Cannot Buy My Soul
Images & Illusions
Eulogy (for a Black Person)
Pillars of Society
Cannot Buy My Soul
Images & Illusions
Eulogy (for a Black Person)
Pillars of Society
Cannot Buy My Soul
Tribute to a great fighter
Carla Gorton | Green Left Weekly | 12 April 2007
Cannot Buy My Soul: The songs of Kev Carmody – Various artists
For 200 years we’ve been beaten down
Too long on the dole
My dignity I’m losing here and mentally I’m old
There’s a system here that nails us, ain’t we left out in the cold
They took our life and liberty friend but
they couldn’t buy our soul.
Joe Hill died, Che Guevara fought and Pemulwuy lay down dead
If a person speaks out critically here you can get loaded down with lead
How long can the majority wait for their story to unfold
They took their life and liberty friend but
they could not buy their soul.
Cannot Buy My Soul is a tribute to Kev Carmody’s outstanding song writing talents. Paul Kelly, who has collaborated with Carmody on many projects, gathered together the John Butler Trio, Bernard Fanning, Missy Higgins, Augie March, The Waifs, The Herd, Archie Roach and many more to record this album. Along with this is a bonus disc of the original recordings by Carmody.
I loved the tribute album, but it was the disc of originals that really brought that strong emotional response you feel when you listen to music that really moves you.
And that is what Carmody has made since he released his debut album Pillars of Society in 1989 – music that moves people and songwriting so laden with stories that few can match it. "Droving Woman", delivered on the album by Augie March, Missy Higgins and Paul Kelly, which plays for eight and a half minutes, is one example, but there are many more, including tracks not selected for this album like "Tom Shane" from the Eulogy album. Hopefully, this album will lead people to Carmody’s other albums and to discover the power of music with a political heart.
Indigenous activists and their supporters have been out on the streets again recently to fight for justice around the issues of Aboriginal deaths at the hands of police. Carmody’s music traces the history of these campaigns.
"River of Tears", performed by The Drones, tells the story of David Gundy, a 32-year-old Aboriginal man who died after being shot by police when he was woken from his sleep during an unlawful raid on his home in Marrickville on April 27, 1989. The police were in fact looking for another man. Gundy was an Aboriginal man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police had no legal right to be in his home, much less to point a loaded and cocked shotgun at him. A coronial inquest found that Gundy had died accidentally and an internal police investigation found that complaints about the police involved could not be sustained.
"The Young Dancer is Dead", performed by The Last Kinection, highlights the fate of 18-year-old Daniel Yock, who in November 1993 was picked up from a street in Brisbane and taken in a paddy wagon to the Brisbane watchhouse. He was dead on arrival. In April 1994, the Criminal Justice Commission in Queensland found the six police officers who arrested Daniel Yock were not responsible for his death.
The John Butler Trio, who performed with Carmody at the Make Poverty History concert in Melbourne on November 17, present a great version of "Thou Shalt Not Steal". Bernard Fanning puts his stamp on "Elly". Troy Cassar-Daley, performing "On the Wire", and Archie Roach, singing the title song, are outstanding. Sara Storer’s version of "Moonstruck" made me appreciate the beauty of this song all over again. "Darkside" somehow seemed to have been written especially for Tex Perkins to perform.
One of the highlights of the album for me is The Herd’s version of "Comrade Jesus Christ". As Shannon Kennedy from The Herd explained on the February 12 episode of Message Stick on SBS, "The context that Kev’s put the lyrics in, it’s not about religion or about Christianity, I think it’s more about being an activist."
This is an album for activists. It is also an album for musicians, and those who love a range of musical styles. And it is an album with soul. Despite the fact that Carmody’s performing has been hindered by arthritis and physical pain of recent years, brought on by many years of labouring work in his youth, hand cutting cane and carrying wheat bags (that’s another yarn all of its own), here’s hoping that we can look forward to future releases and collaborations down the track. Some of Carmody’s recent projects have included the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Wave Hill walk off at Kalkaringi and the Nganampa Music Project with musicians from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytiatiara Lands.
Carmody’s Deep Connections
The Courier-Mail | 21 February 2007
GREAT artists do not simply come from the one direction.
They draw down deep from their own experience, their insights are wide-reaching, their perspectives varied, they won’t be constrained by what audiences expect of them. They grow, they mature.
