The 4th Australasian World Music Expo took place over the 17-20th of November this year and was a feast of musical delights for all. With revered international artists such as; Ethio-Jazz maestro Mulatu Astatke, reggae starsThe Congos (Jamaica), funk/soul heavyweights the Dynamites featuring Charles Walker (USA) and dub legend The Mad Professor (UK) alongside local festival favourites Blue King Brown, Dubmarine, The Eagle & the Worm and a host of other great Australian and International acts.
AWME has two distinct but very connected elements that include an industry development component and a general public festival program, and has become a launching pad for Australian artists to play festivals such as Glastonbury in the UK, Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Roskilde Festival in Denmark and Reggae Sun Ska Festival in France. Last years AWME led to 7 Australian acts being included in this years Glastonbury line-up!
The industry component takes place during the daytime of the four day expo with a wide range of talks on topics such as: Skills Development and Transfer in Indigenous & Remote Communities – a discussion on how contemporary music is being used as a tool in remote Aboriginal communities to capture contemporary culture despite the challenges of remoteness, economic, social and cultural issues. Follow The Money – a discussion about the many ways in which artists can fund their music. Festivals of the World – which featured speakers from festivals such as Glastonbury, Bluesfest Australia, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Roskilde Festival, Sziget Festival and Fuji Rock Festival.
By night 57 artists across four different venues; the Arts Centre, the Hi Fi Bar, the Melbourne Recital Centre and the Toff in Town bringing the sounds of Polynesia to London to remote Indigenous communities to Jamaica to Reunion Island to Melbourne. AWME in its short life has become the largest music expo in the Southern Hemisphere and running in conjunction with Melbourne Music Week I can only this expo growing and rivaling South by Southwest in the not so distant future.
The Opening night of AWME saw The Melbourne Ska Orchestra with MC Nicky Bomba struggle to fit onto the Hi Fi Bar stage, this 30-piece band of Melbourne’s finest funk/soul/reggae musicians played hits from the golden era of ska including tracks by Desmond Dekker, the Israelites and the Specials. Half way through their set they were joined on stage by the one-and-only rocksteady originator, Jamaica’s favourite ska vendor, Stranger Cole. Their set was tight and had the dance floor skanking until the wee hours on a school night, which was a brilliant way to start the expo.
For those who turned up earlier in the night to see Grrilla Step, they would have been left spellbound as they tore the Hi Fi apart with a 45 minute set that combined the innovative turntablism of DJ Dexter with the dynamic drumming of PNG producer Airi Ingram, traditional log drumming and dance, and the forceful dance style of Dandenong Krump crew Royal Fam. Having watched Grrilla Step from its infancy to now, this was easily the best set I have seen them play and I look forward to hearing their first recorded output when it reaches light of day.
Dragging myself into work on the Friday morning was tough, but knowing that an amazing night of tunes from Archie Roach and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker helped me through the day. First stop on Friday was the Melbourne Recital Centre to see three Australian music legends; Shane Howard from Goanna fame, Archie Roach and Neil Murray of the legendary Warumpi Band sing their seminal songs and tell the stories that inspired them.
Shane Howard went first with an insightful story recalling his first recollection as a white boy with indigenous Australians in South West Victoria, it was raw and humorous especially his recollection of losing a ‘potato sack’ race to a local aboriginal boy. He then played Solid Rock which was one of the first songs to broach the subject of Aboriginal rights in Australia and impacted powerfully on a whole new generation of writers and musicians that followed.
Archie Roach left the audience stunned with his emotive tale of his journey as a child of Australia’s Stolen Generation, even those of us who know Archie’s story well didn’t have a dry eye as he recounted being taken away from his mother, moving from orphanage to foster care, to hearing of his mother’s passing at age 15. His 15 minute talk could have went for two hours, such was Uncle Archie’s ability to engage the audience but knowing that time was running out and we were still yet to hear from Neil Murray, he played which in this reviewers opinion is one of the most important political songs ever written Took the Children Away – a song that has struck a chord not only in the Aboriginal community and nationally but internationally.
Long before Christina Anu gave My Island Home its rebirth Neil Murray helped make contemporary Aboriginal music heard in mainstream society as one of the founding members of Australia’s legendary Warumpi Band. Tonight we heard Neil’s story about growing up in South West Victoria not to far from where Shane grew up and where Archie was taken away, and what brought him to Arnhem Land it was a captivating story and a wonderful song to finish off the Iconic Songs concert.
Following the Iconic Songs concert was always going to be a tough task and it fell to Aaron Choulai, along with a 16-voice Tatana Village Choir (PNG) who fused a fascinating integration of traditional Papuan music and modern jazz with their performance We Don’t Dance For No Reason.
