I came home from the Music Festival with all the colour, sound and activity swirling inside my head, that I had witnessed in Nannup over the weekend… Perhaps even more … as I tried to hold onto the memory and meaning of so many magical moments and process my own viewing of them, it was like a sensory kaleidoscope. Attempting to unjumble the patchwork of interwoven, eclectic experiences was almost impossible but the easiest way is the same in thought as in reality – to step away from the main stage areas, which pulled crowds and dominated the airwaves, and focus in on the periphery of the festival, the multitude of smaller sights and sounds and yes, the very humanity that makes this long weekend such an incredibly memorable place to be.
Down the road between the main part of town and the riverside park and amphitheatre, crowds of people wander between the mix of markets and information stalls. Colourful marquees full of bright clothing and handmade jewellery, nature based attire and innovative creations rub shoulders with tents offering healing, musical instruments (I saw a man selling hand carved lyres and offering workshops to carve your own and learn to play – oh how tempting that felt to me), drumming workshops, and political parties! A man rolled an orb ball around with barely a touch of his hands, as if it was suspended in mid air, while the children and parents gathered to watch and hands twitched with the desire to try it. On roadsides, children were busking, with their hats or guitar cases on the ground before them, catching spare change from appreciative passers-by. A young girl played violin, across the road, a small boy played guitar…. On the street corner, three friends sang together, having fun as much as harmony. Further up the road, two boys busked, one playing a guitar, the other standing on his head (with a cushion) waving his legs in time to the music. It was all happening. And it was heartwarming to see the children expressing themselves musically in such a friendly, receptive place where the crowds were so laid back, at ease and friendly.
I stood back and quietly witnessed the various children busking, feeling such emotion at their courage and talents, and the simple joy of seeing children allowed to participate in the spirit of the musical event, without fear of judgment or insecurity.
Nobody was rushing, people moved leisurely, and all had smiles on their faces and a relaxed softening of shoulders. The weekday stresses, the normal day to day troubles were all left behind to attend this event. That was really obvious!
Everywhere the tents, campervans and trailers were parked haphazardly, squashed in beneath the tall trees, and the visitors were soaking up the energy of the town and the music. Nobody seemed angry or stressed. Everyone was accepted and accepting. Everyone belonged. It felt like one big community of those who loved music, creativity and nature. The food and drink vans were in constant demand and it was great to see so many of them with natural or organic offerings, or homemade food, though the slushy and fairy floss vans were doing a roaring trade with the kids!
What can I say? The energy was so calm and peaceful and all about people coming together to celebrate music in the beautiful hills and forests of Nannup. I was very aware of the community feel to this festival, and the strength of those who had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organize and pull it together. To emphasize the fact, Phaedra rode past on her pushbike and stopped to check on someone – perspiring in the scorching sun, running between stalls and stages, performers and participants, messages, instructions, assistance, ensuring everything was running smoothly – she symbolized the team of hardworking community members who were out there in all corners of the festival- some in the public eye, but even more behind the scenes, creating a successful experience for others to enjoy.
As I walked up the street, I watched a young man playing the hang, his fingers racing across the steel surface evoking the most uplifting, soulful but energetic melody. It was mesmerizing. If you have never seen or heard this instrument being played, you should check it out. Although I was familiar with the music of Samjjana, and Maia’s soulfelt playing of the hang, (it is an instrument I absolutely love,) I had not seen the hang played in the manner of this young man, Sam. I stayed, captivated, until he packed up ready to move on. But then a woman approached him and asked if she could sing with him. It was a bold request, considering the nature of his form of music. I waited to see what would happen. He got out the hang and she sat cross legged in front of him on the road, and opened her mouth and poured out her soul. I was not sure what to expect, so it came as a shock. Her voice was so pure and filled with passion, it came straight from the heart, and mingled with the beautiful notes of the hang as if their sounds were two long lost friends reunited across time. With her eyes closed, her hands moved as if drawing on some invisible ancient language. There were no words, just a pure language channeled from somewhere far beyond down into this tree lined street full of festival goers.
I flicked on my video camera and stood still, stunned at the meeting of these two channels of beautiful energy….. this young man Sam calling forth the melody of the universe with his fingers dancing lightly across the surface of the hang, and this woman Deborah delivering the purest song of spirit, right from her heart. My eyes stung with tears that overflowed from my own heart’s response.
The crowd gathered and stood in awe as this amazing spectacle unfolded, there on the humble streets of Nannup. As the music ended, people stood in silence, aware that they had just witnessed something quite magical – experienced an amazing gift. I felt the tears and recognized them in other eyes around me. It was difficult to describe but I knew something had flooded through me while in the presence of that music…. As I glanced around me at those who had gathered, I could see I was not the only one feeling this way.
