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Spotlight: The power of song in Bega

Around 3,000 people flocked to this year’s Giiyong Festival for a day of music, dance, performance and Aboriginal culture.

Led by Bega Valley Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) partner South East Arts, the family friendly, alcohol and drug free Festival brought together the whole community.

It was also the launch pad for the Djamaga Music: Songs from the South Coast album, an exciting project initiated by the LDAT to engage the whole community in the spirit of reconciliation – strengthening cultural and community ties.

Partners on this LDAT project include Twofold Aboriginal Corporation, Merrimans Land Council, a local high school and a local music school.

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Their challenge

The Aboriginal community in the south-east NSW region faces challenges such as a lack of jobs, health issues and isolation. These inequalities grew during COVID when many people could not see their families.

Andrew Gray, Executive Director, South East Arts said that social and cultural inclusion is a key protective factor in the community.

“We wanted to help close the gap in our region. What we have found is the more that Aboriginal people can engage with culture and heritage, and have the opportunity to express themselves creatively, this is the key to them feeling stronger, having more pride and limiting the use of alcohol and other drugs."

“We were aware that there were some talented musicians up and down the coast and … they didn’t have the opportunity to record professionally. We chose to work and support them, as we knew that their music would have a flow on effect to all the community.”

The response

For many cultures, music and song are central to identity, place and belonging. Music is a way for communities to connect and socialise.

The LDAT identified the importance of social inclusion as a key protective factor for the Bega area, and developed its Community Action Plan to address this.

From its experiences working with Aboriginal communities and individuals, the LDAT recognised the role that engagement in arts and culture has in promoting pride, purpose and direction for people's lives, and the way that community comes together in shared events.

The LDAT project gave Aboriginal musicians the chance to write and record original music, and contribute to a CD highlighting local talent.

Prior to the Festival, the project started with song writing and music production workshops to build participants’ self-confidence. The compilation album was named Djamaga which means 'good' in the South Coast Language spoken by Elders.

“Timing-wise we knew that we could produce the CD and then give the musicians the opportunity to perform at the Festival,“ said Andrew.

It was then recorded at Umbarra Cultural Centre and features eight tracks, ranging from rock and country to hip hop and folk/pop.

The artists include students, young adults and a seasoned performer, CJ Leon, widely known as Black Elvis, who has been a role model for younger musicians over many years.

CJ himself knows the power of music to express the human experience, after having performed for so many years.

“When it’s in a song, people listen to it and understand,” he said.

The progress

The Festival has been a springboard for putting short films online and promoting Indigenous musicians, who are the future leaders in their communities.

“We always have on our radar, how we can add value or how one thing can support another,” said Andrew.

CD sales are going well. A digital version of the album can be downloaded online for $15. All proceeds support the Giiyong Festival and associated First Nations projects.

Participating local musicians have enjoyed working with one another to produce their music.

“Recording my music for the CD has given me more confidence to tell the stories that need to be told,” said musician Nikea Brooks-Hayes.

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