Shellie Morris and the Borroloola Songwomen
Music in Communities Awards, Overall Winner: 2012
Location: Borroloola, NT
Over the last 15 years Shellie Morris has been the most prolific Indigenous contemporary singer-songwriter delivering music development activity to Indigenous communities. She has worked in more than 80 remote and urban Indigenous communities delivering music workshops in song writing, singing, arranging, composing and performance to Indigenous children, young people, adults and elders from Cape York in Far North Queensland to Tasmania, from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to the Pitjantjatjara lands of South Australia and from the Kimberley region to the Ngaanyatjarra lands in Western Australia.
The significant thing about it is that it works with the elders - the keepers of culture - to sustain the culture, keeping alive and passing on to others both the language and the music. Working with people to engage their memory and tap into their rich knowledge is incredibly intimate. The real skill here is that through this intimate process the knowledge gets passed on to a wider audience, as a gift. The project has been well conceived, packaged beautifully, and followed through – not stopped and started. If this is not a celebration of what music can do, what is?!
In 2011 and 2012 the Song Peoples Sessions returned Shellie Morris to Borroloola in the Northern Territory, the country of her maternal grandmother, Hilda Muir, who was part of the Stolen Generations. As a child Shellie had been adopted by a non-indigenous family and grew up in Sydney not knowing of her Yanyuwa, Gudanji, Marra and Garrwa families and elders whom she would reconnect with on the Song Peoples Sessions where she recorded a collaborative album with over 11 of her elders, the Borroloola Songwomen as custodians of her own ancient Indigenous song cycles.
The elder Borroloola Songwomen recounted stories of travelling in canoes between the Gulf Country Islands as children and attending the ceremonies of their elders where they first heard the traditional ceremonial singing.
Each of these elder women were supported to sing their traditional song cycles which culminated in approximately 60 traditional songs being recorded for the CD including translations and narratives of the songs. Importantly the project profiled each of the elder songwomen and supported them to tell their own musical history and biographies.
The women shared their stories of first hearing the ancient songs and remembered fondly the elders since passed away, who had patiently taught them the songs over many years in the same way that they now share these songs with the younger generations.
See the Song Peoples Sessions blog at songpeoples.tumblr.com