Then there were smiles all around. Debra informed us that she was a healer, that she used song as a method for channeling healing in its purest form. She told us what I realized already – that everyone present had just received a gift of healing. And although Sam may not have realized it at the time, his own unique offering of music was a healing gift too, and together these two strangers had met and manifested the most amazing power that was shared with strangers and carried away out into the world, ripples that I knew would last forever. I watched them talk and hoped that somehow they would find a way to perform or record music together as the world could certainly use more of what they had to offer.
Miss M was with me at this point and feeling very tired and unwell, with a sore throat, blocked nose and a sleepless night hanging over her, as well as the nerves of her impending performance in the children’s talent quest. I mentioned this to Debra who offered to do a healing on her right there and then. And so it was, this stranger put her hands on my daughter’s throat and sang a healing song. It seemed very natural to me, though Missy M was shooting me some killer looks as if to say “get me out of here”. I could tell she was a little embarrassed but to be honest, I don’t think anyone even noticed this small ceremony happening on the footpath behind the crowds. After that it was time for an icecream and Miss M seemed lighter than ever with the energy she had received. So did I, for that music had become a part of me.
Down by the river, beneath the amphitheatre and the main crowds, an amazing event was unfolding on Saturday. As the beautiful melodies of a female vocalist drifted up the river valley, the Friends of the Blackwood erected a large marquee with displays about the river ecology, and the beauty and fragility of the natural environment and waterways of the region, together with added information about the Helms Forest issue, the Black Cockatoos, and the need to stop logging old growth forests. But the most powerful part of this display was the genuine sharing of the local Wardandi people, who spent Saturday creating a sand mandala to portray their stories and culture with iconic symbols in coloured ochres. This would be the corroboree ground for the night’s final dance.
The Cultural display was dedicated to the matriarchal Grandmother Vilma Webb who had passed away a week before. Within the display tent, was a memorial table with images and stories commemorating this much loved lady whose family were this weekend mourning her loss, yet celebrating the culture and the love of family and land, that she had upheld and instilled in each of them. The magnificent sand mandala featured iconography from Burial Stones (Teaching Stones) to highlight the story of life and transition to the Spirit World. In the sand figures were depicted pointing the way between one world and the other, with the rainbow serpent weaving through the wind and the stars, and over the ocean, for whom the Wardandi people are named.
Children sat on mats on the earth to paint rocks with iconography – stones that would then be placed in the Reconciliation Garden, higher up the river banks, another special way to share creativity and form a lasting reminder of all hands and hearts together as one in nature’s garden. Children sat to have their faces painted by other children, with ochre in the traditional manner, or lined up to learn spear throwing (Guess who had to duck once when walking down the track feeling hot and tired and not watching where I was going! I walked in front of a line of spear throwers and could have ended up being the rather unwilling or unpalatable prey at the end of the day’s hunt!)
At midday Saturday, the Nyungar men and women performed a small dance ceremony on a secondary mandala, to the sound of Josh (Koomal) on the didgeridoo and drums. Josh played both instruments so perfectly all the while holding his small son on his lap. As Father and son bonded within the music, a small hand reached up to hold the didgeridoo his Father was playing. The powerful pulse of the didgeridoo did not miss a beat.
As the day wore on, the heat and humidity was pretty overpowering, so everyone headed for shade and water bottles and desperately sought out any hint of a breeze. Luckily the Blackwood channeled some breeze down the valley which was a certain relief.
A nine year old boy shyly approached the members of the Wardandi people with his father, and showed his own didgeridoo that he had been given and learned to play in the Kimberleys. At their invitation, he played it and blew every one away with his mastery of the circular breathing and tonal ranges of this fascinating instrument. He was gifted a traditional tool from the display to honour his visit and sharing.
Saturday evening was the grand Corroboree on the mandala. Excitement seemed to grow as children painted one another in preparation for the event. In the shade, a small girl painted stripes of white and tan ochre on her cousin’s legs, the brush poised delicately in her little hands, a smile of accomplishment on her face at the completion of each section. Adults adorned the young ones with traditional headgear, dress and feathers, and painted small faces, before painting each other. The preparations were a glimpse into another world, one that has endured since long before European settlement. Small boys chased one another around the tent, laughing, teasing and playing, their excitement at being in traditional attire and paint, a beautiful sight to see, though perhaps not for the parents who were trying to keep them under some form of control before the ceremony!