Name your art form and you can cite examples. In music, famously: Bob Dylan, Neil Young. And in Australia, Paul Kelly. They have written protest songs, folk songs, country songs, rock songs, angry songs, spiritual songs, songs that are all about the words; others that are more about the sounds that run through them.
Trying to define them as "protest singers" or "folk singers" is worse than useless.
Darling Downs-raised Aboriginal songwriter Kev Carmody is an artist like that, and this new album featuring performances of his songs by Australian performers as varied as The Waifs, Bernard Fanning, The Drones, Steve Kilbey, The Herd and Missy Higgins outlines the breadth of his songwriting achievement.
There’s Thou Shalt Not Steal, a powerful reaction to white hypocrisy from a black perspective, interpreted here by John Butler Trio, capturing the heart and guts of the original with undoubtedly the strongest recorded performance of Butler’s career.
Inevitably, there is anger: see The Last Kinection’s hip-hop version of The Young Dancer is Dead, about the death in custody of Brisbane dancer Daniel Yock. And dark despair, in Tex Perkins’s Darkside, with feral kids on the loose amid drink, drugs and sex.
But there is tenderness, too, in Clare Bowditch’s reading of the beautifully observed Blood Red Rose, and a sense of pride, grace and strength in the face of adversity from Archie Roach on Cannot Buy My Soul.
One of Carmody’s themes across the four albums he has released since 1989 has been the healing, spiritual power of the land, not just for Aboriginal people but all Australians. That is reflected here, in songs such as Dan Kelly’s I’ve Been Moved, Sara Storer’s Moonstruck and Troy Cassar-Daley’s On the Wire, in which a heroin addict hauls himself back to the care of his people and home country. Extraordinary.
Not enough people know about Carmody, or only know of him as co-author of From Little Things Big Things Grow with Paul Kelly. This album, which features a second CD of Carmody’s powerful performances of the same material, will help remedy that.
But I urge anyone who cares about music, who cares about who we are, where we come from and where we are going, to do one thing. Go to a record store post-haste, or ring a radio station, and ask to hear Droving Woman, all 21 verses and nine minutes of it, sung in turn by Glenn Richards of Augie March, Paul Kelly and Missy Higgins.
All of it is true, assembling stories that Carmody lived, heard or observed in his years as a drover in the Queensland bush.
If you can hear it without wonder, without a tear, without feeling a connection to this country . . . well, there’s no helping you.
Is it any good? Henry Lawson couldn’t have written it any better. And these performances from three of our most distinctive voices have to be heard to be believed.
Stars sing out in praise of the king of soulful protest
The Age | March 17, 2007
Photo: Simon Schluter
Striking a chord: old friends and mutual fans Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody strum along in Kelly’s back yard.
Kev Carmody never forgets how to treat people.
"You gotta be gentle," his Aboriginal grandmother taught him, "like moonlight comin’ on your skin."
He strokes his arm and grins sideways at his mate, Paul Kelly, who registers the campfire poetry with an appreciative nod.
It was partly the two songwriters’ mutual passion for the indelible visual language of storytellers that drew them together, backstage at Sydney’s Homebush Stadium sometime in the late ’80s.
"It was probably a Rock Against Racism concert," Kelly says, as they rummage through their memories, "or Building Bridges maybe …"
Neither slogan has the enduring resonance of the first song they wrote together, From Little Things Big Things Grow, which tells the eight-year-long story of the Gurindji land claim on the Wave Hill cattle station in a dozen vivid scenes and a singalong chorus.
That story is retold by platinum-selling folk trio the Waifs on Cannot Buy My Soul, a new Kev Carmody tribute album conceived and coordinated by Kelly in a bid to bring one of his favourite artists some overdue recognition.
Other high-profile contributors include John Butler, Missy Higgins, Tex Perkins, consecutive AMP Award winners the Drones and Augie March, and ARIA’s reigning queen and king of pop, Clare Bowditch and Bernard Fanning.
"I approached popular artists ’cause I wanted a much wider audience," Kelly says.
"Bernard sells a lot of records. But he’s also a Queenslander, so he knew Kev. And I knew he’d be compatible."
Carmody’s songbook is rich with the soil he grew up on. His mother was Murri; is father a drover of Irish descent who took the family to Queensland’s barren south in 1950, when Carmody was four.