As was the modus operandi of AWME, as soon as one event closes another is already underway to keep you going into the night, so from the lush orchestral surroundings of the Melbourne Recital Centre to a funk/soul/afro-beat dance floor at the Hi Fi Bar to see The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker and Melbourne’s own The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra.
Most modern funk and soul music generally lacks the latter, however The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker are not one such band. The Dynamites are a furious and unrelenting barrage of stripped-down, rhythmic R&B and swinging soul and led by guitarist Bill Elder. They lay the foundation for frontman Charles Walker to belt out gritty funk and soul music that not only reminds the listener of the glory days of funk/soul James Brown, Donnie Hathaway and Wilson Pickett but brings a fresh perspective to the genre.
Triple RRR’s Chris Gill kept the dance floor hot and sweaty whilst the stage was set for The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, who are a mammoth ensemble comprising seventeen musicians hand-picked from Melbourne’s music scene.
With bands such as Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Ikebe Shakedown and The Budos Band leading a worldwide resurgence in the afro-beat movement of the 60’s and 70’s Melbourne can count itself lucky to have The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra who would keep any dance floor from Lagos to New York grinding with sweaty bodies to some sweet sweet afro-beat!
A super tight horn section, a driving rhythm section and David Marama laying the foundation on rhythm guitar the POAO never disappoint. Their trio of female vocalists and Lamine (vox/percussion) kept the crowd enthralled with their amazing dancing and colourful outfits. They closed with their latest single Mr Clea, 17 piece bands do not tour very often so the next time The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra are near you, do yourself a favour and check them out!
Wow, in two days AWME has served up the finest Ska, Krump, Folk, Funk/Soul and Afro-Beat and there is still two days to go!
Mulatu Astatke is to Ethio-Jazz what Bob Marley is to Reggae; he is an innovative multi-talented musician, composer, arranger and the founder of ‘Ethio-jazz’. Masterfully interchanging between piano, organ, vibraphone and percussion, Astatke has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity on an international scale, thanks largely his music being used in the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers. Mulatu Astatke took to the Arts Centre with Melbourne’s own Ethio-jazz hip-hop ensemble, Black Jesus Experience as his backing band. This collaboration was born at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in 2010 at the request of the man himself!
Opening with a couple of BJX tracks sans Mulatu the crowd quickly left their seats to create a dance floor at the front of the Arts Centre however the folks at the Arts Centre weren’t accommodating to this idea and we were quickly returned to our seats for the remainder of the show. Yegelle Tezeta was an early highlight in the set, with Yekermo Sew and Mulatu other standout tracks for the night.
As I entered the Hi Fi Bar on the closing night of AWME exhausted from 4 days of non-stop running around, I pondered what would The Congos sound like? Would their four part harmonies still crack it after 30 years of Rastafarian living? How would Melbourne’s finest reggae band Mista Savona go as the backing band for this legendary Jamaican act?
Before The Congos closed AWME, we had an energetic set from Brisbane’s Dubmarine. The dynamic between the dual vocals of D-Cazman and Cat Walker worked brilliantly with their bass-crunching, rhythm-pounding, drenched dubbed out sounds. Lotek (UK) followed with a sound entirely of his own, a mix of ska/hip-hop/reggae. Before the Mad Professor took to the decks in style and amped the capacity crowd for the main act.
For those who do not know the The Congos, they are reggae vocal trio Ashanti Roy, Cedric “Congo” Myton and Watty Burnett and in 1977 they recorded the classic Heart Of The Congos with Lee “Scratch” Perry at the Black Ark Studio. This being their first tour of Australia, they would perform this classic album in full to close AWME backed by Melbourne’s roots-reggae powerhouse ensemble the Mista Savona band.
What truly blew me away was how the falsetto of Cedric “Congo” Myton remains faultless after 30+ years of Rastafarian living and how amazing it works in conjunction with Watty Burnett’s baritone and Ashanti Roy’s tenor.
Playing their classic Heart of the Congos album in full The Congos with the Mista Savona Band nailed the hour-long show. The Mista Savona Band had the envious task of filling the shoes of renowned legends Ernest Ranglin and Sly Dunbar; which were brilliantly filled by Julian Goyma (drums) and Tom Martin (Guitar) take your hat off Jake Savona (Keys) for pulling it all together! The tough task at every amazing show such as this; is to pick a highlight – The Ark of Covenant, Open Up The Gate, The Fisherman and Congoman were all perfect examples of reggae-roots music at its finest.
AWME 2011 has been the best yet! Simon Raynor, director of AWME keep up the marvelous work you and your team are doing in running this world-class expo in Melbourne.