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Garrmalang Festival

By Claire Eltringham

The tropical climes of the Top End seem like the ideal home for a Festival dedicated entirely to showcasing the rich artistic expression of Indigenous Australia. Perhaps that’s one reason why Garrmalang Festival – now in it’s second year – has already won the hearts of its audience. That, and the impressive line-up of fierce Indigenous talent.

According to the traditional custodians, the Larrakia People, Garrmalang is the name for the region of Darwin. Here, the locals have a saying; “Garrmalang lives because we live.” And, what a beautiful place it is to live, deep in the hearts of many who call it home.

It seems a fitting theme then; to focus on the theme ‘heart’ for Garrmalang Festival in 2015, and that’s exactly what local Larrakia man and Festival Director Ben Graetz intends to do.

“This year’s Festival is all about the heart – the heart of our community, the heart of our culture, the heart of art. Really, it’s an acknowledgement and celebration of the Larrakia People and all that they represent here in the Territory.”

But Garrmalang Festival isn’t limited only to local acts, the Festival features Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers from Darwin, as well as further afield. The intention is to make Garrmalang Festival world class, one that stands up both interstate and internationally. As Graetz suggests,

“This is about putting Darwin on the main stage. Bringing Indigenous people together and showcasing what we have here. And for artists to share their stories with other artists too.”

And the caliber of talent being brought together is substantial. Following a sold out national tour, Djuki Mala return to the stage for those who missed them last year. While much-loved local choreographer Garry Lang presents an excerpt of his most recent undertaking, an interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Russian ballet, Swan Lake.

Four Little Birds will soar with the transcendent voices of four matriarchs of Indigenous female talent – Shellie Morris, Leah Flanagan, Ursula Yovich and Catherine Satour. And emerging talent from the Gove Peninsula, Barra, bring their most recent experiences to light on stage, notably performing at WOMAD Festival recently, alongside Gotye.

The sassy and smart-mouthed Constantina Bush is MC for the event and Festival headliners Black Arm Band return to present Dirtsong – a powerful musical journey through Australia’s cultural heartland inspired by the words of Alexis Wright (Miles Franklin Award winner). Set against a stunning backdrop of moving imagery and text, the performance features unforgettable songs performed in 11 different Aboriginal languages from some of the most extraordinary performers in the land, backed by an exciting ensemble of Melbourne’s finest jazz musicians.

All this, and a traditional Bungul dance ground and smoking ceremony to open the event. It sounds like something to be proud of and Graetz says it’s a timely event, considering the current political climate.

“I’m just a boy from Darwin. It’s great to return here after many years away and help create Garrmalang Festival. Politically, this is how I make a difference – to create a conversation through the arts. I think Garrmalang Festival is a very special way of doing it.”

Event listing: http://www.offtheleash.net.au/events/view/garrmalang-festival

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