The opening day of this year’s Umbrella: Winter City Sounds will feature a powerful celebration of South Australia’s flourishing female Aboriginal singers and storytellers, curated by Nancy Bates.
“The honouring of women past, present and future is what this is about,” she says.
The evening will include musical and spoken-word performances as well as a visual-arts hub run by Micky Barlow, where guests can learn weaving and other cultural-based art forms.
Nancy is a prolific musician in her own right, previously touring nationally and internationally with Archie Roach, and is always looking to give back to the community that has shaped her. “When I say ‘music’s good these days’, people seem to listen,” she says.
“I see some beautiful Aboriginal women in music and I want Australia to see what I see.”
In an already male-dominated music scene, Nancy says Aboriginal women in the industry are twice as isolated, despite their abundance in South Australia.
“It is absolutely no effort for me at all to put forward this programme because I know the community so well.
“But look at the musical landscape of the Australian music industry. The voices of Aboriginal women are in the background and we need that to change.”
The evening shares its name with the theme for NAIDOC Week 2018 and Nancy says the national focus on female empowerment is emboldening her community. “We feel like this is our year, like this is our time to shine,” she says.
“The reflection of ourselves in each other’s music is incredibly powerful and reminds us that we are important, that we must keep making music and songs that contain wisdom.”
Vonda Last headlines the evening, singing about life, culture and family. Her songs draw on personal experiences, but also amplify the voices of local Aboriginal elders. “She’s a conduit for community storytelling through song,” Nancy says.
“People learn so much in a very non-threatening way from Vonda. She has a way of sharing that is so gentle.”
Nancy believes music is the best way to generate empathy for people who are different to us and to progress conversations around issues like reconciliation and treaty.
“Through music, people can experience a shift in the way they perceive Aboriginal people and in the way they’re able to take on Aboriginal stories as truths,” she says.
Expect to connect, to laugh and to be moved by the women’s stories. “[The audience] won’t be listening with their ears, they’ll be listening with their hearts,” Nancy says.