It seems that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has woken Australians up to the important role that local community, Aboriginal and country based music can play, in maintaining human mental health and community peace.
Dreaming, performing, and fanning community, Aboriginal, and locally based music that comes from actual human situations and real life experiences, instead of idolising globalised music “stars” from distant places and cultures, has a unique power to enliven, build and strengthen human societies and economies. Local song and local culture sharing and exchange can, in fact, act as a currency.
The myth that supporting local Australian music will produce jingoistic nationalism, xenophobic hatred and war, is groundless. Where healthy local intercultural dialogue, assisted by song dialogue and exchange, is well funded, and provocative mass media reports inciting hatred, are excised prior to publication by responsible editors, peace has a chance to flourish. The proliferation of imported global music is still smothering local Australian music. which is characteristically respectful, and features intercultural sharing. Using music in good ways, local Australian musicians have outlawed deliberately offensive behaviour; many Australian songs promote justice by exposing and discrediting mischief making rumours that incite conflict.
Cultures that articulate and celebrate themselves in music, while engaging with environmental, spiritual and cultural concepts and structures, find ways to communicate peacefully with other cultures. Australian musicians have intelligent, inoffensive ways of agreeing to disagree, while expressing culture based viewpoints strongly. As their community music is heard and discussed, local audiences forge and maintain sensible behavioural boundaries, with humour and wit. In Western Sydney in the early 2000s, Australian Bishop Kevin Manning tested and proved this beyond doubt, when he organised a productive, peaceful series of interfaith conversations between large congregations of Christians and Muslims. These sessions included diverse local musics, and the discussions that ensued quickly restored community peace after an isolated but extremely provocative incident. It became evident to all that sharing common ground, singing together, clarifying intercultural issues and utterly discrediting false media myths, has an unrivalled power to promote and restore not only passive peace, but proactive, strengthened, responsible community relationships.
Songbooks such as the Dhungala Choral Connection Songbook and CD, produced by Deborah Cheetham, Toni Lalich and Jessica Hitchcock in close collaboration with several Australian Aboriginal communities, also foster community peace. Such resources are valuable local community building tools for the challenging pandemic era we are living through.
The Dhungala Choral Connection Songbook and CD is available at http://www.shortblackopera.com
So, how much health-bestowing local community music is being produced and consumed by Australians, right now? Where is it performed and heard, how is it managed, recorded, licensed and distributed, and who is still making it? When an Australian musician or composer writes, performs and records some of their own music, how do they get it heard by Australian and international audiences? Are they expected to give their music away free of charge, to be heard? And are Australian governments able to add to our National assets, by including the value of our national music in the National Budget, as an asset? Is wide, government sponsored media distribution provided to our Australian musicians, so their loyal, pandemically challenged fans can access it? And if our local music is being drowned out by insistent promotion of non-Australian music, why is this so?
Have a look online. Many unfunded Australian Aboriginal communities in remote and urban areas are making magnificent, uniquely Australian music. Many non-Indigenous Australian musicians and ethical researchers are collaborating with these communities, to grow uniquely Australian community music repertoires with a powerful Australian sound and presence. This is a learning process, that deserves music policy support. When every Australian gives first priority to supporting uniquely Australian music, instead of believing the globalised media hype that promotes non-Australian performers and imported music genres above our home grown music, local community music, community cultures, and community peace, will flourish healthily, and grow.
Obviously, Australians don’t dislike overseas musics, they are all wonderful, but why should Australians prioritize non-Australian music genres, or promote them above our own musics, to the detriment of the strong internal multicultural musical bonds we have always lived with and built? All Australian citizens have a cultural right and duty to support, grow and enjoy our very own music, that connects us to, and takes pride in, the beautiful country we are fortunate to live in.
