River is an uplifting gift offering healing and hope

“All these rivers we must cross. Together we will get to the other side. . . . We’ll be forced to grow.” This is the theme of River, a haunting new video by the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra. It is an inspiring sound and visual experience of the Australia we are becoming, all woven together by the movement and grace of Gambirra Illume, Yolngu performer and cultural educator from Australia’s north east Arnhem Land. River is a song of sadness and despair uplifted by the hope and optimism that emerges from sharing the journey towards resolution. Look at the warmth and laughter of the participants as they near the end of their street performance.  Watch the video River. It is now available from all digital retailers.

In January this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that at least half of Australia’s special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees would be settled in Fairfield in western Sydney, within 12 months. In the previous year, Fairfield City Council had already welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries. It was the continuation of a pattern of accepting migrants and refugees displaced by war and economic upheaval, which had grown since World War I. This concentration of cultural diversity gave Fairfield a special relevance as the setting for River, Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra‘s first single released last month. The photo below records the warmth and excitement that surrounded the orchestra following their inaugural concert at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, in November 2014, when they performed the remarkable three stages of love and death. The words and music of River are developed from an extract of this work. Please take the time to click on all the links and listen to the music recorded.

It would be true to say that years of preparation have gone into the launch of River. Some of the first threads were drawn together long before Richard Petkovic created the Cultural Arts Collective in 2007 with Maria Mitar. Even so, they say it took three years of working with fellow musicians to create, record and release River. Through Cultural Arts Collective they showcase the future of Australian music by combining Australia’s many cultures into music that “touches the spirit”. It is a generous vision that has driven Richard for a very long time – unearthing the musical talents and mastery that have remained unrecognised outside the bounds of individual cultural communities and gathering them into making music that draws on tradition to create inspirational contemporary work – anything from driving rock rhythms to hypnotic spiritual chants.

Through Cultural Arts Collective, Richard launched the first Sydney Sacred Music Festival in 2011 after working with migrant and refugee communities in western Sydney for more than 10 years. After operating on a shoestring, it is now an established non-profit organisation, with a measure of government and private financial support. The program extends right across metropolitan Sydney, linking together a whole range of music organisations.

Death and personal loss were the immediate inspiration behind the creation of River. It offers a message of hope for those struggling with grief and profound loss. Eleven musicians performed in the streets of Fairfield, where they were filmed with the willing support of locals. They were world renowned Uyghur bard Shohrat Tursun – vocals, dutar (two string lute), Yaw Derkyi – African percussion and vocals, Richard Petkovic – guitar and vocals, Maria Mitar and Gambirra Illume – vocals, Nicholas Ng – urhu (Chinese two stringed fiddle),  Bukhu Ganburged – Mongolian horse fiddle, Salar Hs – violin, Rudi Upright Valdez – double bass, Victor Valdes – Mexican harp, and Ngoc-Tuan Hoang – guitar.

Many of these artists have been playing together for several years now and it shows in their ease of improvisation and collaboration and their quiet mutual respect. Cultural Arts Collective produces and composes music, and creates ensembles to support artists previously hidden from the mainstream. Already firmly established is the Shohrat Tursun Trio, comprising Shohrat himself, in right of photo, Yaw Derkyi, centre, and Richard Petkovic. CAC manages artists, produces festivals and events and distributes new music.

Richard’s perseverance in changing the focus of Australian music making and performance has led to contracts with Musica Viva to re-imagine their regional touring program and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to work with several community festivals to improve their artistic direction. They are great steps forward on a deeply enriching path.


More creative opportunities and events which smash conventions

1-Nazanin - exploring identity through calligraphy and ink drawingAdding to last week’s post about opportunities, here’s another valuable offering from Blacktown Arts Centre. With funding from Blacktown Council and the NSW Government, the centre is offering six Creative Residencies in 2017 in the following categories –

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Residency $5000
  • Pat Parker Memorial Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Residency $5000
  • Performing Arts Space Residency
  • Visual Arts Studio Residency
  • Without Borders (Accessible Arts) Residency $5000.