"The ground was like this," he says, stamping his foot on the timber deck of Kelly’s backyard, "but at least it was a base and there was an old dirt-floor hut that was built before the war."
They stayed there until ’56, in a slightly uneasy state of isolation.
"They were taking the children away then, so we were dodging the bloody coppers, we were dodging the priests," Carmody recalls with humour.
"As soon as we saw a car, we were instructed to run straight into the bush and not come out till one of your relatives come and got you."
From the age of 10, he was schooled by nuns in Toowoomba, and only there met the clash of cultures that would inform some of his darkest songs. Others – I’ve Been Moved, Moonstruck, This Land Is Mine, Droving Woman – are formed of more remote memories, as valuable and lyrical as any Henry Lawson enshrined.
Carmody reports with satisfaction something Missy Higgins said of her selection, Droving Woman, a spellbinding ballad she shares with Augie March and Kelly.
"She said ‘It’s like this ancient world we don’t know about’. That’s the beauty of this (album). The next generation is taking it on. These new bands like the Last Kinection, the Herd, they’ve made these songs their own. It’s part of the oral tradition and that’s what I always thought: at least if I put it down in song, it’ll be there for the next generation."
Both his Murri grandparents and his Irish-born grandmother were crucial to his creative evolution, he says. "Granny Carmody lived till she was 96 and she could sing hundreds of Irish songs, accompanied by the rubber end of her walking stick.
"My (Aboriginal) grandfather was born in the bush near Capetown (in the late 1800s), and he always taught us kids to be attuned to all sound.
"He knew five Aboriginal languages plus English and he said: ‘It’s one thing to know human language, but unless you know the language of crocodiles and dingos, you’re never gonna survive’."
It was from this grandfather that Carmody took his first cues as a storyteller. "He was an old lore man and he said (Europeans had) had come to the country with 10 of the best laws you could have, the Ten Commandments, but they broke every one of them. ‘So when you get to school, you gotta tell ‘em’," he said.
Accordingly, one of his first songs was Thou Shalt Not Steal. It was a bitter land rights tirade on his first album of 1987, Pillars of Society, a record that kicked hard against the entrenched oppression of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland – too hard for mainstream ears.
"Johnny Butler called me up to get some background on it," Carmody says, "and I said: ‘You’re not doin’ that one, John? That’s one way to stop your career dead in its bloody tracks!’ He said: ‘No, it’s gotta be done’."
And so it is, with every word of its 200-year-long story faithfully intact, but with Butler’s expressive slide guitar adding the sweetness requisite to 21st century radio.
"Yeah, I shoulda learned how to do it," Carmody grins.
"This mob showed me how to do it. I shoulda put a little more of this in it," he says, shaking a packet of artificial sweetener on the table.
"After all my political and union work, you just say it as it is."
Cannot Buy My Soul is out through EMI.
Cannot Buy My Soul: the songs of Kev Carmody
Jen Jewel Brown
The executive producer of Cannot Buy My Soul, Paul Kelly, is to be commended. For here, in the guise of a double CD of Kev Carmody covers and original versions, we find a great collection of raw-edged Australian folk in all its ascendant glory.
Anyone who copped the Make Poverty History concert or managed, like me, to see it second hand via a free DVD that came with the Herald Sun, would have caught a rare hit of Carmody and Kelly together, doing their co-write "From Little Things Big Things Grow".
Well, the charisma, the power of Carmody just slaps you like a bucket of cold water in a drunk’s face. He’s our black Bob Dylan, as important as Johnny Cash. There are plenty of tough stories of dirt-in-the-mouth murder and betrayal here, along with beautiful, heart-strumming lullabies.
Born to a Murri mother and an Irish father, Carmody spent early nights listening to hillbilly songs sung round the campfires of the mustering camps of the Darling Downs, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood crackling from a dry cell radio up a tree.
The first CD features Carmody’s songs well covered by Dan and Paul Kelly, The Waifs, Bernard Fanning, John Butler Trio, The Drones, Archie Roach, Sara Storer, Dan Sultan and Scott Wilson, Tex Perkins, Clare Bowditch, The Herd, Steve Kilbey, national treasures The Pigrim Brothers, plus Augie March, Missy Higgins, Troy Cassar-Daley and The Last Kinection. The second CD features the originals, and it must be said these feature some of Australia’s finest musicians, and they still thunder with virility, fine arrangements and wind and string-driven things. And age hath not wearied them at all.
