Sounds Of The Pilbara II: Songs In Language captures 54 indigenous voices from the Pilbara, via original songs and sung stories in traditional language. Bob Gordon speaks with WAM Regional Coordinator, Nigel Bird.
You've done quote a lot in the Sounds Of... series. Returning this time to the Pilbara and committing to language-based songs, what were the main challenges that lay ahead?
Probably the most important challenge was to ensure the project was delivered with the cultural respect it deserves, often we were working with elders of these language groups and they were sharing personal and sometimes emotional stories in song with us.
Including losing planned participants to cultural responsibilities of varying kinds, we were also at the mercy of Pilbara time… so some obstacles lie within sticking to the schedule that was formed before we left. Ultimately the biggest challenge was working with other languages that we had very little experience in understanding or speaking.
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Had a language-focussed release been a long-time goal? Was it once thought of as being too difficult to pull off?
There has been language songs/songs featuring language across the seven sounds of projects now and 2011's Wiluna project heavily featured artists singing in Martu. But, yep! This one was definitely a goal for lots of reasons. It definitely required a greater awareness and attention to make sure that we walked in the right foot steps culturally, but it was too important to be too difficult to pull off.
Who were the key people that helped you get to this point?
I'll concentrate on this project. There are many, Matt Gio and Sean Lillico the project audio engineers, the staff at WAM and the project sponsors and partners who showed understanding towards delivering a meaningful project. Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre staff and management and a couple of personal Pilbara friends of mine who helped to guide me culturally managing the project.
Were there any concerns from some of the artists about sharing these songs considering they may be considered sacred?
I'd say the elders and artists who contributed to the album knew what they were allowed to record with or sing around us fellas, although we always mentioned the songs had to be ones that could be heard by a wide audience, via the CD release, on radio and online. We also conveyed that we hoped this project would help bring a greater awareness to capturing languages from within the Pilbara, outside of the Pilbara region.
What are your hopes for this particular release, both for those in the Pilbara community and the new people that this music reaches?
I know these recordings are going to be special for the families and language groups they are from. Knowing they'll exist as a permanent record of songs in language, for many purposes is one hope already achieved. I hope it encourages more opportunities for this kind of activity, on lots of levels. We are losing some of the most linguistically knowledgeable old people and some of these languages only have a few speakers left. Slap me if I'm wrong, there is tremendous value in recording these songs.
It would be fantastic if this project does achieve a greater awareness about Pilbara languages and the importance of recording songs in indigenous languages, generally.
Originally published in X-Press Magazine