Africa is one, big continent. Yet, why are we so quick to assume there’s not as much cultural diversity there as you’d find in a city like Melbourne? The fact is, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Now in its fifth year, Visible is an exploration into the great continent’s rich history - using music as a vehicle to celebrate African diversity against a changing Australian landscape - happening this Sunday arvo at the Arts Centre.
There’s a lot to be excited about, including a complimentary Best of Visible CD with each ticket purchase and free foyer performance before the main event. “It’s gonna be a pretty full-on day,” Aminata Doumbia tells me after listing one treat of a line-up. Kundalila, Akoma Beat, Afro Habesha, Afro Mandinko and, of course, Blak Roots - a standout Melbourne reggae/African roots band (fittingly) Doumbia has been singing with for nearly three years - alongside fellow front man and Burundian, William Kadima.
“I used to sing with Black Jesus Experience, and so they saw me there and they told me that there’s a band that’s being put together and they’re looking for vocalists. And that’s how I joined them. It was good fun.”
Joining Blak Roots forced Doumbia to expand her repertoire - though this expansion has never proved difficult for the singer.
“With Blak Roots, it’s kind of reggae-ish, funk-ish, afro-beats and so forth,” she explains casually.
As bands like the Blak Roots and Afro Mandinko continue to defy genres and do more of what Doumbia describes ‘just feels right‘, it’s clear that more concerts like Visible are starting to reach bigger audiences and create a more communal vibe within the Australian-African music scene. Still, most of the genres we tend to throw around these days have always had roots in Africa. Understandably, Doumbia laughs when I ask her to describe the style of singing she most connects with.
“I’ve got a variety of songs anyway - so to be honest, I’m not feeling any particular style. If I sing one style it’s because it sounds good!”
And it does. Doumbia says that her many influences reach down from South Africa to the Americas and right back to her roots in West Africa - though the singer was born in East Africa and celebrates her dual heritage proudly. “My mum is from Burundi, my dad is from Ivory Coast. It’s not as strong on my mum’s side as when you go in West Africa. I grew up in big cities, so, you know, more R&B style, soul and blues. You know, a little bit of American styles as well.”
Doumbia also speaks several languages and feels the same about them as she does her choice (or lack thereof) in genre.
“To be honest, I sing anything that sounds musical. Sometimes you might want to put words together, but if they don’t sound musical, you know, there’s no point. That’s how I view it.”
There is something quite sultry about her French accent - the way she laughs at my questions as if nothing is ever quite black and white and the openness with which she approaches her music. All clearly products of her worldliness. I ask Doumbia how she feels about the musical culture in Australia and her response speaks of a similar trend and evolution in music that seems to be happening all over our shrinking globe.
“It’s really different here. They get into music later on. It is changing though… It’s become more and more normal. When I came here it was there but it wasn’t as big as it is now - the musical culture. But it’s developing slowly.” The intention of Visible is to speed up the process, bringing together a community of musicians and audience members alike to create and experience a new sound unique to Australia. One that reflects the country’s growing cultural diversity and celebrates the heck out of it.
Not only that, but the Arts Centre has also partnered with Multicultural Arts Victoria to sponsor the Visible Sessions - a series of free performances by local emerging artist held at the Curve Bar, starting November 26.
Doumbia seems content with the progress being made, happy to find the music culture evolving in a city like Melbourne (with a bit of her help). “Now it’s part of my home, yeah? Slowly, slowly.”
Visible will take place at The Arts Centre Playhouse on Sunday November 21 from 1pm in the Foyer (free!) and from 2pm on the Main Stage. You can grab a ticket for $14-$20 at theartscentre.com.au.