Cannot Buy My Soul – the Campfire Storyteller – Pat Whyte Campfire Storyteller PDF (609kb)
The return of Australia’s most articulate indigenous voice
Kev Carmody is a bit of a legend in Oz. The son of an Aboriginal mother and an irish father, he released a debut albulm in 1988, Pillars of Society, that was unlike anything previously heard from black Australia. Instead of the country/rock/reggae being pumped out at the time by most Aboriginal bands, Carmody’s songs were thoughtful folk-based stories with insightful, politically aware lyrics. Tunes like ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ and the blistering titles track quickly established him as a powerful new voice in Australian Indigenous music. His iconic 1993 duet with Aussie troubadour Paul Kelly, ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ is still rightly considered a national classic.
Carboy has been slowed down in recent years by chronic arthritis, and Mirrors (also available from www.kevcarmody.com.au) is his first collection of new material since 1995, but thankfully his lyrical fire still burns. Experimenting with a number of styles outside the restrictive ‘folk’ tag, Carboy pokes fun at modern technology in ‘Are You Connected’, mourns the treatment of asylum seekers on ‘Refugees’ and savagely lambastes George Bush on ‘Dubya Love Ya’.
Carboy’s greatest gift, however, remains his ability to evoke the unique Australian landscape. He checks out a ‘Georgina River’ waterhole, drives the late night back-roads on ‘Comin’ Home’, pulls over to stare at the desert skies in ‘Milky Way’, and listens to howling dingoes in the gorgeous ‘Moonstruck’. On the instrumental ‘Campfire Rain’, croaking frogs and the ambience of an approaching storm are laid over simple acoustic strumming and minimalist harmonica.
Mirrors confirms that while the body may be a little less active these days, Carboy’s astute mind is still more than capable of creating crucial songs that highlight relevant social issues and conveys his deep respect for the land.
New Internationist 367 May 2004
Being described as Australia’s Bob Dylan could be a hard tag to live up to, but singer/songwriter Kev Carmody has the vision and the versatility that’s always marked the American’s career. It was 1990′s blistering Pillars of Society that put Carmody – and his impassioned songs around Aboriginal rights on the map. The success of Pillars, and subsequent albums such as Bloodlines, was also a wake-up call to many who knew nothing of the ‘stolen generation’ – Carmody himself was taken from his family aged 10.
Now Mirrors, released with an eye on elections in both Australia and the US, picks up the torch. It’s an attractively direct release; Carmody’s opener,’Dirty Dollar’, sets up a simple but effective dualism between globalization and the concept of a ‘pristine land’. ‘Are you Connected?’ – Its electronic voices almost straying into Laurie Anderson territory – wonders about isolation in the age of mass communication. ‘Refugees’ could be addressed to disposed Aboriginal people as well as Australia’s new asylum seekers.
While these, and other subjects, receive the benefit of Carmody’s eloquence, the real charge lies in their delivery. Mirrors – an album Carmody describes as techno/funk/punk/grunge – matches style and content in surprising ways. It’s fun and adventurous but many may feel that Mirrors works best in its contemplative moments: ‘Campfire Rain" with it’s crackling logs and deluge, or the dignified, hymnal pace of ‘Georgina River". It’s here that Mirrors really gives a sense of transcendence.
Kev Carmody is back!
Kev Carmody has been much missed since his last original album release, 1995′s Images and Illusions. While his live performances continued, some of us were a little worried by the 2000 release of his compilation album Messages. Like a retrospective exhibition, compilation albums usually herald an artist’s passing into revered – but retired – status.
Kev was especially missed, because Australian political music seems to be at an ebb – just when we need it most. In changing times, music gives a unique voice to cultural dissent. But corporate profiteers have stitched up the music industry in Australia with mindless audio fairy-floss.
But have no fear: Kev Carmody is back, still full of the powerful political passion and evocative sense of country that first stirred us to attention 15 years ago. A self-funded independent production, Mirrors continues Carmody’s label-defying musical style, fully recharged for a world much changed since 1995.
