Fighting Social Problems with Rock Songs Ignoring Commercial Formulas, Australia's Aboriginal People Use Music to Express Feelings and Deal with Issues

By Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 1990 | Go to article overview

Fighting Social Problems with Rock Songs Ignoring Commercial Formulas, Australia's Aboriginal People Use Music to Express Feelings and Deal with Issues


Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THEY don't sing about love and heartbreak. Instead, Aboriginal rock groups focus on social issues such as the effect of drugs and alcohol on their community, land rights, and unhappiness over mining and development.

It's not the normal commercial formula, "Will you love me tomorrow?" says Bill Davis, coordinator for CAAMA Music which is part of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

"It's just a reflection of things that we see and effect us," explains Paul Ahchee who is with the Aboriginal group Amunda. "Aboriginal people feel more comfortable singing about how they feel than writing a letter to a newspaper," says Mr. Ahchee.

Amunda, for example, laments the development of Alice Springs in the song "Alice, Don't Grow So Fast": "Soon there will be tall buildings/ Blocking out the sky/ Couldn't see the hills for the fog in the sky/ Couldn't see the hills for the fog in the sky."

Alcoholism is another major concern of the groups. The North Tanami Band croons, "Don't drive and drink." And Pantju (Punch) Thompson sings in his native Pitulu, "Now! Sitting without thinking/ Older brother drinking wine/ Younger brother sniffing petrol."

Scrap Metal, which is more mainstream than most of the bands, sings about Broome, a small coastal town in northwestern Australia. "It's our feeling about the town, the things that happen to the town and our life-style here," says Alan Pigram, a guitar player on the band.

In their song "Old Broome Town," Scrap Metal laments how things have changed since they were children growing up in Broome: "But the freedom of our younger days have all gone now/ And, things are not the same anymore."

Most Aboriginal rock groups sing in English. But sometimes the lyrics are in the band's native dialect. The second half of Yothu Yindi's CD "Homeland Movement" is all traditional songs from the Rirratinu and Gumatj clans of East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. …

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