As the sound of the didgeridoo and drums rose above the river valley, people came down from the festival grounds above, and gathered to watch the ceremony. The Nyungar women circled the mandala first, sweeping the earth with peppi fronds, cleansing the area ready for the dance. Then they began sweeping the whole mandala area, spreading the coloured ochres into the sand and initiating the closing down of the powerful energy portal generated by the circular design. Their dance was vibrant and symbolic, and flowed on with the dance of the men and the boys, their movements telling stories, acting out elements of their traditional way of life, the hunt, the celebration, their spirituality, their lives.
The crowd joined in for a final dance – from little things, big things grow – and as the dust rose, the bare feet stamped away last traces of the mandala, arms waves expressively, and smiles stretched across faces and laughter could be heard. One man got up with his crutches and danced. A woman with a tiny baby danced and celebrated the life sung in by the river. The energy rose up higher than the dust and the feelings of joyful celebration settled over the riverbanks and all who were there.
Meanwhile, the music continued into the warm Autumn night on Saturday, and the crowds relaxed and soaked up the peaceful energy of artists sharing. The same continued on Sunday, with more song, more dance, more displays. More fascinating and amazing sights!
Down the street a man riding a large pink pig wandered, paying his guitar and singing. A group of very tall “blue ladies” sashayed through the crowd with their purple rinses, plum in mouth accents and baskets of silver teaspoons, performing, as one described to me, “teaspoon readings” to heal the world and resolve the problems of those in it. I couldn’t help but grin at them, as they mingled and delighted the crowds, and asked about them. They were a group from the Hairball Theatre company in Denmark, there to raise awareness for their group. They, hairy legs and blue powdered noses, certainly got my attention!
Acrobats performed, a juggler entertained the crowd with his skills, a beautiful bellydancer shared her sensual movements with a gathering circle of onlookers, especially the men! In the childrens area, painted Nannup Tigers mingled and entertained and tireless workers kept the younger people busy and happy. A fairy told stories and had the children dancing. A large purple dragon boldly wandered in to delight the kids some more. That dragon had my sympathy – not only having to wait around in the intense heat of the sun in that heavy costume, but to have to walk through the crowds with limited vision and then dance for them! Another hero in my eyes! In the “Playground” the children gathered for their talent quest, with entrants ranging from small girls who came boldly on stage to do the splits to a drum roll and then walk off, young teens who danced, leaped and lip synced their way through favourite pop songs (one could only imagine the ongoing mischief at home with the music cranked up, or the state of their bedrooms!), earnest boys with their bands, and then, the highlight of the day – one young girl who had the crowd in stunned awe as she delivered the most haunting and breathtaking rendition of “Hallelujah”. (Thank you Emily Lambert!) The crowd stood or sat mesmerized, mouths slightly open, and I heard more than one person comment “What is she doing singing at Nannup, she should be on X Factor! “ It was a goosebumps moment for sure. I could only shake my head in amazement at such a strong and beautiful voice and her delivery of this powerful song. I felt I had just witnessed the early rise of an incredible star. Miss M, standing beside me whispered totally alarmed, “I hope I don’t have to get up and sing next after her!!” I felt the same, as this girl’s talent shone so bright it would have paled everyone else into insignificance. As luck would have it however, Miss M WAS called upon next to sing, but her style and song was totally different, and although she was tired and unwell, she got up and sang her Taylor Swift song “Red” admirably. And was rewarded with a prize for it along with the other talented young people who were all winners because they got up and had a go! The highlight of her day was spending some time chatting with the talented Emily, and realizing she was just a quiet, unassuming girl who loved to sing as much as Miss M did and was someone my daughter really wanted to be friends with. Not to mention, be inspired by!
Later in the afternoon, the emerging talent awards were held, and it was one sensational and gifted performer after another. I wish I could have been in several places at once, because I did not wish to miss a thing. It was exciting to see so much talent. My friend’s daughter Iona Jane, a self taught musician and singer, waited nervously in the shade for her act, surrounded by family and friends to support her. To cheers from the audience, she sang a song she wrote herself, and all I could think of was “where are the talent scouts! She should be recording!” More amazing talent!! I did not get to see the band that won this competition but all I can say is they must have been outstanding!
Again, into the evening, the sounds of cheers and applause from crowds, the music rising through the trees and touching the night sky, and the relief of a cool breeze sighing in after a hot day, seemed to be the enduring mark of the festival, a lasting memory that filled the senses and restored equilibrium and peace of mind. And left me with no doubt in my mind, that next year I would be back for more.
So as I drove home on the Sunday evening, after a second full day, with feet so sore I could barely place them on the ground, and hot and dirty and tired, I knew that it worth every bit of my discomfort. I had experienced so many amazing moments, sights, sounds and people and the overwhelming feeling I took away with me was of community spirit and creativity…. Very talented and creative people and the community that supported and illuminated them.