Come and sit at our campfire

9 June 2021

Noongar songs will be performed in a space where Noongar people were once forbidden to tread, when Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse perform at the inaugural Perth International Cabaret Festival.

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One of the surprise hits of the 2020 Perth Festival was Koorlangka, a performance of Noongar songs and stories by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. The show invites audiences to come and “sit at our campfire” and weaves stories of love and loss, joy and triumph, celebrating the things we have in common. Gina Williams shares the inspiration behind the song cycle, and how they have reimagined it for the opening night of the Perth International Cabaret Festival.

Rosalind Appleby: Tell us how Koorlangka emerged as part of the 2020 Perth Festival, and how you and Guy Ghouse have reimagined it for the cabaret festival.

Gina Williams: We premiered Koorlangka in February 2020; it was the first of a four-work song cycle. The plan was to launch the Koorlangka work and album, then tour the work nationally and overseas. Unfortunately, this was shut down because of the pandemic and we were only able to present the work a couple of times.

The reimagined work gives us an opportunity to play through the original work, and we’ve also been able to add a few chosen songs from the rest of our catalogue and give them stringed arrangements.

Guy Ghouse and Gina Williams invite audiences to share their music and language. Photo supplied

RA: How does it feel to be putting ancient Noongar songs and stories centre stage in the Edwardian Baroque theatre of His Majesty’s Theatre, typically a space for imported, western art?

GW: The theatre was built on Noongar land which well pre-dates the building! We are thrilled to be bringing language into spaces where Noongar people were once forbidden to tread. To be able to present language in a way that brings dignity and integrity to beautiful music hopefully will make this a compelling experience for everyone who comes to share the experience.

RA: Who will your show appeal to?

GW: Without being facetious, we hope this work will appeal to everyone. It’s built on the premise that our villages have been burned down, and our responsibility (as those who remain and remember) is to rebuild our campfires, then invite people back to join us. We have written songs which we hope will be enjoyed and shared between grandparents, parents and children long after the last note has been played or sung.

RA: Tell us about the creative/rehearsal process for Koorlangka: Reimagined.

GW: Koorlangka was largely written in two tents at the Karijini Experience in 2018. Guy was playing music in his tent and I was sitting and writing on my laptop and singing from my tent and the songs were written!

Guy and I believe the true mark of a good song is that it works with the most stripped back accompaniment. They start beautifully with just guitar and voice, so when we hear these songs played with piano and strings, our hearts are full to bursting with joy.

We love working with Russell Holmes, who has done a tremendous job writing beautiful arrangements for strings and piano. The Dolce Ensemble bring to life these songs in ways that sometimes defy imagination.

RA: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at the 2021 Perth International Cabaret Festival?

GW: SO much good stuff. Steven Oliver, Carlotta, Rick Steele, Lior. I love the balance which showcases local and interstate artists. There is so much to celebrate.

RA: What is your favourite playground equipment?

GW: Flying fox…and seesaw (of course!)

Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse will perform Koorlangka: Reimagined on the opening night of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, 19 June 2021, and Kalyakoorl, Ngalak Warangka (Forever We Sing) on 22 June .

Learn more about the festival in this podcast with artistic director Michael Griffiths.

Seesaw has five double passes to give away to see some of the most exciting acts at the 2021 Perth International Cabaret Festival, which runs from 19 – 27 June at His Majesty’s Theatre. Head to our competitions page for information on how to enter.

Pictured top: Guy Ghouse and Gina Williams invite people to share their music and language. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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