The 2017-2020 AMPlify Indigenous Composers Initiative / Ngarra Burria Indigenous Composers movement

In 1788 the British arrived in Australia, bringing European music with them. Sporadic attempts were made to connect with the Darug speaking tribes they encountered, but as Aboriginal hunting grounds were stolen, and disease decimated the clans, diary notes of soldiers and settlers recording Indigenous music and languages were discouraged. The settlers began to think of their imported music, as “Australian music.” This musical cuckoo in the nest, joined over the years by waves of immigrant musics, and globalised internet music, has developed a vast, popular nostalgic repertoire of the faraway “music of home” that supplanted and overwhelmed the Indigenous music cultures of Australia.

Photographic Overlay Art by Elizabeth Sheppard, 2010 : Sydney Opera House at Bennelong Point

The Australian Music Centre inherited a culturally non-Australian immigrant music collection that was, until very recently, devoid of written Australian Indigenous music. Early transcriptions of Indigenous music made by colonial soldiers and settlers are still consigned to The Australian Museum, as if they are not Australian Music, but quaint exotic curiosities of a past age that have been forgotten for so long, they are unlikely to be revived. But recently the sacred voices of revered ancestral witnesses were heard again in a recent Australian Museum exhibition called Songs of Home, and the land stirred and burst into life.

Dr. John Davis, CEO of the Australian Music Centre, agreed with Darug composer Dr. Christopher Sainsbury and Bunuba dramaturge Frederick Copperwaite of Mooghalin Arts, that this massive sidelining of Indigenous Australian music is fundamentally unjust, a reflection of outdated colonial racist prejudice. So they formed an alliance to provide opportunities for contemporary Australian Aboriginal composers to reassert long silenced Indigenous music and languages, as equal with the avalanche of immigrant music that has usurped their rightful place in Australian concert halls and the media.

The pilot Indigenous Composers Initiative program, launched in October 2016, produced twenty new ABC recorded pieces by five Aboriginal composers in 2017, and continued until 2018. I was fortunate to be selected, completed my internship in 2018, and was elected to Associate Composer Membership of the Australian Music Centre in 2019. In 2020 the ICI program, now known as the Ngarra Burria Indigenous Composers group, has eight active members, five of whom are Associate Members of the Australian Music Centre. Ngarra Burria means “to listen, to sing” in Darug Aboriginal language. Virtuoso vibraphonist Claire Edwardes and her group Ensemble Offspring have partnered with Ngarra Burria, to workshop and record this unique new repertoire of notated, professionally performed Australian Indigenous music.

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