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The Songman

12 December 2012 | 5:26 am | michael bennett

"My belief is that it’s not my conscious self, it’s the old people divining me to go back to the songlines – my ancestry tapping me on the shoulder.”

“Non-indigenous Australia would just see three albums sitting in front of them,” begins singer, songwriter and guitarist Kutcha Edwards, talking about his three solo releases to date – 2001's Cooinda, 2007's Hope and the recently released Blak & Blu. “As Aboriginal people, what I am trying to understand is that my existence has been predetermined even before my birth, and will be predetermined even after my death. We call it a songline, one's life. Just 'cause I wrote a song yesterday doesn't make it a day old. I'm trying to understand all that and trying to reclaim the existence of that true sense of songline. So what you really need to do is go back, listen to those albums in their entirety and you'll hear the narrative, you'll hear the river flowing within what it is that is the songline of Kutcha Edwards.”

A Mutti Mutti man born near Balranald on the Murrumbidgee River – he calls his mix of roots, blues and rock 'Bidgee' music – Edwards, like his dear friend Archie Roach and so many others, is a member of the Stolen Generations, forcibly removed from his parents in 1967 to live in institutions for 11 years. The experience inevitably informs but never overwhelms his music. As he explains, “I'm not bitter at society but I'm bitter… and bitter and anger are two different things, and I've learnt to deal it, and the way that I deal with it is song; [the] debriefing of one's life internally but coming to an ideology that I can do it externally through song.”

So he celebrates in song having overcome those early hardships. Blak & Blu, however, might have never seen the light of day because, about three years ago, Edwards found the indifference of an industry to which he had given so much thrusting him into depression.

“My wife saw me crawl into this depression,” he continues. “You don't know it's depression, but that's where Get Back Up Again [on Blak & Blu] sort of comes from. It was 2011 – [I performed at] the Nukkan Ya Ruby concert at the Domain in Sydney, a tribute to Ruby Hunter – Archie's related to me through my great-great grandfather – so we're all very close, all been down that road together – and got to yarn to Craig Pilkington, who played guitar at that concert. He sent me an amazing email a month-and-a-half later: 'I've been thinking about our conversation, thinking what we can do together'.”

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With Pilkington producing – he also produced Roach's new album, Into The Bloodstream and engineered both of Gurrumul's albums – what they ended up doing together was Blak & Blu.

“To go forward I have to go back,” Edwards admits. “The very first song I ever wrote was Roll With The Rhythm – track number two on the album. I wrote it in 1989 – I'd gone to see Robert Cray at [Melbourne's] Festival Hall, and I saw this man and I was just immersed not only in his music, the Strong Persuader album, but I knew every lyric, so we jumped at the opportunity and then went home and wrote this very basic lyric, 'Roll with the rhythm, go with the flow,' and then the song created itself.

“So in understanding Roll With The Rhythm, I wanted to go back to its genesis, and then songs started evolving themselves. I have this sense of myself as to if something pops into my head I question it. My belief is that it's not my conscious self, it's the old people divining me to go back to the songlines – my ancestry tapping me on the shoulder.”