• Yolgnu songman Rrawun Maymuru has collaborated with composer Nick Wales on the final movement in the score to Sydney Dance Company's latest work Ocho (Facebook)Source: Facebook
An inspired collaboration between Yolgnu singer Rrawun Maymuru and musician/producer Nick Wales made it's stunning debut last week in the premiere of Sydney Dance Company's latest work, Ocho.
By
Emily Nicol

12 May 2017 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 17 May 2017 - 6:32 PM

The stirring, ethereal and haunting sounds of the track, called Nyapililingu; The Spirit Lady is the final movement of the score of Ocho, a bold and affecting piece by Bonachela, and eight of the Company's dancers which looks at the yearning, loneliness and confusion of modern society as we navigate an urban industrial reality,  tribal compulsions vs individual urges and the desire and loss of community.

With a brilliant set design, capturing claustrophobic societal constraints, the dancers, in urban gear - move together first as a group - like caged animals in a dimmly lit dank box -  nervous and awkward, till one of the group  discovers a door and bursts out on to the open stage in a powerful solo. Unsure of what to make of this sudden movement and freedom, but ultimately drawn to it, the rest of the dancers move out in to the space in their own time, with one dancer left to decide whether to follow the rest of the pack.

"I decided to bring my spirit to this song – That spirit lady, her story is a story that when we pass away, Nyapililingu is the spirit lady that will guide you to the heavens, to the unknown heavens - with the sound of Guwak – the totem..So for example if something happens to me, I know that I got someone there waiting for me, to guide my way to the heavens. Beyond the Milky Way."

The tense, gritty and somewhat oppressive feel of the work is captured brilliantly by Wales (SDC, CODA, Sarah Blasko), a long time collaborator with Bonachela, who told NITV that when he was starting to think about the piece he looked to numerology for inspiration. "The piece (Ocho) is about the number 8 and so I was interested in the numerology, 8 is a number of balance. There’s a very ego driven self-centred power and authority aspect to it. Musically, that is (expressed through) all the really harsh, bold industrial music and the trumpets....and the balancing aspect to that is a very spiritual side, an ethereal, timeless side. So I was looking for a spiritual song to balance the ego driven, power and authority sections in the work." said Wales.

When thinking about a song to balance out the harsh industrial music, the composer thought first of a song from another country, then remembered a singer who had made an impact on him. "The first time I heard Rrawun sing was at the Indigenous Music Awards (NIMA”s) in Darwin several years ago. He started singing and I just got shivers …just shivers all over my body." Wales again saw Maymuru perform at last year's Homeground Festival in Sydney and was introduced to the artist. Not long after the synchronicity of the meeting became apparent." I thought wouldn’t it be beautiful to bring Aboriginal culture in to the work (Ocho) and use a spiritual song from Rrawun's culture...it just felt right and natural. It was a beautiful journey to explore this together, because it was going into the unknown and I think it ‘s come out really beautifully,  I’m so proud of both the collaboration and the music."

Rrawun, who is also the frontman for popular rock group East Journey, says that the timing for him was just right. "Back, about two to three years ago, I said to myself I need to explore another level of music and I was trying to find a person like Nick who knows the technology very well. Back in Yirrkala, we just play guitar, drums rock'n'roll stuff- but this (project) really changed me..now I’ve seen the other world, other part of the music."

The song is an ancient songline from Rrawun’s paternal side the Mangaili Clan. After hearing the story of the piece from Wales and seeing some of the dance himself, Rrawun started to get a clear idea of the story that was unfolding on stage and what was needed to balance it out. "I decided to bring my spirit to this song – That spirit lady, her story is a story that when we pass away, Nyapililingu is the spirit lady that will guide you to the heavens, to the unknown heavens - with the sound of Guwak – the totem..So for example if something happens to me, I know that I got someone there waiting for me, to guide my way to the heavens. Beyond the Milky Way."

The mixing of Wales' emotive electronic soundscape and Rrawun's powerful vocal on this initial track has come together so seamlessly that the two have decided to keep working together. "It Just came together so magically, that sometimes that’s a sign to go ‘let’s see what else might be out there together’. So we have started working here in Sydney on a new song and we are going to be doing some more stuff together which is very exciting." said Wales.

You can see Ocho as part of Sydney Dance Company double bill, showing now until May 27 in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. 

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