Using some of his most original music arrangements, Mirrors includes a contemptuous swipe at US President George "Dubya" Bush and a warm message of Indigenous solidarity with refugees. These combine with songs defiantly expressing – and celebrating – a spirit of country and environment that is defiant of the powers trying to destroy it.
The opening track, "Dirty Dollar", reminds us of what’s at stake:
"Eatin’ whale meat faster, than they give birth
They’re connin’ us all… it’s scientific research
Them chain saws dozers clearin’ the trees
`Cos it’s so good for the economy
"Dumpin’ First World products in Third World lands
Forcing mono-culture into starvin’ hands
Executin’, jailin’, those who say it’s unfree
Rich importin’ their wealth an’ exportin’ poverty
"Just wanna know which side you stand
For the dirty dollar or a pristine land"
"Refugees" is a slow, reflective spoken-word indictment of Australia’s refugee policy, comparing it to the brutality of the Aborigines’ colonial experience:
"Seeking refuge, seeking shelter from the
bankers’ armoured tanks, will their god extend
compassion and embrace the immigrants
Their crime is seeking shelter from a human
livin’ hell they’ve been captured and imprisoned
as dangerous criminals.
"This land is my spirit, my right is sovereignty
But we exist here alienated as colonised refugees.
As colonised refugees"
This song is somewhat reminiscent of his earlier "Darkside" (Bloodlines, 1993), with a haunting use of reverberating mandolin. The latter was a tale of Murri life in the urban poor black community in Logan City, another form of imprisonment by racism. And like "Darkside", "Refugees" continues to linger long after the track has ended.
Despite the times he writes about, Carmody manages to retain his sense of humour. "Are You Connected?" is a satire of the alienating use of technology today, set in a tongue-in-cheek way to a thudding techno arrangement. Kev’s baffled "Hello… hello… hello" fights its way through a funny barrage of automated voice prompts.
"Dubya Love Ya?" is a bitter-funny swipe at the world’s most dangerous man. It’s also a sharp rebuke at the religious justifications given for the US-led – and other – crusades:
"We gentile, infidel, heathen ones
Caught in the cross fire with worse to come
Monotheism that comes from the Middle East
Seem to be based on war… ain’t based on peace
Torah, Koran, Bible if ya take a look
Take their God’s Word… from that ol’ monotheistic book."
Carmody’s deep sense of the beauty of life also continues to shine through in lush, poetic tributes to the Australian landscape.
"Moonstruck" is a sentimental but lovely song about the magic of the outback moon, rendered in a traditional country style with the acoustic guitar up front.
"Georgina River" is a laid-back celebration of that magnificent river in western Queensland, vital to the ecology and Indigenous communities of that vast region.
In the instrumental "Campfire Rain", the dramatic sounds of a thunderstorm are skilfully interwoven with a lullaby-like, gentle sway of acoustic guitar, harmonica and yadaki (didgeridoo). In amongst it, Carmody manages to play in a handsaw without jarring the arrangement.
Indeed, despite its tight budget, Carmody hasn’t sacrificed the production quality. Together with a talented team of fellow Indigenous musicians, Carmody has come up with some innovative sounds.
In "El Diablo Blanco", spoken-word poetry is set against a highly original crafting together of whip cracks and steel-string guitar played Spanish style. At least in art, the less one has to work with, the more ingenious can be the results.
Mirrors is a very welcome return from the master bard of Australian political music.
- Iggy Kim
Mirrors CD Sleeve Synopsis
This song asks the question ‘just wantta know which side you stand….. for the dirty dollar or the pristine land?’ It looks at the evolutionary destruction of this planet’s environment and it’s people.
Are You Connected?
The impact of technology on the way we humans communicate is becoming depersonalised. We appear to be conducting virtual reality relationships that we cannot sustain unless we are "connected" or "wired" to that technology. Technology will continually evolve to the point where it will completely control us.
This song was written for a film sound track called ‘One Night the Moon’ which was about racism in the 1930′s in Australia. This child who died is speaking from the grave to the living.
An historical observation of the plight of refugees from Adam and Eve and Moses to the present day. It also questions the concept of Monothesism.
This current world superpower must come to terms with the fact that a lot of humanity does not agree with them, and instead of responding with military invasion and occupation, address the questions of why they are viewed as economic and
Who Are They?
