“Alice Springs is a good town to live [in]. People doing [bad things], it’s maybe 1%. The media need to see, it’s not only in Alice Springs, it can happen in every town, but they only show it in Alice Springs."
When was the last time you heard anything positive about Alice Springs? It’s particularly hard to think of anything when headlines like “Violent crimes are becoming ‘normalised’ in Alice Springs”, “Alice Springs residents pen open letter to the criminals”, and “A crime wave has sparked emergency measures in Alice Springs”, dominate any media coverage of the Northern Territory city.
But events like the new music festival One Frequency Festival are out to change the narrative. The event looks to celebrate the community with performances from great musical talent, celebrate Alice Springs’ increasing cultural diversity, and show the country at large that Alice Springs isn’t the desolate place it’s made out to be.
Held on Arrernte Land in Alice Springs (Mparntwe), One Frequency Festival is a collaboration between Festival Director Kodi Twiner (they/them, of Rhino Milk Productions), and 8CCC Community Radio, developed with grant funding from the federal government’s Live Music Australia initiative and the Alice Springs Town Council.
Ahead of its two-day live music venture, One Frequency Festival encompasses a five-day professional development program, inclusive of a wide range of activities, among them audio engineering, instrumental workshops, studio collaborations, and a First Nations-led panel from Support Act, dubbed Sound Minds x Yarning Strong.
This event is a good news story coming out of the desert, rare in a moment where everyone in Mparntwe, the Northern Territory, and its visitors, are taught to be hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant based on existing narratives – a mindset that, arguably, is nurtured by mainstream media.
Among common media themes are inaccuracies as to Mparntwe’s lack of inclusivity – far from exclusive is One Frequency Festival’s range of performers, all from differing genders, cultures, heritage, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
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One Frequency Festival will showcase over 32 live bands, comprised of 163 live musicians, 16 workshop facilitators, and around 40 stage and production crew from remote and regional areas making it all happen. In among these numbers is a plethora of diverse and inclusive talent, ranging from post-punk eco-queer bands to Tanzanian hip hop, traditional multilingual to instrumental, neo-soul to folk Australiana. What’s more, the festival endorses the minimum fee campaign from the Musicians Australia union and is paying a $250 minimum fee per individual artist.
Speaking only from their standpoint, Kodi addresses Mparntwe's misconceptions and the event’s aims to be all-inclusive. “There's a narrative of renown about Alice Springs right now, that it is only a stark place to be and that it’s only a troubled place,” they say. “But it is so much more than either or only those things.
“To understand the context of where we live, we need to sit with a little bit of discomfort but also broaden the lens to truly encompass and have space for the complexity and the beauty and the story and the history and the melting pot of voices.
“[One Frequency Festival is] a celebration of diversity, a highlight, a spotlight on diversity that is, more often than not if ever, hidden by the mainstream media.”
The reality of the Mparntwe community is that it is incredibly diverse, and cultivates different ethnic, gender, and racial sounds. One Frequency Festival's musicians and audience members overlap because they are friends with each other, they live and work with each other. “We're all in close proximity,” Kodi says, “[so] music is a way that everybody functions together.
“Music requires collaboration, it requires listening, it requires finding ways to work together and be together. And music is very much alive in the place where we live.”
No one is more in tune with nor greater support of community spirit and diversity than genre-bending musician and One Frequency Festival artist Katanga Junior. Born and raised in Tanzania, Junior lived and worked across Australia before adopting Mparntwe as home three years ago. With his multilingual lyrics (Swahili and English) and sumptuous blending of hip-hop, ragga, and indie-folk, Junior says he’s seen how his diversity of sound – and that of his Mparntwe peers – makes the people around him happy.
“I like Alice Springs because of the music,” Junior says in broken English. “There are people singing in my language, other people singing from the [Indigenous] community, [and] some people sing in English, so I feel more welcome to sing in my language because people listen and are happy to share the culture. I feel like Alice Springs is more like welcome to everyone who is talent[ed]. It keeps me going.”
Junior connected with Kodi over their shared ambition to further music among the Mparntwe community, he says. “We want to share the moments [of music] together. I feel that’s how we get connected and One Frequency Festival is a great platform to share culture and music.” The unity in music that One Frequency will present, Junior agrees, will not only help elevate local music talent, but also help reform the perception of the city by anyone on the outside looking in. Firmly, Junior says, “What I want to say is this; Alice Springs is home for me. I come from far away and the way people accept you and this festival, we are all together, we are one, and share the music with the people.
“I’m sad when people ask me ‘Why are you in Alice Springs?’ It’s not like every kid in this town is bad. Some [bad] things happen everywhere in the world. This is nothing compared to where I’m from.
“Alice Springs is a good town to live [in]. People doing [bad things], it’s maybe 1%. The media need to see, it’s not only in Alice Springs, it can happen in every town, but they only show it in Alice Springs.
“But I want to say that Alice Springs is still [a] good place to live, and it's still [a] good town. Like, I feel like everyone is welcoming in this town, that's why I feel comfortable to live [here], I feel like this town is amazing town.”
Echoing many of Junior’s sentiments is the multi-instrumentalist and NT music educator Gleny Rae. For kids in Mparntwe, particularly the Indigenous youth, music and opportunities to perform at events such as One Frequency provides them with a chance to diverge away from preconceived ideas about their outcome in life. “As a teacher, I often I feel like I’m having an existential crisis where I feel like I'm just part of a big white bureaucratic system,” says Gleny.
“But when it comes to music, I just remind myself that music is an international language and it kind of traverses all cultures, all ages. And when I teach – because I go out to the communities and teach singing and run choirs – that’s a great unifying experience.
“I'm out there [and] I try to share language and stories and culture and that is our first nations indigenous tradition of, you know, teaching through storytelling and song. I just remind myself about that. So, all I'm trying to do is to bring consistency, you know, education through music, and try to be a person that that these kids can look to with trust, respect, and kinship.”
Glenys’ choir, Singchronicity (NT Music School’s combined vocal ensemble), will be performing at One Frequency. It's a great opportunity, Glenys says, for her kids to perform on stage, not just to their peers and friends and families, but to a wider audience. “Whenever we do this, people respond so well,” she says. “There's nothing better than seeing a group of young people getting up and singing. And we try to do a range of different songs from different traditions.
“Every time a young student gets up on stage and sings or performs, it's like they’re building a little wall of resilience, each time is like another brick of confidence, which gives them a strong, a strong, resonant normal for which their voice can be heard.
This festival is the phrase “music is a universal language” personified. It’s hard to miss the depth of warmth and welcome offered by the Mparntwe locals and One Frequency artists when they speak of their town and of its musical opportunities. They want people to see their talent, their prospects, and their town, through another lens. Everybody involved in One Frequency has been brought together by an unadulterated passion for music and performance. Its range of diversity is comparable to that of a more mainstream city like Melbourne. It’s the Melbourne of the Red Centre. One Frequency Festival is not only attempting to change the narrative about Mparntwe, but giving a platform to some immense talent, such that shouldn’t be overlooked because of their geographical location or existing crime rates.
For the locals, there’s one reaction that Kodi really wants those attending to have. “’Oh, that's why I live here!” Kodi says. “[Mparntwe] is collecting all of these amazing facilitators, performers, musicians, artists, organisers, support crew. We’re going to be focused on one spot, but they’re moving around each other all the time.
“In the face of such pressure and bad reputation, or, you know, compromised narrative about where we live, this is hopefully a reconnection to push back against that, that’s for the community.”
One Frequency Festival is a free two-day event taking place at the Gap View Hotel in Mparntwe/Alice Springs on 17 and 18 June.