Filmed at Alan Eaton Studio, St Kilda in 2009. From the cd, Crossing Roper Bar, available at http://www.aao.com.au. Paul Grabowsky, piano, Tony Hicks reeds, Erkki Veltheim viola, Philip Rex double bass, Niko Schauble drums and Stephen Magnusson guitar. And the Young Wagilak Group: Benjamin vocals and bilma, Natilma (Roy) Wilfred lead vocals and bilma and David Wilfred yidakki.
Crossing Roper Bar is a series of regular exchanges which have been taking place since 2005 between the Young Wagilak Group from Ngukurr Southeast Arnhem Land and the Australian Art Orchestra (based in Melbourne). It is a collaboration based on an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centered on music. An electrifying marriage of the very old with the very new, Crossing Roper Bar is a celebration of country, of ceremony, and of the power of music to build enduring bridges across cultures, time and space.
The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.
Ngukurr is an ideal place to learn about Aboriginal music because it is the gathering point for outlying peoples of the Wagilak, Ngalmi, Murrungun, Nunthirrbala, Mungurra, Lalara and Wurramurra nations, who come together under the name Yugul Mangi. The manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu of South East Arhnem Land represent one of the oldest and most affecting musical traditions on the planet and the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the AAO to create a contemporary rendering of these precious cultural artefacts – performing songs that many of their Yolŋu kin further north had thought were lost forever.