Musical message aims to connect all Australians before the vote on the Voice

Posted on 22 Aug 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Marrapurtangkali 202305 2023 CIC1 020

The composer of an electrifying new musical composition that blends the ancient sounds of his yidaki with percussion, voices and the beautiful tones of an acclaimed string trio is convinced the piece will “bridge the gap” between Australians facing a “remarkable chapter in our history”.

Master yidaki player William Barton’s piece Marrapurtangkali, composed with violinist and musical partner Veronique Serret, and curated by cellist Matthew Hoy, had its world premiere at the Communities in Control conference in May.

Marrapurtangkali was commissioned by Our Community, with group managing director Denis Moriarty revealing the project was spurred on by the landmark call by First Nations leaders for a Voice to Parliament.

National recognition for breakthrough piece

Last week, Australian music heavyweights heard it performed at the 2023 Art Music Awards hosted in Carriageworks in Sydney as Barton accepted the Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music.

The second performance won a rapturous reception following a mesmerising and virtuosic display in front of the country’s finest established and emerging artists in art music.

Art Music Awards Performance Pic Rhiannon Hopely
Marrapurtangkali is performed in front of the nation's most respected art music leaders. Picture: Rhiannon Hopley

Sheena Boughen, who helped broker the composition for Our Community, was in the audience to witness the performance, and described it as “spine tingling stuff”.

“To have the cream of Australia’s art music industry hear a performance that we helped bring into the world was incredible, and sparked a great deal of curiosity about the kind of social enterprise that can make this kind of thing happen.”

Hoy said it was an honour to take to the stage perform Marrapurtangkali as part of a celebration of Barton's contribution.

Barton’s award recognises his “trailblazing contributions to Australian music, broadening horizons for the didgeridoo and the culture and landscape it represents”.

Barton himself said he would dedicate the award “back to my community” and to also acknowledge all the aunties and uncles and grandmas and grandfathers who help create a safe space for artists such as myself to be a composer in the Western world and give me and others that strong foundation of country”.

William Barton
William Barton has been recognised for his incredible contribution to Australia's musical scene. Picture:

According to Barton, the intention of the piece was “to connect and create a natural grounding, finding harmony with ourselves and our communities, acknowledgement of country, our langugate and the first Nations People of this land”.

“Several months ago, we started conversations about creating a piece of music that pays homage to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the most incredible piece of writing that I have ever had the honour to read,” Moriarty said.

The result was “a collective prayer of hope, affording us an opportunity to walk in two worlds toward a better future”.

Drawing on the Kalkatunga language of western Queensland, the piece, whose title translates as Morning Star: Spirit of the People, won a sustained standing ovation from the several hundred community leaders present.

Veronique Serret
Violinist Veronique Serret.

Need for a Voice resonates through music

The looming vote on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament amplified the reaction, and while Barton has been careful in navigating the fraught politics around the referendum debate, it’s clear that the music seeks reconciliation in song.

After the performance, Barton declared: “The spirit of this new work will resonate long after its premiere”.

“We as Australians, and people of the land, are going through a remarkable chapter in our history.”

He was proud “to be part of the legacy and spirit of community connecting to like-minded people, but also opening up the dialogue … to new friends from all walks of life.”

And he said the musical performance represented “a safe space” where the nation could reconnect.

“The intention of Marrapurtangkali was to connect and create a natural grounding, finding harmony within ourselves and our communities, acknowledgment of country, our language and the First Nations people of this land.”

An unforgettable part of the performance was the lyrics performed by Barton’s mother, Aunty Delmae Barton.

Softly spoken off stage, Aunty Delmae showed why she is also known as Australia’s “Dreamtime opera diva” as she spoke and sang with passion and purpose.

Aunty Delmae Barton
Australia’s “Dreamtime opera diva" - Aunty Delmae Barton - lends her powerful voice to Marrapurtangkali at the 2023 CIC Conference.

“Earthmother calls, calls to all children. Children of creation come, tread softly in these sacred sounds,” she cooed, before unleashing an instinctive call, in song, which seemed to speak of ancient wisdom.

Afterward, she explained that the lyrics echoed the call of the Uluru Statement as “a strong message, a moral message to mankind to listen to us”.

She believed Marrapurtangkali’s message of hope is that “we can all go on that spiritual journey together”.

“It's only by working with each other and walking side by side that we can have true reconciliation in this great nation.”

She said that could only happen through “love, freedom, peace” alongside “justice, truth and trust”.

She believed listeners should hear “the wisdom of the ancient ones” and “tribal elders, not only from the Dreamtime, but in our present world.”

In particular, she hoped the message of Marrapurtangkali would reach young people, “because they will be carrying the message stick”.

Composition connects old and new

Matthew Hoy has been closely involved in the project and believes the results demonstrate the impact of working with First Nations artists.

“We've understood that the First Nations in this piece are the leading voice, and in terms of this music we're involving one the oldest continuous cultural practices in the world.

“It seems to me absolutely logical and essential we’re turning to our southern star.”

He said that his role in curating had been to “let go of any pre-presupposed ideas or expectations and letting those voices and those ideas breathe and evolve”.

2023 CIC Marrapurtangkali audience
2023 CIC Conference delegates were spellbound by the electrifying performance of Marrapurtangkali.

"My job is to listen and bring those perspectives to the table. This project really was one that took a very organic shape because of those conversations and because ultimately at the heart of it, it's about relationships and about connections.

“My role has been in service of trying to amplify what's there and to respect that authentic voice.”

In practice that meant drawing together ancient and more recent musical forms and instruments, such as the yidaki alongside western European strings.

“Compositionally that's what we were trying to convey, that this is a piece that sounds of two worlds and walking in two worlds as well.”

He said reproduction and performance rights to Marrapurtangkali would be available to others, and it was expected the work would be available in a recorded format.

More information

Highlights from the Communities in Control conference 2023

Thomas Mayo: What the Voice means to me

Comment: All this shouting has nothing to do with the Voice

Why NFPs should speak up for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament

NFPs for a coalition in support of the Voice

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