• The eldest choir member was 93. (Kerry Trapnell (CIAF))Source: Kerry Trapnell (CIAF)
Many of the songs have rarely been heard outside of the communities.
Ella Archibald-Binge

The Point
16 Jul 2019 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2019 - 9:55 AM

First Nations choirs from across Cape York and the Torres Strait have come together for a world first performance in Cairns. 

Choirs from Yarrabah, Wujal Wujal, Hope Vale and the Torres Strait Islands of Poruma, Masig, Iama, Warraber and Mer took the stage for Cultural Heights - a new fixture at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF).

Mer (Murray Island) choir director Joey Tapau said the performance was a "dream come true".

"Each year when we have CIAF, most of the time all the audience just focuses on the dancing and not on the singers, so this is how the Cultural Heights project came about," he told NITV News.

"It’s overwhelming. No words can describe the feeling that I have right now to see our people singing our languages not only here [on Mer] but on the mainland."

Rarely-heard outside their communities, songs were performed in the traditional languages of Meriam Mir, Gunggandji, Yidinji, Yalanji, Guugu Yimithirr, and Kulkalgal Ya.

"Singing in our language, it really, really means a lot to us and it’s important because it shows our identity, who we are, where we come from," Mr Tapau said.

Performers were a mix of young and old - the eldest 93-years of age.

For Mer singer Nellie Passi, the concert was her first time singing outside her community.

"When I sing with the group, it makes me proud," she said.

"You can feel yourself inside, you get emotional and that... get all goosebumps on you. [There's] very deep meaning when you sing language, sing your own mother tongue."

The songs struck a similarly emotional chord for audience members, many of whom were hearing the songs for the first time since moving away from their communities.

"It brought back cultural memories of how and where we grew up," one Thursday Island man told NITV News. "It was very, very emotional."

Many are now hoping the event will become a regular fixture at CIAF. 

– Watch the performance on NITV's The Point (Ch34) 8.30pm ,Wednesday. 

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