The residencies offer space for the creation of new work and mentoring opportunities for the further development of existing creative projects. Blacktown Arts Centre is recognised for its exploration of dynamic, culturally diverse work that reflects Blacktown, its history and its communities. Above is one of this year’s resident artists Nazanin Marashian combining calligraphy and ink drawing in her exploration of identity. Nazanin came to Australia from Iran as a young child when her family fled the Iran/Iraq war in the early 1980s. A great deal of her art work is influenced by the lingering images of war torn houses and streets and the stories from relatives who remained in Iran. BNazanin - drawing first dayelow, left, is a work from her first day of residency – as she “got a few different ideas flowing.

Central to Blacktown Arts Centre’s program are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities drawing on issues of local and global significance. A free workshop to assist applicants will be conducted by award-winning author and long-time writing coach Janet Fennell.

Writing for Small Grants & Opportunities 
Saturday, 13 August | 10am – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Another will be conducted by Patricia Adjei from Viscopy to answer questions relating to copyright, licensing, fair use and moral rights. Patricia will also explain the Resale Royalty Scheme in relation to your practice, and in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Viscopy Licensing & Copyright Law 
Saturday, 20 August | 2pm – 4pm | Blacktown Arts Centre

Applications close Wednesday, 9 September 2016. Blacktown Arts Centre.

Among the people who have made a major contribution to Blacktown Arts Centre’s performing arts program and simultaneously benefited from the centre’s support is Richard Petkovic. Richard is the founder and director of Sydney Sacred Music Festival now in its sixth year. In the course of his musical and regional networking during the last 20 years, Richard has met many highly skilled musicians – many of whom arrived in Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersAustralia as refugees. Two years ago, they launched Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra which combined an eclectic mix of cultural music from Mongolia, East Turkistan, Vietnam, China, Mexico and Indigenous Australia to create new Australian music that explores different cultures, faiths and genres.

“Featuring some of the best ‘world’ musicians in Sydney, SWMCO melds classical strings, Dervish rhythms, Latin Samba and intimate melodies to smash conservative music conventions and create a dynamic journey that changes the internal chemistry of the listener,” Richard says. Now some of these musicians are collaborating with others and leading visual and multimedia artists to create the spectacular Worlds Collide event on Saturday, September 3, as part of this year’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

william+barton+sacred+musicThe festival will be formally launched with The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, Friday, September 2, at 2pm  (Prospect Hill) Pemulwuy. Featuring in the ceremony will be internationally renowned didjeridoo player, William Barton.

Marrong (Prospect Hill), was a place of Darug ceremony for thousands of years and the highest landmass in the Sydney Basin. It was from Marrong that indigenous warrior, Pemulwuy, observed the approaching devastation of Aboriginal land and led the resistance against the expanding colony. The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people – a place of spirit and a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).

The event kicks off a program that will continue until September 18 and incorporate a wide range of musical events in venues from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains. Program and bookings.

From Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) comes this urgent invitation –

PYT - Tribunal 2016Don’t miss out — TRIBUNAL is selling fast!

Join Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT), Griffin Theatre Company and some of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and cultural leaders to tell the parallel stories of Indigenous Australia and our treatment of newly arrived refugees in a performed conversation at the SBW Stables Theatre from August 12 to 20. LISTEN HERE to the cast talk to ABC Radio National about TRIBUNAL

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW and are selling quickly. Book online HERE to avoid disappointment.

Flight from despair to hope, opportunity and creative engagement

UNHCR - RefugeesAccording to a report released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last month, wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since UNHCR records began more than 65 years ago. The report, entitled Global Trends, found a total 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier.

Large numbers of people have fled Afghanistan and Somalia in recent decades and more recently, countries like Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and Central America. Settlement solutions are becoming harder to find as countries close borders against an influx of distressed people and there is little sign of regional cooperation between countries that might receive refugees. Worldwide, Turkey is the biggest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. With nearly one refugee for every five citizens, Lebanon hosts more refugees compared to its population than any other country. In 2015 children made up 51 per cent of the world’s refugees. Many were separated from their parents or travelling alone.

