2 October 2023

ASME Vic – Indigenous Music Project

ASME Victoria is committed to embedding and foregrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in music education.

As part of ASME Victoria’s commitment to embedding and foregrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in music education, ASME Victoria was thrilled to host the wonderful and prolific multi-instrumentalist and composer James Henry at Studio 5 at the University of Melbourne. Co – presented with the Faculty of Education (formerly Melbourne Graduate School of Education), it was well attended by an appreciative audience on the first day of Term 4, Monday the 2nd of October.

Attendees at the James Henry colloquium

Previously spending the afternoon with pre-service music teachers at the Faculty of Education, James Henry was very generous in offering his time, wisdom and expertise for this ASME Victoria workshop. James Henry is a Yuwaalaraay, Gamilaraay, Yorta Yorta and Yuin composer and singer-songwriter who easily traverses musical genres with daring. An Australian Music Centre composer, a highly sought after composer for Film and TV, playing guitar for Archie Roach, composing for the Yirrimboi First Nations Arts Festival as well as being Jimmy Little’s Grandson!

James began the session with a captivating musical performance, his expressive vocals in language enhanced by his skills on his noticeably road-worn acoustic guitar. Lecturer at the Faculty of Education Andrew Swainston then facilitated the Q+A with James and there were many highlights and “lightbulb” moments. James stressed the importance of placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music in context by always relating to Country. Getting the audience to consider traditional Aboriginal music within the frame of pre and post-colonial Australia, he answered his own question “What is Indigenous?” drawing on traditional Aboriginal characteristics whilst referring to the elements of music. Importantly, James explained the distinction between an Aboriginal musician performing Aboriginal music as opposed to an Aboriginal musician performing non-Aboriginal music which is often overlooked.

From left to right: James Henry, Dr. Andrew Swainston

In addition, the conversation also centered on how to develop non-Indigenous music educators confidence and capacity in teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music in schools with James suggesting that music teachers should utilise videos of Indigenous artists yarning about their work and sharing stories, thus placing it within its Indigenous context. The discussion was highly illuminative with James Henry being open to sharing his musical influences and how he has skilfully developed his singing voice to support the communication of language.  

By Matt Roche (ASME Vic Deputy Chair)

ASME recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first musicians, storytellers and educators of this land. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, acknowledging their ongoing connection to land, sky and waterways