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Archie Roach - the Indigenous Australian Singer-Songwriter
July 1999

Australia has a racist history par excellence. Some say, it has a racist presence, too. Archie Roach, the leading Australian Indigenous singer-songwriter is certainly one of them.

Up until now, he has produced three outstanding CDs:

- Charcoal Lane (1992)
- Jamu Dreaming (1993)
- Looking for Butter Boy (1997)

The first CD (produced by Australia's rock icon Paul Kelly, who heard Roach singing in a Melbourne club, and supposedly booked him into the studio for the next day) presents the most emotional songs on Indigenous people in Australia I've ever come across. "Take the children away" is a masterpiece of describing the history of the past 200 years of Indigenous people in Australia.

Taking children away, stealing them from their mothers and fathers, has been one of the key strategies of White Man all over the world to enforce his policies of assimilation. Roach himself is a victim of this violation to human rights.

The instrumentation of his songs is sparse, to say the least. Archie Roach's dark, empathetic voice and his acoustic guitar dominate most of the songs which present stories of Indigenous people in a way which reminds me on Bruce Springsteen's "The ghost of Tom Joad" from 1996. Archie Roach, however, has a much better voice for this kind of stories. His ways of telling stories reminds me on David Munyon, one of the most under-rated contemporary musicians. A Viet Nam veteran, who probably sings his songs to stay alive by making us aware of the gross inequalities in this world of ours.

The second CD of Archie Roach continues where the first CD left. Again, Roach composed wonderful melodies in connection with the lyrics he obviously wants us to listen to. "Jamu Dreaming" goes a bit deeper into the cultural, social, and political context of Indigenous people in Australia. Roach finds words of wisdom and melodies of magic to bring over his concerns.

The 1997 CD "Looking for Butter Boy" is a bit different from the early works. Here, Archie Roach introduces a band to his songs. At first glance, this doesn't seem to be a good idea, because Roach's song need intimacy as much as they display intimate feelings about Australian history. But, and that's an important "but", the band plays in such an inspired way that music and lyrics amalgamate to a beautiful melange of emotions, messages, and humanity I have hardly ever listened to before by other musicians.

Archie Roach is not a star in Australia. He probably doesn't earn much money with his music because it is hardly played on commercial radio stations. But that's probably none of his concerns at all. He tours the country and stays with Indigenous communities offering music classes for kids and adolescents and whoever wishes to attend. He's a man of the people who gives back to people the best he has to offer.

All of Archie Roach's CDs are available via CDnow, the Internet shop, you probably know by now. If you can't get hold of them in your local shop, check in to CDnow.

Further information on Archie Roach is available here:

The official site of his record company

Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001