This song looks at what drives corporate globalisation. Who are the hidden strategists that fashion the world economically, militararily and socially?
This is a soundscape of recorded natural sounds: fire, water, thunder, frogs etc that aurally attempts to enrich the creativity of the human imagination. Also it is about how we, as indigenous cattle drovers lit fires, cooked and
ate on the road droving during huge thunderstorms.
El Diablo Blanco
Judaism, Islam and Christianity revere the same monotheistic God. How is it that this theological concept has produced so much conflict over millennia?
Georgina River Song
The Georgina River is in the interior of the Australian continent. It has an enormous spiritual significance to indigenous people from that country because of the freht water it provides and the huge abundance of wildlife it sustains,
including of course, the human inhabitants.
This song contrasts the ancient spirituality of Indigenous Australians, (which is centred in the enormity of the universe) with the imported hollowiness and emptiness, of the invasion culture.
An old indigenous friend of mine went permanently blind as a young man in the early 1950′s when he and his people witnessed one of the atomic explosions conducted by the British military at Marilinga in South Australia. The authorities did not inform the people in the area that an atomic explosion was about to happen. He said to me that sighted people may be the ones that need ‘a white cane and a seeing eye dog’. He said, ‘I can sense when a person is beautiful……because
they like me’…….
This technological society attempts to construct humanity to serve its ideologies and theologies. This song is about having the choice to turn off the ‘highway one’ they impose upon us. We need to get off ‘highway one’ in order to rclaim
the spiritual essence of our ancient heritage.
Kev Carmody: the musician is the message
Wednesday, September 29, 1993 – 10:00
By Ignatius Kim
I recall being thunderstruck upon first hearing Kev Carmody’s debut single, "Pillars of Society", in the summer of 1990. In fact, I could tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing. With a moving power, it expressed everything I felt at that time — the fury, the sadness, the contempt for the status quo. Everyone has such a song, one that articulates a certain period in one’s life. For me, "Pillars of Society" was it. I’d found my anthem.
Yes, I’m tempted to gush when it comes to Kev Carmody.
But, he tells me wryly, "I’m too old for that. Anyway, you’ve got to look at where the songs are coming from. It’s not just this one person called Kev Carmody. I express things that are beyond me."
Ahhh, such earthy modesty. Indeed, this man is no Morrissey.
The wellspring of Carmody’s music is the richness of social history, the stories of the exploited and dispossessed in both their ordeals and their struggles.
It’s a powerful muse. With much animation, he fires up about the reclamation of Wattie Creek by Gurindji drovers which sparked the land rights movement.
"That was a very symbolic event. I remember hearing about it in the mid-’60s in the bush when we were droving. They stayed out for eight years — the longest strike in Australian history. The government tried to starve them out, and the newspapers were painting it as a communist-inspired black uprising. But they won and the land rights movement really took off."
It is warmly and movingly recounted in the ballad, "From Little Things Big Things Grow", off his latest album, Bloodlines. Carmody the historian really knows where the heart of a tale lies.
Although it’s doing better than the first two, Bloodlines still hasn’t gone beyond critical acclaim.
"The people we appeal to, who’re interested in what we’re doing, are like us — poor. We’re not in the Barnesy league yet because in mainstream music there’s this structural block against what’s being said.
"Black music in this country or music that’s saying anything contrary to their consumer society just won’t get airplay. For example, if women want to have their say and they don’t fit into a Cleo-type image, then they won’t get airplay."
Carmody has nothing but contempt for the corporate media. "If you look at the mainstream media they spend all their bloody time lying to people, telling them half truths.
"In 1984 George Orwell reckoned that Big Brother was going to get us to the point where we’re just in a room with TV cameras in the corner taking information out.
"But he got it arse over head because we’ve got this thing in the corner that’s beaming information in and people think they’re free. It’s the opposite way, but it’s more effective.
"People imprison themselves within their own bloody intellect because that’s the only input they’re getting."
At the moment it’s nowhere better demonstrated than in the coverage of the Mabo decision and its implications. With publications like Business Review Weekly running the front-page headline, "Aboriginal Takeover", last August, one wonders where all the misunderstanding and hostility come from. In an interview last month, the Koori actor Lisa Kinchela spoke of Koori children she knew getting beaten up at school by white kids accusing them of trying to steal their houses.