Australian community music is slowly re-emerging from the cultural silencing that the post World War II flood of imported and globalised music induced. We are beginning to realise that muting our local musicians’ voices, obediently patronising, consuming and imitating the avalanche of non-Australian music genres that were, and in some cases still are, permitted to dominate our airwaves, and allowing overseas music scholars to interpret, pass judgement on, and appropriate our home grown Australian music cultures, is not likely to benefit Australia. We can and should take credit for our own musical prowess. Australia is no longer stuck in a colonial music time warp, that wrongly deems all imported music and opinions superior, and all home grown music irredeemably inferior. However, many Australians think it safe to sit timidly on a musical fence, and are still vacillating between patronising non-Australian music, and prioritising our local music.
Can Australia’s thirst for our own sovereign music really be fulfilled with instore muzak such as “In the Bleak Midwinter”, “White Christmas”, or “Jingle Bells”, to cheer us through our smoky heatwave-and-bushfire summers? I don’t think so. Sadly, the yawning gulf that divorced the community music (of both Aboriginal and immigrant origin that many older Australians still know and love), from the overwhelmingly foreign music repertoire studied and performed in Australian Universities, Conservatoria, and concert halls, has certainly not been bridged.
Hands up, if you’ve heard identifiably Australian music, performed, recorded and distributed by Australians, in Australia, on an Australian-produced radio or TV program, or a streamed podcast. Hands up, if the adoring praise Australian media curators and announcers heap on the imported music of Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, Mozart, and American style jazz seriously outweighs their half hearted, grudging endorsement of “second class” Australian music. Hands up, if you’ve heard, played or sung Australian music in the last week. Music by non-Australian composers of non-Australian music genres, still floods Australian airwaves, and is still promoted by massive government handouts of public money, that all flows out of Australia. This money should be flowing into local Australian community music systems, to support and grow homespun Australian music.
Supporting local music is not narrow parochialism or isolationist nationalism, nor is it driven by anti-competitive rhetoric. It’s commonsense local social capital building. Many researchers claim that academic studies of “popular music” such as hip hop, rock, soul, electronica and gaming music have broken through the academic / community music divide, by validating the selection and insertion of a carefully selected canon of globalised ‘popular music’ into Australian school and academic curricula. The theory behind this policy, is that establishing a secularised global music repertoire shared by all, will eliminate intercultural and interreligious conflict – John Lennon’s utopian “Imagine” vision of world harmony. But despite this populist educational policy, a strict academic / community music divide survives, and is promoted by, imported music teaching and examination systems that many Australian music teachers are required to endorse. Grass rooms musos are studied by Australian music scholars, but how many of them read, or are permitted to respond to, the thousands of academic papers written about local Australian abd Aboriginal musicians? Popular music syllabuses that include lists of set examination performance pieces, and also teach computer music skills, are shaping future Australian musicians, but only a tiny percentage of the teaching repertoire included in these syllabuses is composed by Australians, or supportive of uniquely Australian and Aboriginal music genres and performers.
So what can be done to promote and support the growth of health-giving Australian community music systems and repertoires?
1. Immediately reduce the high percentage of non-Australian music heard on Australian airwaves, by 50%, and replace it with uniquely, recognusably Australian music, funded by Australia, and performed by Australians.
2. Teach and show Australian children that healthily home grown Australian music is highly valued by Australians, and is just as good as any music of non-Australian origin, or music based on a non-Australian genre, or music composed, produced and distributed by non-Australian musicians and companies.
3. In our present pandemic situation, generously fund and facilitate the creation and local community performances of uniquely Australian music content, by Australian born and raised composers.
4. When the coronavirus pandemic subsides, fund healthy, safe live local music events directed and staffed by local Australian musicians, and endorsed by local Australian Aboriginal Elders as fully supportive of our sovereign Australian cultures and ecologies, instead of draining Australia’s music coffers by importing or promoting “big names” who don’t actually need promotion, and who often put youth audiences at risk by staging drug-ridden megaconcerts, and then depart, taking our funds with them.