Songs for Freedom concert brings ‘melodic protest’ and modern songs to Perth

When Naomi Pigram conducts songwriting workshops with women at Roebourne Regional Jail, she says they laugh, cry and connect around shared experiences as they write songs for healing.

But there’s something Pigram can’t share with the band: his freedom.

Songs for Freedom, a concert at Dyoondalup, Point Walter Reserve on Saturday, brings to Perth the words and ideas of the Ieramugadu (Roebourne) community about Ngarluma country in the Pilbara.

Elders from this community will be among those performing songs of hope, alongside artists such as Pigram, Lucky Oceans and Ieramugadu musicians such as Tyson Mowarin.

In addition to those at RoebourneIn, a series of songwriting workshops took place in Perth ahead of the gig, with some of the performers including Lois Olney and David Hyams.

The program, organized by Australian arts and social justice society Big hART and the City of Melville, has been running in the West Pilbara for 10 years.

Concert a “melodic protest”

Workshops in the prison began to honor John Pat, a 16-year-old whose death in custody in 1983 caused much grief and trauma in Roebourne.

Each year, Pigram, a Yawuru Wadjarri woman from Broome, spends time in the Pilbara to help local singer-songwriters refine the songs for the show.

She said the Perth concert was a way to communicate deeply personal themes through music.

“Although a lot of positive things are happening in our country, our people are not so free in terms of systems,” Pigram said.

Jazz singer Lois Olney says the music in Songs for Freedom is like a modern song to navigate the way forward. (ABC Radio Perth: Alicia Bridges)

Lois Olney is a jazz singer who describes herself as a survivor of the Stolen Generations.

She grew up in Fremantle and did not reconnect with her mother’s family until she was 30.

She never met her mother.

Olney said the music played through Songs of Freedom was a soft, “melodic” form of protest.

“[It is a] wonderful array of voices and multi-talented people singing in the language,” she said.

“And sing of healing, for understanding of racism, of poverty, of all the things that are rolled up in society and bring down young people.”

Native man in black shirt holding a guitar
Tyson Mowarin was part of the songwriting workshops leading up to the Songs for Freedom concert in Perth.(ABC Radio Perth: Alicia Bridges)

Olney performs a song called Going Home in honor of his father, who died in his early 50s, and his brothers, who died in custody.

modern day songs

At the songwriting workshop in Perth last week, Olney was writing about the tragedy of never meeting his mother.

She said her biggest concern was about young people in the justice system and the rate of suicide and drug addiction.

Like Pigram, Olney said the music in Songs for Freedom was a form of healing and, in a sense, a way to navigate the world.

“You might hear it from time to time guys talking about songs,” Olney said.

“Songs are a connection to the country and help you travel, like how sailors navigate the stars, songs help us navigate the country.

“So all these songs that they write are modern day songs.”

Songs For Freedom children and cultural activities begin at 5 p.m., before the performers take the stage at 7 p.m.

An exhibition of works by well-known and lesser-known artists from the Pilbara called Country Freedom Peace is also running until March 5 at the Yagan Mia Wireless Hill Museum in Ardross.

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Grace D. Erickson