Says Carmody: "Just how the Mabo issue is presented on TV, you can see where the bias is. Under the guise of objectivity they’re anti-Mabo. The terminology is like ‘huge chunks of land’, ‘it’s tying up billions of dollars’.
"The newspapers say ‘Black Grab for Land’, but they don’t say ‘Western Mining Grab for Land’, do they?
"The only backyard it’s going to threaten is the mining backyard. Up there around Mt Isa they’ve got a place bigger than France that they actually term a mining province; it’s like a separate part of Australia. But they have that tremendous economic power and media manipulation that they can make a big noise.
"They’ve got more rights than anyone else. Even on freehold land, if they found oil under your house, they can drill straight through the centre of it as long as they pay you compensation. They don’t have to tell you they’re on the place at all."
And on the Year for the World’s Indigenous Peoples?
"Well, if you look at the gamut of human evolution which is what, 2 million years, I suppose the indigenous people have got one year out of 2 million. Why isn’t it every year? For all people?
"It’s got to get to the point where we don’t have to have these years, where every year’s a year of justice."
He starts to ascend on a chuckle: "When are we going to have a year for justice? First of all, we ban the US, ban the bloody stock exchanges for 12 months." He ends on mirthful laughter: "Then we’ll have justice!"
But Carmody is also a man of faith.
"The point is that ordinary people can do a massive amount. Their potential power is there, but all the time they’re being told by the dominant mob in this society that they’re powerless. But there’s heaps and heaps of concerned people if you look at the broad spectrum of the social movements. It’s just up to us to network our common concerns — OK, we’re going to have a few blues along the way, but if we network our common concerns you’re looking at a mass of people."
From GLW issue 117
New Internationalist, October 1993
Despite both groups being prisoners of sorts, Australia’s convict colony mostly sat uncomfortably with its de facto hosts, the Aborigines. Now, 200 years later, elements of colonial Irish ‘larrikinism’ and Aboriginal questioning have been blended with blues and folk to form an inspiring musical package.
Carmody, a Murri Aborigine, is the son of an Irish father and a Murri mother. Bloodlines, his third album, has an energetic and richly layered sound, showcasing a wide variety of musical styles.
The lyrical themes are even more diverse, from the experience of young urban Aborigines to health-and-environment issues such as asbestosis. The single, Freedom, was written for Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Australia. Here, Carmody connects the themes of freedom, equality and justice, and ties them to the Aboriginal beliefs in a Mother Earth which links ‘the law, the land and human birth’.
The breadth of vision is typical. At one moment Carmody is writing of ‘the majesty of the universe, beyond all human worth, through which the Messenger soars suspended in the sacred cathedral of the earth’; at another of the darker urban realities of freeways and McDonalds; and at yet another of the trendy lefties he calls the ‘bourgeois drop-out progeny’, who ‘eat organic food from land their forbears stole’.
Carmody’s Bloodlines complements Yothu Yindi’s foray into the commercial music industry. Together they form an indelible presence on the stave of the Australian music industry – one which should resound to the benefit of indigenous peoples throughout the world.
(NI#248-1993 Oct p32)
Eulogy (for a Black Person)
Kev Carmody: back to the earth
Wednesday, November 27, 1991 – 11:00
Accompanied by Neil Murray, Dave Steel, Andrew O’Phee, and Bart Willoughby and Murray Cook from Mixed Relations, Aboriginal musician KEV CARMODY launched his new album, Eulogy (for a black person), before a full house at Sydney’s Rose Shamrock and Thistle hotel on November 21. During a break, Carmody spoke to Green Left Weekly’s JOHN TOGNOLINI.
“I’m getting a bit old, and everyone has got to die”, Carmody began, and that’s a lot of what the new album is about. “It’s that whole sense of rebirth, that no energy is dissipated. Christians call it soul. I just say you go back to the earth, that’s it.
“It’s not about worshipping the land or anything like that, it’s about understanding that the land is so much a part of us. European people, especially the colonists, thought that they could conquer the land, that they could push it around and make it do what they wanted. Now we’ve got one of the driest droughts they’ve ever seen in southern Queensland.
“They find that they can’t squeeze the land, because eventually it’ll squeeze you. But they have no respect for it, no understanding of what I was told as a young fellow, that you’re just this tiny part of the whole scheme of things.
