The Song Keepers directed by first-time filmmaker Naina Sen screened in Melbourne on the weekend and saw 32 Aboriginal women from Central Australia perform live after the film. Even as some shed tears, the choir's voices rose to fill the theatre, singing to a packed house. The audience rose after each song in a standing ovation, and even requesting an encore at the end.
The film explores how in remote Central Australia, a musical legacy of ancient Aboriginal languages, sacred poetry and baroque music is being preserved by several generations of women. This unique ensemble embarks on a historic tour of Germany to take back hymns that were given to their great grandparents by German missionaries. The group sings sacred music in Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages, two living Aboriginal languages of the Northern Territory and South Australia.
The event, held by Melbourne International Film Festival also included a Q&A for the audience to discover more about the women’s journeys. The audience was interested in knowing more about preserving languages, culture and Aboriginal spirituality and discussing future plans for international performances, including up coming events in India. As some of the women don’t speak English there were questions and answers in both English and Pitjantjatjara languages.
The crowd described the atmosphere as ‘moving’ and ‘emotional’ after watching both the film and the performance as they were enabled a personal insight into the stories of the women. Dressed in beautiful long silk gowns, covered with rich traditional prints, the women embodied culture, heritage, and Aboriginal pride, themes that are also echoed throughout The Song Keepers.
“It was a freezing cold day with rain spitting down. Everyone was queuing up to get in the theatre and as soon as we entered the foyer, we were welcomed by the majestic sound of the choir. In their striking costumes, welcomed us in out of the cold and we felt an immense sense of warmth just being there with them,” one guest remarked.
Together the group of women share not only their talent and passion for music, but also their personal stories of cultural survival, identity and cross-cultural collaboration in a bid to inspire, empower and educate people across Australia.