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Yabun – in person and online

GADIGAL LAND: January 26. A day of mourning and survival, anniversary of dispossession and violence for First Nations people. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Yabun (“song with a beat”), the largest one-day celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in Australia.

Due to Covid restrictions, Yabun 2022 was staged in Victoria Park (market and community stalls, food, dance and more) and in the Everest Theatre at the Seymour Centre (live music). The festival was live streamed from yabun.org.au and broadcast on Koori Radio (93.7FM).

Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, a Gadigal-Yuin elder, activist and educator, gave the Welcome to Country.

Musical performances were of a typically high standard, showcasing talent across many genres.

The Donovans, formed in Mt Druitt in 1984, delivered sparkling country rock, including classics by Harry Nilsson, Charlie Pride, Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton and Marcy Levy, Ada Habershon and Charles Gabriel.

Lead singer Michael Donovan paid tribute to inspirational Aboriginal country artists – Jimmy Little, Roger and Buddy Knox, Warren H. Williams, Vic Simms, Col Hardy and Troy Cassar-Daly – before inviting band members Shalina and Jaleesa to sing the Donovans’ own “Burning Bridges” and “The Promised Land” (in honour of the late Mick and Aileen Donovan). Ashley Donovan (lead guitar) and Robbie Graham (drums) played with passion and precision.

Marlene Cummins is an activist, actor, broadcaster, and fine jazz-blues musician (saxophonist and vocalist). Her renditions of Georgia Lee’s “Yarra River Blues” and Mavis Staples’ “When Will We Be Paid” were stunning. Acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest, as well as earlier resistance to colonialism, Aunty Marlene’s “Pemulwuy, the Mighty Aboriginal Warrior” (accompanied by guitarist Rex Goh) was a standout.

Uncle Vic Simms, Nadeena Dixon and Johnny Huckle (Sounds of Freedom – Stolen Generations survivors and descendants), then Uncle Col Hardy kept the good tunes coming.

Country singer-songwriter Loren Ryan from Tamworth impressed. Her composition, “Little Darling”, a solo acoustic song about messy relationships and domestic violence, was a moving set closer.

Wollongong-based techno dance-pop outfit, Pirra, brought high energy and fresh synth-and-bass arrangements. Vocalist Jess Beck, a proud Luritjia woman, is a dynamic performer. The set closer mashed Jefferson Airplane’s “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love” with Yothu Yindi’s “Treaty” to great effect.

The Stiff Gins, rapper Kobie Dee and R&B duo Shakaya set sometimes confronting stories and social commentary to music – acoustic with harmonies, beats and rhymes, pop melodies. All gave assured and exciting performances.

Bunna Lawrie’s Coloured Stone formed in Ceduna in 1977. Their desert reggae sounds as vital as ever. With Declan Kelly behind the kit, the band played favourites “River of Love” and “Dancing In the Moonlight” as well as newer songs from soon-to-be-released album Poisoned Planet, “Dancing On the Ocean” (for the whales), “I Found My Way Home”, and hymn of praise and cosmic participation, “It’s Gonna Be All Right”.

Again, Yabun had it all. The Corroboree Ground dancers (Gomeroi Dance Company, Buuja Buuja Butterfly Dance Group, Koomurri, Yaba Kerker Otaba, Ngaran Ngaran and Gawura Cultural Immersion) and Speak Out panelists engaged people of all ages via media ancient and contemporary. Props to emcees Sean Choolburra and Medika Thorpe.

Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Support the event by purchasing a 20th anniversary t-shirt designed by Nungala Creative: www.yabun.org.au

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