Blog - PPM book coverAll too often fear is the constant companion of refugees until they find respite. Now, with increasing frequency, fear has taken hold of people in countries that might offer protection – fear of terrorism, fear of losing jobs to refugees, fear of strained health, housing and education resources, a loss of law and order. Australia swings between cycles of fear and cycles of generosity. Our constitution for the founding of Australia as a federation of states in 1901 was influenced by fear of foreigners and totally ignored Aboriginal people. It still has the racist statement that the Commonwealth has the power “to regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races . . .” Two years later, the White Australia Policy was a direct outcome. By contrast, multiculturalism as a concept was introduced during the years of the Whitlam Government in the early 1970s. Under the following government of Malcolm Fraser, Australia opened its doors to Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat. Associated stories appear in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney and in this blog. They demonstrate repeatedly just how many migrants and refugees have gone on to become outstanding arts practitioners and community leaders. Research also shows that the economic costs of accepting migrants and refugees is far outweighed by the value of their ultimate contribution to society.

Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) is conducting a two day forum on Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20 to explore the relationship between refugees and the arts. “Open to artists, performers, art therapists, educators, researchers, art workers and creative producers, the Arts and Refugees Forum also welcomes humanitarian and community development workers to share their experiences and discuss various aspects of artistic practice by, with and about refugees.” It is a free event that will provide a platform for greater networking and development opportunities. The forum will take place against a background of photo-media and video works made by local Sydney-based artists who are former refugees, current asylum seekers and first generation Australians whose families fled war to settle here.

CPAC - refugees - curiousworksBeyond Refuge: Citizens has been assembled by CuriousWorks, which describes it as “an exhibition that asserts the beautiful and fundamental rights of every human being to freedom and peace. It is also a cry to those who have lost their freedom, through the structures and exertions of power.” Image above: Soheil Ettehadolhagh, “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”  –  Báha’u’lláh universal peace, 2016. Photograph.

Both the forum and the exhibition take place in the context of a major exhibition, Refugees which brings together works by 22 world-renowned artists who share a refugee background. Important works by these high profile artists have never before been seen in western Sydney. The artists are Khadim Ali, Frank Auerbach, Christian Boltanski, Yosl Bergner, Judy Cassab, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Lucian Freud, Mona Hatoum, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Guo Jian, Anish Kapoor, Inge King, Dinh Q. Lê, Nalini Malani, Helmut Newton, Yoko Ono, Aida Tomescu, Danila Vassilieff, Ai Wei Wei, Ah Xian and Anne Zahalka.

CPAC is located in one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in Australia, with 40% of the population born overseas and over 150 languages spoken. The arts centre sees the exhibition as an opportunity for advocacy and empowerment of refugees in the local area, as a key to creating social change.

In the meantime, a yoHelen Boris - shards-life-poems-ung woman who arrived as a displaced person from Ukraine in 1949 and later settled with her husband in Seven Hills, is about to launch her first commercially published book. Helen Boris had her university studies in Kiev interrupted by the Soviet occupation and the Second World War and was never able to complete them. Despite the upheavals of terror under dictatorship and the death of family and friends, Helen never lost her love for literature and writing and her interest in sharing it with others. From her earliest days in Australia, she wrote poetry in English and her native Ukrainian. She became active in local chapters of organisations like the Fellowship of Australian Writers, conducted workshops with others like Ann Stewart Galwey to support local writers and helped their community publication. Next Saturday, at the age of 96, in frail health, but of very clear mind and with the support of the Ukrainian ambassador, she will launch her book of poems Shards of Life. You are invited to join them at the Ukrainian Hall, 59 – 63 Joseph St, Lidcombe, at 1pm. Shards of Life is a selection of Helen’s English language verse, through which she shares some fragments of her story, the “shards of her life”.

