JOURNEY EAST TO BEST
The Multicultural Festival marquee was packed well before Gurrumul, the blind Yolngu singer from Elcho Island, was led to his seat. Hundreds of people crowded the perimeter or hugged their knees at the foot of the stage. It’s not every day an internationally renowned musician, whose ticket prices are now around the 100 dollar mark, plays for free. But it’s also not every day a crowd like this one gathers for an Indigenous musician. Gurrumul is arguably the first Indigenous Australian musician to reach such an extensive international audience. Yothu Yindi laid the foundations, but Gurrumul captured hearts. In his otherworldly voice he sings gently to the world about Yolngu culture, particularly their connection to land and sea. International audiences now know of Arnhem Land, and they know of the Yolngu. EAST JOURNEY are primed to continue this phenomenon.
East Journey are a seven-piece from Yirrkala in North East Arnhem Land. They’re as heavy on epic guitar lines and thunderous drums as they are on didge and clap sticks, which is no doubt what led the Sydney Morning Herald to say they’re ‘the closest the Northern Territory has ever got to producing an Indigenous mainstream stadium rock band.’ Their songs are exclusively about Yolngu culture, and, as the band’s acoustic guitarist Arian Pearson explained, ‘I really think it’s important for us to showcase what we have in East Arnhem Land. There is so much talent in the creative arts, including music, art and dance, and also so much knowledge about management of the land and sea environment and ecosystem.’
The East Journey boys would know, as ‘some of the guys work as rangers for Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, some as rangers for Yirrkala Rangers. PJ, who plays lead guitar, is the Coordinator for Lirrwi Yolngu Tourism Aboriginal Corporation, and I work for the Dhimurru Rangers, as a sea country ranger. Some days we might be tagging marine wildlife, like turtles, and sometimes we are called out for search and rescue, so we keep pretty busy!’
Things are only going to get busier for East Journey. 2012 was big; their debut album Guwak was nominated for five awards at the National Indigenous Music Awards and won the GR Burarrwanga (frontman of Warumpi Band who died in ‘07) Memorial Award for significant achievement in the NT music industry and NT Film Clip of the Year for Ngarrpiya (well worth YouTubing, it’s spectacular). ‘Guwak means the spiritual night bird – a totem – that is sending a message about life. It is really important to us all, as it connects us with our homeland and our identity,’ said Arian.
East Journey are about to record new material in Sydney, later in the year they’re touring the NT and performing at Big Sound, and then if all goes according to plan they’ll tour internationally. Before all that though, and before they’re filling stadiums, Arian’s advice is to ‘come rock out with us at WOMAD.’
WOMADelaide runs Fri-Mon March 8-11 in Botanic Park in Adelaide. For all the information and tickets sales visit womadelaide.com.au.