As you can see from some of the blogs I have been posting one of the great things about performing on the street is that when you get out and start busking classic events seem to pop up out of nowhere. Here is another special event for me I experienced that only came about as a result of busking. This story begins with a street performance in the Smith St Mall in Darwin’s city center. It was late in the evening when this event occurred and it could really have only happened in a place such as the Northern Territory in Tropical Australia. As I sang, a couple of indigenous folk came up to have a listen and asked if they could play a song or two. (See photo, Eric and Mary come to have a yarn, listen to my music and play a few songs)
Now I’ve had many buskers voice their opinion on the topic of should you or should u not encourage the passerby to have a bash on YOUR guitar. Some buskers are dead set against it as they don’t want just any TOM Cruise, DICK Smith or HARRY Potter playing THEIR instrument. I’ve never had a problem with it, and not a single difficulty even if people happen to be a bit drunk. In fact my experience is that I earn more money when they play than if I play as they usually have a heap of friends with them who egg them on. I’ve found that people respect your pitch and your instrument and after a few songs give it back and rejoin the crowd. I generally tell buskers that if they are worried about their instrument then they should use an old guitar or instrument that can handle a bit of rough stuff. This allows the performer to feel comfortable and at ease instead of nervous or concerned that the instrument is going to get damaged because everyone’s having a good time and people are fighting to play a song. If your relaxed about it then so too will be your audience and the end result is that everyone has a great time.
Busking with the local Larakia folk was no different on this occasion but it was special because Eric from the Darwin mob sang in his own language and told me his own story and that of his girl, Mary. There is something haunting about an acoustic guitar and the indigenous vocal put together on a barmy evening on a city bench in Darwin. It kind of fits in totally with the local vibe and makes great sense when you hear it. The pathos in the vocal, tinged with the sadness of their people is prevalent, so too is the simplicity of the song structure and message, yet together at that moment regardless of the quality of musicianship or performance it hits straight through to your heart and you suddenly connect with the story/struggle of indigenous Australia.
Yet in spite of this kind of “tragic” connection I also felt the awesome power of their ancient culture and a wisdom for the way they continue to practice it. We work our guts out 9-5, 5,6,7 days a week and watch them sitting around and shake our heads saying “ why don’t they do more”!! They watch us and think “ why don’t they stop for a bit”!!! Eric told me that he sings about what they do, ….sitting with family, cousins and relatives talking smoking and drinking, passing on stories about their culture. Eric was saying “ it ain’t no different now to what it’s always been. We are here, now, and we’re just enjoying our nature and environment by the river bed or near the sea as we have done for thousands of years. People say we ain’t got culture anymore but this is our culture, we collect the bush tucker and paint our stories as well and sing our songs, nowadays with a guitar.
It ain’t no different johnnie, it ain’t no different. We watch you fellas and think …don’t you guys ever learn, you movin around so fast doin your business u never see nothing, u so busy u never hear nothing and then u gotta die and what have you experienced……you can’t tell cause it was too fast, you forgot your story you fellas and now your runnin around like a mad emu tryin ta find it, where’s it gone? What is it…your story…..your identity….Im still waiting for one of you mad fellas to slow down long enough so I can bloody well see who you are , meet you, hear what it is you are doin and simply get to know and understand you……then maybe we can get along a bit better eh, then maybe we can understand each other. You singin a different tune to most white fellas Johnnie. I ain’t heard many fellas sing like what you do and do it out here, on the street, I think your doin a good thing. Now sing me that Nicotine Dreaming one again while I try and find a smoke to humour you ”.
Eric and Mary taught me more about myself and Australia in half an hour than I had learned in all my history subjects at school or university. I was blown away by this lesson, a lesson that has come to me from many indigenous people I’ve met over the years yet so few of us experience or understand it. The message is clear for me and if it wasn’t for busking I would have missed this treasured experience again. Each indigenous person I hear it from tells it slightly differently but with the same fundamental story line. It has often been the case that my songs that reflect my experience with indigenous Australia have been able to connect me to Australia’s indigenous people. They said “we don’t often come up to white fellas and do this but we heard you singing about Namatjira and felt you, johnnie, must be an OK bloke to talk with”.
Throughout my travels I’ve found that music breaks down cultural barriers and helps heal the wounds of the past. On that barmy night in Darwin it was music again through busking that connected myself, wife and kids with this indigenous couple and helped us to see and hear their story.
If only other Aussies could stop for long enough to do this perhaps we could overcome some of the negatives that we are currently facing with indigenous Australia and its people at present and maybe….just maybe have a little bit more understanding for the present situation we are all facing in this country regarding these issues.
Photo Below shows Eric singing his emotive stories. Smith Street Mall, Darwin 2009