And thenSyd Sacred Music Fest 16 - Worlds Collide there’s Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its sixth year under the leadership of founder and director, Richard Petkovic. This year it begins on Friday, September 2 and continues across locations from Mona Vale to Campbelltown, Sydney CBD to the Blue Mountains, until Sunday, September 18. In the course of two decades, Richard has identified and come to know an extraordinary range of highly professional musicians, from many different cultures and faiths. Many were living in western Sydney following their escape from war torn countries. They have been working together with wonderfully enriching results.

This year, they will present a live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music at Wentworth Street carpark in Parramatta’s CBD, on Saturday night, September 3 – Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound. The rooftop, they say, “will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabasabi, Marian Abood and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney, photo above, and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s ‘Sitar Funk’, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).”

Program details and bookings.

A great opportunity for musicians and music industry professionals

From Information and Cultural Exchange comes this invitation –

ICE - music forumDear friend of ICE,
With changes in technology, the media and the economy many emerging musicians and music industry professionals find themselves in a state of career flux. In response some artists have leveraged their musical career into a sustainable and diverse career in community, the arts or in creative enterprise.
We invite you to join us for presentations and conversations at the More Than This music forum on Thursday 10th December from 6pm.

  • Panel discussion with 4 industry representatives and facilitated by an experienced musician and cultural worker
  • Question & Answer
  • Entertainment and performance
  • Refreshments and networking

ICE is at 8 Victoria Rd, Parramatta. Reserve a place – phone – 9897 5744 or email info@ice.org.au

SBS Radio offers insight into Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersIn an interview with SBS Radio before the launch of the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra, each of the accredited musicians offered profound insight into their participation. They play without sheet music or script. Someone begins to play and the others improvise. Founder and music director Richard Petkovic says

“What I’m trying to do is create a music and a show that can change the chemistry of the people listening. So not their passive listening, but I want them to be engaged in a different way so, when they leave the show, they can feel that something inside of them has changed, has transformed, and so they’ve received something from the show that’s universal.”

When the musicians first met, they say, everybody talked about their refugee experiences, their music and what things were most sacred to them. A bond developed, and a chamber orchestra was born. Click on the link for the full transcript of the interviews Music of the World in a Corner of Sydney.

The orchestral concert was the opening event of the fourth Sydney Sacred Music Festival, which continues to September 21.


Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra creates uplifting festival launch

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - rehearsalElemental forces of human experience swelled and dispersed throughout Three Sides of Love and Death created by the recently formed Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra. Unearthly and yet deeply grounded in ancient traditions and sacred practices, the music of the 11 piece orchestra under the direction of Richard Petkovic, transcended cultural boundaries to create a new and inclusive sacred symphony. The concert was the opening event of the fourth Sydney Sacred Music Festival, Riverside Theatres, Friday, September 5. It was a totally uplifting experience for orchestra and audience alike.

A small grant from the Australia Council for the first time had allowed the greater development of musical arrangements and time to rehearse. The result was a wonderfully balanced performance in which each individual made a unique instrumental or vocal  contribution to a deeply sympathetic background of harmonious support from the rest of the orchestra. The care and respect of each musician for the other was almost tangible, discreetly guided by Richard.

Following a Welcome to Country by Darug elder Uncle Greg Simms, Yolngu vocalist from Arnhem Land and exponent of ceremony, Gambirra Illume used powerful exhalations and movements to invoke life forces and words of love from her own language. The steady pulsing of rhythms from behind her amplified the effect. The consciousness of breath found many expressions, often emphasised by the regular movement of the harmonium played by Richard Petkovic.

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - Stage - John Hibberd SnrWorld whistling champion Asim Gorashi, originally from South Sudan, whistled, played first violin and oud and performed Sufi rituals. Seyed Salar Hosseini from Iran, only recently released from two years in Australian detention camps for seeking asylum, played second violin. A unique experience of breathing was heard in the ancient Mongolian art of throat singing by Bukhu Ganburged, who accompanied himself on the horse fiddle. Maria Mitar sang of love and loss, forgiveness and understanding. Chinese Australian Mark Szeto reflected on departures in playing his double bass and Ghanian percussionist Yaw Derkyl performed a A Call of Sorrow in a tribal language.