“Eulogy means in praise of. The earth doesn’t need us, we need it. There’s a lot of ecologists going down different paths, but there’s no real spiritual affinity with the land. They see it in some ways as something to walk through at weekends and have a place where your kids can go. There’s something more, over and above, that needs to be redefined and put back into the wider culture. We Murris certainly had that appreciation.”
Besides its spiritual dimension, Kev Carmody’s music is also about struggle. In one of his earlier songs, “You Can’t Buy a Soul”, he writes, “Joe Hill died, Che Guevara fought and Pemulwuy lay down dead. If a person speaks out critically you can get loaded with lead.”
“That’s a statement I did years ago for protests up home”, he says. “It means you can’t kill the spirit of a people if the principles are right and based on proper law not corporate law. Most of the laws in this land are based on property, and just saying you can kill people, execute them, torture them, lock them up it makes no difference. But the truth will come out eventually.”
Kev came originally from western Queensland, “cattle country, 300 miles west of Brisbane. Dad was a drover all his life. We went right up to Charleville and St George to make a living. It was one of the few jobs Murri people could get those days.”
He also spent a lot of his life in metal workshops. “I did a bloody long time in steel sheds. Technology came to the back country out there with combine harvesters. I used to cut cane, then cane harvesters came in and bulk handling of grain. No more bag napping and sewing. That forced a shifting to the fringes of the towns. “I swept the floor of a welding shed for nine months and taught myself to weld during the lunch breaks and then got onto the night shift welding. I spent seven years in welding sheds.
“I was always in unions. The shearers’ union was a good one. You had your contract signed before you started, with all your conditions, and you stuck to them. Some of the other unions were a bit funny, I found. Too big, I think. Shearing sheds were the first placed I got unionised, and that taught me a whole of a lot.”
For Aborigines, living in Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland “was like having terminal piles”. Even so, for a while after the fall of the National Party government, Kev says he almost started to have faith in “colonial law”. A few of the cabinet ministers “got convicted and received little tiny sentences”. But the outcome of the Joh trial put things back in perspective. “He’s gone, but we’ve got pretty well the same sort of mentality there. It’s just a different window dressing but the same sort of shop.
“It makes you disillusioned with the concept of representative democracy, because all you have to do is control the parliament. There’s only about 400 people who’ve got control. Read the definition of democracy: tolerance of minorities, government by all the people and absence of hereditary class distinction. Well, that’s a big concept of democracy. I’ve never seen it, not yet, except in black culture. Real government should be down the bottom of the pyramid with the community controlling the top, not the top controlling the bottom.”
Some North American musicians had a big influence on Carmody. Woody Guthrie, “we heard him in the ’50s, Huddy Ledbetter, early Jimmie Rogers and Blind Willie McTell, those sort of blues singers. We fitted them in with our sort of music because we had a lot music going around the campfires too.
“We first listened to their chord structures and melodies in our droving camps, because there was always some sort of music happening. You can just take a Hank Williams tune and use it as oral history. Everybody would know the tune and the older people would put words to it about something that happened. Because a lot of my relations couldn’t read and write, that’s why the music was so much a part of the culture.”
From GLW issue 37
Pillars of Society
New Internationalist, August 1989
Kev Carmody’s debut album is an energetic tribute to contemporary Aboriginal music, which has long been searching for an authentic voice amongst reggae. rock and country. Pillars of Society moves between these traditions while also tapping into the black American traditions of gospel and blues. Yet it is the ‘outback’ campfire tradition of no-holds-barred political broadsides which Carmody uses to best effect. He attacks the hypocrisy of the present system and acknowledges in the title track the common ground shared by all victims of the politics of greed.
Key Carmody has worked as a shearer, a rural labourer and a welder and might have been an international rugby union player had he not refused to play against the touring South African Springboks. He is currently expected to become the first Aborigine to gain a doctorate in Australian colonial history. He is stoical about the likely commercial ‘failure’ of his album: ‘Once you start talking about why the system’s wrong, you don’t get much of a chance commercially’.
Certainly songs like Black deaths in custody pull no punches. And another recurring theme, contrasting the justice of Christ with the injustice of New Right Christianity, won’t make him many friends. But Carmody’s talent is to show the universal truths in what might be dismissed as purely Aboriginal problems.