NGIYA AWUNGARRA – I AM HERE NOW
One of the wonders of art is its immediacy. One stares at a painting from 500 years ago or five years ago with the same eyes; one listens to Bach or Miles Davis with the same ears. This is why the current fad in our theatrical circles of feeling obliged to make classic plays “relevant” is so infuriating: they already are relevant. That is why they are classics. This wonderful project is a marrying of eras and cultures, of traditional material and non-traditional approaches, and it has been realised with such reverence and love that it is transformative even while it preserves the songs of the Tiwi people.
Many of the songs are archival recordings from between 1928 and 1975, to which instrumental textures have been added, much as one might adding earrings to ears or a shine to shoes: they are still the same ears or shoes, they just glisten more. The songs tend to be gentle, with lilting melodies, and a booklet carries translations of the lyrics, some of which stop you dead in your tracks with the wonder of their observations, sentiments or philosophies. God is sitting in the bush, for instance, a 1972 recording featuring the voice of Tungwarinawayi Daniel Paujimi, has the lines “God is sitting there in the bush / is part of the bush.”
Besides the archival recordings the voices of the Tiwi Strong Women’s Group are heard, alongside a collection of high-calibre classical and jazz musicians under the direction of horn-player Genevieve Campbell. The upshot is a triumph however you look at it: conceptually, artistically, morally and in terms of enlightenment. A truly beautiful project.