Players responded to each other across the semicircle of their stage positions. Shohrat Tursun delivered a traditional Uyghur Sufi song from the East Turkistani song cycles followed by Mexican baroque harpist, Victor Valdes, in Latin American celebration of higher powers. Through traditional chant and music, Vietnamese classical guitarist, Ngoc-Tuan Hoang memorialised lost ancient cultures of the world. Above is John Hibberd Snr’s photo of the stage in the moment of anticipation before the concert begins.

“Wonderful”, “awesome”,” inspirational” were just a few of the words heard in response to the premier performance of Three Sides of Love and Death. After more than a decade of development, this was the clearest exposition yet of Richard’s vision to demonstrate the wealth of international musical talent residing in western Sydney and how societies are profoundly enriched by the cross-cultural explorations of traditions and spiritual practices. It turns on its head the demonisation of those seeking asylum in Australia and transcends the fear of difference.

Sydney Sacred Music Festival continues in many venues until September 21. Three Sides of Love and Death can be heard again as part of Parramasala, Prince Alfred Park, Parramatta, Sunday, October19, at 8pm.

Sydney Sacred Music Festival transcends division and fear

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - Victor ValdesIn a period of increasing sectarian violence, religious fanaticism, fear and intolerance, comes the calm, contemplative voice of the fourth Sydney Sacred Music Festival. Left, is Mexican baroque harpist Victor Valdes in final rehearsal at Blacktown before the festival opening concert at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Friday, September 5, at 7.30pm. Victor is a member of the recently formed Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra, which will perform their newly created work three sides of love and death.

Festival director and orchestra member Richard Petkovic says “The three sides of love and death will explore the universal themes of unconditional love and rites of passage through the stories and sacred music practices of culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse artists who make up the orchestra. Using a collaborative process of experimentation and cultural exchange of experiences within diverse faith practices, this sacred symphony transcends the normative boundaries of culture and faith, producing an original new work and cultural entity that has appeal across communities and audiences.”

His statement illustraSyd Sacred Music Fest - Methodist-Church-of-Samoa-Blacktowntes the overall purpose of the festival. It aims to explore through music, art and ceremony, the values and spiritual experiences shared by humanity and to contemplate and communicate them with others. Richard says, “The Festival provides opportunities for the fantastic artists and traditions of our diverse communities and hopes to build its own community of open minded people who are interested in something larger than themselves.”

The festival continues to September 21 and includes a wide range of events and venues. This year, performances will be presented at Blacktown and Nepean Hospitals, Mount Druitt and Royal North Shore. Others will be at Auburn Centre for Community, Mosman Art Gallery, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Arcadia and Kenthurst in the Hills Shire, and in the Blue Mountains. The Samoan Methodist Choir of Blacktown, above, will perform at Blacktown Hospital. The festival is organised by the Cultural Arts Collective, established by Richard and fellow musicians in 2011.

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - 6 of 14 membersRichard is very proud that the 14 piece Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra has been assembled from artists in Western Sydney and features:

Asim Gorashi (Sudan) Sufi rituals through the use of the voice, violin, whistling and oud
Yaw Derkyi (Ghana) exploring Ghanaian animist rituals and percussion
Shohrat Tursun (East Turkistan) recognised master in 1,000 year old song cycles using voice and dutar
Mustafa Karami (Iraqi Kurd) sharing ancient Kurdish rituals and using the ney, duff, voice and oud
Bukhu Ganburged – Mongolian bard showcasing the ancient art of throat singing and horse fiddle
Victor Valdes – Mexican baroque harp
Ngoc Tuan Hoang – Vietnamese classical guitar
Nicholas Ng – Urhu (Chinese violin) and pipa
Gambirra Illume–Indigenous vocalist and ceremony
Mark Szeto – Double Bass
Richard Petkovic – Music director and cross cultural music facilitator on harmonium and guitar