Current Issue #488

Archie Roach and Corey Theatre Find Common Ground

Archie Roach and Corey Theatre Find Common Ground

“We were travelling back from Monaco to go to Edinburgh,” says Archie Roach, still fighting through his post-European tour jetlag, “and the whole airport in Nice was evacuated because people left some unmarked luggage in a couple of places in the airport.

There were guys walking around with guns, you know, army and that sort of thing.” Roach’s recent tour took him all through Western Europe, from Monaco to Scotland, and while he enjoyed his time there, those instances of fear would occasionally bubble to the surface, especially in the south of France.

That mood comes in stark contrast to his latest album, for which his tour was named, Let Love Rule. Indeed the first track off the album, It’s Not Too Late, is a direct rebuttal of the fear and worry that so often seems to dominate the news cycle. Its lyrics lament “all the killing and all the hate” in the world and pleads for the world to “find some common ground”.

After a difficult few years for Archie, which included the tragic passing of his life and performing partner Ruby Hunter and a battle with cancer, Let Love Rule is an optimistic ode to the world’s inherent goodness. This is in contrast to the beginning of Roach’s career, which saw the singer become a powerful voice for Australia’s Indigenous communities with records like Charcoal Road using his own experiences as part of the Stolen Generations to shine light on this country’s dark past.

“My first couple of albums are about what happened to me, and life as an Aboriginal person,” he says ”I fell into the trap of writing things that I thought people might expect me to write.” While Roach is still an advocate for Indigenous causes, he feels freer in his music now to write what he likes.

“Now it’s just songs that are whatever I think of – not necessarily about having any sort of agenda.” archie-roach-corey-theatre-common-ground-adelaide-review-2

Roach is looking forward to collaborating with Corey Theatre, a rising young singer songwriter, at the upcoming Semaphore Music Festival. As well as being passionate performers in their own right, Theatre and Roach both hail from Jaara country in Victoria. “We’re both from the same people, me and Corey.

His people are from the south-west corner of Victoria as mine are,” says Roach. The pair most recently worked together on Theatre’s latest single Ngathuk Ngalina, which is sung in the Gunditj-Mara language.

“I like what he’s doing with language, you know, reclaiming language, singing songs in the language,” says Roach of Theatre’s work. This ‘reclaiming’ of language is something close to Theatre’s heart. Speaking to The Adelaide Review, Theatre says he’s “using music as a way to revive language.”

“I think the thing about music is that lyrics get stuck in your head,” says Theatre. “If I asked you to recite some legislation it might be tricky, but if I asked you to recite the lyrics to your favourite song, particularly if that song is playing, it all kind of comes back.”

On that point, Theatre says Australia’s Indigenous cultures are irrevocably tied to music and song. “Aboriginal people traditionally store information within a song,” he says.

”I’ve seen people do this – you ask them a question about a certain story and they’ll sing through the song and find those lyrics that fit with the story. I find myself doing that a bit too now. I ask myself ‘Oh what’s the word for this?’, and I sing a song to find the word.”

Theatre says Roach is a certain influence on himself, but broadens the equation to his whole life experience. “I think everything we listen to influences us, whether or not we’re conscious to it. The emotion that people put into their songs, like old blues, Robert Johnson and stuff. That emotion is prevalent in Archie’s music. It’s amazing to hear him sing, but it’s also the stories that go along with the songs.”

Archie Roach and Corey Theatre will perform together at the Sempahore Music Festival on Monday, October 3.

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