansive range of styles and genres that manage to main a unity of purpose and musical integrity.   The performances are accompanied by specially commissioned film content by Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham, filmed on country and in numerous communities around Australia.

With more major productions in development, the Black Arm Band Company continues to realise new and original creative ideas and is a meeting place for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and producers to develop, perform, promote and celebrate contemporary Australian Aboriginal music to the highest professional standard as a symbol of resilience and hope in the spirit and action of reconciliation.

Dirtsong is a major work by one of Australia most important cultural ensembles. All the Black Arm Band CDs and DVDs are available through their website.

Editor’s note. This recording was first published five years ago. The reason for the belated review is the appearance of the Black Arm Band at TexX in Sydney at the end of April. I thought the ensemble deserved recognition here and Dirtsong is the most recent recording available. Most of the performers at TedX appear also on the recording.

VIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-kxPpuOfZIlist=PLZkBrBVDHKMHGBGFtYqqGm_fGbUBYC3gZ

Dirtsong Promo : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsHe8vS-MT8

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