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'Ngiya awungarra – I am here, now'
Tiwi voices past & present in new musical conversations
Catalogue Number RRR75

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The songs of the Tiwi Islands meet with classical and jazz in a new take on an old culture. Using archive recordings from the last century, the voices of the ancestors are back in the recording studio, inspiring musical improvisation in an on-going dialogue between the past and the present.

Great concept, and beautifully executed! (CAAMA Music)

Tiwi songs are items of significant Australian musical heritage that we should all be proud of. Since 2007, as Ngarukuruwala (we sing songs), the Tiwi Strong Women’s Group and musicians from down south have shared musical ideas to create new versions of old Tiwi songs.

In 2009, eleven Tiwi elders and I visited AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies) in Canberra to reclaim recorded Tiwi ethnographic material, collected by anthropologists over the last century. This was a significant and moving experience for the group as they heard the recorded voices of great-grandfathers, parents and even their younger selves, for
the first time.

A defining feature of Tiwi music is that it has always been contemporary. Song texts use the first person and present tense, placing each song in the ‘now’, every time it is heard. Exploring musical, cultural and emotional intuitions, Ngarukurwala have created a series of responses to selected archive recordings, with the deceased and the living as co-performers in the studio, creating a personal connection and transmission of experience between them and all of us – performer and audience – past and present. There were no rules – each musician reacted to what they heard and felt in the old recording, its voice and its poetry. Some are the result of spontaneous ideas that happened on the day, others loosely arranged then improvised performances done in one or two takes, and some are intricately produced aural soundscapes. The result is therefore multi-stylistic, with the sounds of the Tiwi bush from dawn to dusk – where the songs came from – and of the archives – where they were preserved – threading it all together. (Genevieve Campbell)

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Album Track Listing

  1. Murli murli la
  2. Love Song
  3. Mirri Ilityipiti
  4. God is sitting in the bush
  5. Daniel Paujimi's song
  6. Brolga
  7. Yamparriparri
  8. Gramophone
  9. Going to Canberra
  10. Nyingawi
  11. Goose, Moonfish and the Footy
  12. Boats on the sea
  13. Crocodile on the beach
  14. Silent land
  15. Healing song for CM
  16. Lullaby
  17. Snake Amparruwu
  18. The last love song
  19. Old Murli la
  20. The old lady, Yinjula
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Here's what the media have to say...

‘Ngiya awungarra (I am here, now)’ RRR75

An absolutely win-win stocking filler would be the CD, 'I am here, now', aka Ngarukuruwala from Undercover Music. This is a delightful blend of archival recordings from the Tiwi Islands – love songs, mourning songs, lullabies, etc, which have been winkled out of the AIATSIS collection and go back in time to one of the eleven 1912 recordings they hold made by pioneering anthropologist, Baldwin Spencer. Later recordings are by Helen Groger-Wurm, Sandra Holmes and Charles Mountford.

These have then been played to current members of the Strong Women's singing group, who have sometimes added their responses. And, finally, a talented group of Sydney musicians lead by horn-player Genevieve Campbell have improvised around and counterpointed the songs or chants with everything from a bluesy harmonica to a grumbling double-bass, via a brass trio or Michelle Kelly's bright violin to accompany a lullaby that, weirdly, encourages a child to go to sleep reassured that a lizard or a flea will close his/her eyes! The reassurance comes in an outrageous Tiwi word just 36 letters long!

Some dodgy Hawaiian sounds have crept in via the Strong Women. But that bluesy mourning song was the highlight for me – a soul in limbo, grieving for former connections to the living or future ones to the spirits of the dead.
And I note that the album was featured on the ABC Radio National's 'Daily Planet' program earlier this year. Now sadly killed in the RN cuts. Where would these tracks get played on the ABC today?

Jeremy Eccles, Aboriginal Art Directory

Ngarukuruwala - ABC RN The Music Show Saturday 18th November 2017

Ngarukuruwala (We Sing Songs) is the result of an unlikely collaboration between community singing group Tiwi Island Strong Women and jazz musicians from Sydney (under the direction of French horn player Genevieve Campbell).

The group's album Ngiya awungarra uses archival sound recordings from 1912 to 1981. The recordings were repatriated by a delegation of Tiwi Island elders in 2009 and have been combined with jazz and classical improvisations and new vocals in the modern Tiwi language. The album is an ongoing dialogue between past and present.

Genevieve Campbell is in to talk about the similarities between Tiwi music and Western jazz and the process of creating new songs over old recordings. Tiwi elder Mary Elizabeth Moreen Mungatopi reflects on the song Mirri Ilityipiti which is her duet with an old 1954 recording of her late father at her own naming ceremony.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are advised that this program includes archival recordings of people who have passed away.

Supporting Information
Music excerpts:
Murli murli la (0.30)
Mirri Ilityipiti (1.00)
Silent Land (0.30)
Artist: Ngarukuruwala
CD Title: Ngiya awungarra - I am here, now
Publisher: Rouseabout Records
Record Co/Number: RRR75
Producer: Ellie Parnell

Great concept, and beautifully executed!
(CAAMA Music)

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 add 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.
(John Shand 9/10)

Ancient Tiwi songs renewed

The indigenous culture of the two main Tiwi Islands – Melville and Bathurst, 80 km north of Darwin – has always been quite distinct from the mainland Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land and the Northern Territory. This intriguing Australian project Ngarukuruwala (‘we sing songs’), initiated by French horn player-academic Genevieve Campbell, brings together the traditional Tiwi Strong Women’s Group with jazz-classical musicians from ‘down south’.

In 2009, Tiwi elders and Campbell visited the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies) in Canberra, to access and reclaim Tiwi ethnological recordings that had been collected by various anthropologists over the last century. With audio dating from 1912-1981, the elders were able to hear their forebears recorded voices, and in some cases themselves at an earlier age.

Selecting various archival songs and tape identification snippets, this CD combines those sounds with the voices of contemporary Tiwi singers - reuniting the living with the dead – as well as with loosely arranged or improvised musical ‘responses’ from the Western musicians. There are also some more complexly produced soundscapes.

The results vary from being delicately beautiful to experimentally bizarre, unadorned indigenous vocals blending with minimalist strings, brass, woodwinds, double bass and drums, creating fascinating ethno-classical-jazz hybrids.
(Seth Jordan, Songlines, 4 star review)