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Festival review: Spinifex Gum

Adelaide Festival

Featuring guests including Peter Garrett, Emma Donovan and Briggs alongside the exuberant Marilya Indigenous choir, Spinifex Gum is a breathtaking and uniquely Australian performance, writes reviewer Ali Moylan.

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Spinifex Gum is a collaborative project led by The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill and born out of an invitation to write a song cycle for the Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir in the Pilbara.

From that, they created Marilya – a choral collective of young Indigenous women, all current or former members of the Gondwana Choir, who bring an impressive energy to their performance.

Fresh, hopeful, strong and proud, these young women have taken their place in the spotlight; their voices not only fill the theatre in which they perform, but also embed into the hearts of the audience.

With Riebl’s ability to compose songs that perfectly balance the uplifting joy of running barefoot on the land with the confronting realities of Indigenous deaths in custody and FIFO suicides, Spinifex Gum is a journey that is topical and politically charged but leaves you feeling uplifted and empowered for change.

Along with Riebl and McGill, guests including Peter Garrett, Emma Donovan and Briggs made appearances to perform with Marilya at the show at Her Majesty’s Theatre, throwing their wisdom and weight behind the young choir. Despite being crowd-drawers in their own right, each of the guests took their place here as support artists; their appearances were quietly phased in and out, receiving well-deserved recognition from the audience but never over-shadowing the real stars of the show.

Donovan’s voice soared, provoking goose-bumps as she sang with the girls in Yindjibarndi (many of the lyrics in the performance were sung in the First Nation language), while Garret beautifully complemented the choir without out-shining them – even when performing an arrangement of Midnight Oil’s “The Dead Heart”.

Briggs took the energy levels up a notch with some hard truths about the over-representation of Indigenous youth in prisons. Riebl also lent his voice to highlight the injustices in “the system” with the song “Ms Dhu”, written after the coronial inquiry into the death in custody of 22-year-old Indigenous woman Julieka Dhu.

With a soundtrack created from samples, sounds and references to recordings taken from the land, along with piano accompaniment from McGill and the projection of stunning video footage from the Pilbara, Spinifex Gum is a true collaborative work that is breathtaking and uniquely Australian.

The immediate standing ovation and whole-hearted applause that came at the end of the show is testimony to the fact that it absolutely hit the mark.

Spinifex Gum was presented for one night only at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Learn more about the Spinifex Gum project and album here, and read more InDaily Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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