Celebrating NAIDOC Week & Archie Roach’s Induction Into The ARIA Hall Of Fame

Celebrating NAIDOC Week & Archie Roach’s Induction Into The ARIA Hall Of Fame

archie roach
Archie Roach. Photo by ANOEK DE GROOT/AFP via Getty Images.

In the first of a series of pieces celebrating NAIDOC week, we are pleased beyond belief to be able to tell you that Archie Roach has finally been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

To celebrate this occasion and the work of one of the most profound and soulful singers and songwriters this country has ever produced, we're also thrilled to be able to share some recently uploaded videos of some of his classic early recordings. These are beautiful visions to accompany beautiful songs - enjoy.

“Took The Children Away”

From Archie's classic Paul Kelly & Steve Connolly-produced debut Charcoal Lane, which is 30 years old this year. If there has been a song that has influenced Australia's national dialogue as much as this, I'd like to know what it is. In addition to being a song that addresses one of this country's greatest shames, it is a beautiful song, beautifully sung, full of powerful human imagery and one that surely has the power to resonate in some way with every single person who hears it. There is something in this song to comfort everybody who has ever felt the pain of separation or disconnection, or the helplessness of injustice.

“Down City Streets” 

Also from Charcoal Lane, and written by Archie's late partner, the wonderful Ruby Hunter, who also appears in the video. Like the album's title track (which is named after a back lane off Gertrude Street in Collingwood), "Down City Streets" tells of Archie and Ruby's early life on the streets. Another beautiful, haunting melody, given wings by the light touch of the instrumentation and the couple's sweet voices. As a person who has never not had a home, but who is a parent, the final verses, so plainly worded and sharply observed, never fail to give me goosebumps. Such, of course, is the universality of Archie and Ruby's music.   

“From Paradise” 

From Archie's second album Jamu Dreaming, which was produced by Not Drowning, Waving's David Bridie and which brought a slightly more art music-like sensibility to Archie's music than what was heard in his rootsy earlier work. Another song that speaks of forced separation and ensuing neglect, "From Paradise" also speaks of something lost in that separation, beyond the love of a family, which is the connection to country. The "paradise" that is lost is beautifully depicted in the video.

“Walking Into Doors” 

The second single from Jamu Dreaming was never likely to receive a lot of airplay, as it was confrontational in a way that could not be ignored even by those in mainstream Australian culture who mistakenly felt that the issues Archie sang about belonged to the past. It addressed domestic violence; specifically as it occurs in Indigenous communities. But as society has slowly come to address in the 28 years since Archie took his stand, it clearly is a universal problem. Despite his anger at the issue, Archie remains inclusive in the way he addresses the song, and is not attempting to shame anybody: "My brother, don't hurt her any more... She's sick and tired of walking into doors".

“A Child Was Born Here”

Archie's third album, 1997's Looking For Butterboy, is a personal favourite of mine, for the beautiful sun-dappled tones of the stringed instruments (which got back to what Paul Kelly and Steve Connolly had helped Archie achieve on the first album) and Archie's beautiful melodies. The harmonies are special too. It may be because the album's Canadian producer Malcolm Burn had just recently played on Emmylou Harris's iconic Wrecking Ball album (he would later produce Emmylou's Red Dirt Girl), but I often imagine Emmylou singing some of these songs. Indeed I think Archie's melodies are perfect for her. "A Child Was Born Here" speaks of the special connection between the land and childbirth in Indigenous cultures, and is another song that cannot fail to affect anyone who has parented a child. You want evidence that Archie is the most remarkable and singular soul singer that this country has ever produced you need look no further than this one.

“Alien Invasion” 

Archie stepped away from more plaintive sounds with his fourth album Sensual Being. Produced by Paul Kelly and Boom Crash Opera's Richard Pleasance, it saw the incorporation of beats and less-cohesive and more broken-down arrangements in a way that anticipated a lot of 21st-century roots music sounds. An attempt to draw analogies between the arrival of Europeans on original Australians and a more X-Files-typical alien landing, the song does make its point, but it doesn't really play to Archie's strengths and is, fortunately, something of an anomaly in Archie's repertoire. Subsequent recordings found Archie returning to what he does best. To this day, he continues to make beautifully affecting and powerfully resonant work that bears witness to his status as one of the truly great artists of our time.     

All of Archie Roach’s classic early work for Aurora/Mushroom, together with selected demos and live material, is available on the 2013 collection Creation.

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