“Those who lose dreaming are lost.” That’s an Aboriginal proverb that serves as a motto for Black Arm Band, Australia’s spectacular performance company. Specializing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music and languages, they are a link to the past and a hope for liberation. Here they give a performance of uncommon power—fervent, intoxicating and deeply moving. Against a backdrop of stunning documentary, the ensemble performs songs in a dozen languages, some now virtually extinct. There’s a strong narrative component as well, with five dramatic episodes based on the writings of Aboriginal author Alexis Wright.
dirtsong is so named for the connection between Indigenous peoples and the soil: bare feet against the earth is a perfect image for this defining bond, and it appears throughout the show. The song list is the product of cultural research, several of the performers having gone back to ancestral lands to reclaim a violated culture and construct something new from the old. With driving percussion, didgeridoo virtuosity, and some of the most soulful vocals you’ve ever heard, this show will bowl you over. Touring for the first time in Canada—in the 150th year of a nation born from the displacement of its Indigenous peoples—dirtsong is more poignant than ever.
Make no mistake, this is music to send shudders down your spine and bring tears to your eyes.