‘Songs of Freedom’ celebrates the world of protest music

‘Songs of Freedom’ celebrates the world of protest music

Image: Michelle Grace Hunder

Monash University and MLIVE have launched Progress – A Festival of Ideas to celebrate their new performing arts centre.

As a part of Progress, the festival’s producer Chelsea Wilson has curated the specially commissioned show, Songs of Freedom.

“Something that we love to do at Monash and MLIVE is commission new works and present special collaborative projects,” Wilson says. “For Songs of Freedom we’ve invited four incredible singer-songwriters to respond to the theme of freedom through music.

Songs of Freedom explores the themes of progress and freedom through protest music, with the shows’ musicians presenting their personal selections of classic protest music – and their originals.

“We’re exploring what progress is, what it means, and asking if it’s still relevant today,” Wilson explains. “With Songs of Freedom, we’re digging deep to have a look at how contemporary music and popular music have had a role in shaping people’s perceptions towards social justice issues.

“Dr Nina Simone once said, ‘an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times’, and I think it’s really important that we use shows and festivals as an opportunity to create conversations – to have a space where we can share stories kind of reminds us of our human experience.”

Songs of Freedom’s amazing lineup includes Melbourne-based soul singer Thando, jazz pioneer Mama Alto, alt-rock sweetheart Sophie Koh, and the seasoned N’fa Jones as MC.  Wilson can’t hide her excitement for the event that’s in store.

“I love watching them perform, they’re super entertaining and wonderful performers – but all of them have really moved me with their music,” Wilson explains. “When you see an artist and you get goosebumps or you get that feeling and it really hits you in the chest – that’s the artists where I go ‘yeah, I wanna put them in a show’.

“All of these artists have an amazing ability to bring socially aware topics to audiences, in ways that are meaningful, empowering, and engaging,” Wilson said. “It’s really exciting to give artists an opportunity to sing and speak out about things that are a little bit more meaningful or relevant to their experience.”

Running for ten days, Progress has a huge bill of over 15 shows. The festival offers more than just music, presenting a whole bunch of different shows including arts, talks, theatre, and comedy shows tackling its central theme.

Whale is one of the festival’s most exciting shows, addressing climate change through an immersive theatre production. Wilson said she was “super excited” about Jane Gilmore’s keynote speech in the talk series The Future of Feminism. While for all the jokers out there, Tom Ballard is hosting the festival’s comedy gala Smokestack with fellow funnies.

Finally, Archie Roach alongside Monash Academy of Performing Arts’ executive professor, Paul Grabowsky, and 16 Monash students playing string instruments are closing the festival on National Sorry Day.

“Just luscious, huge, cinematic sounding but really intimate,” Wilson says. “Archie’s going to be telling stories and singing songs that you’ll know – but this is in a whole new kind of format.”

The festival celebrates the opening of Monash University’s brand-spanking-new Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts – which has already hosted a sold-out San Cisco show – and invites us to come check it all out.

“In these times when there’s venues closing down and there’s lockout laws and reduced arts funding, it’s really exciting to have a brand new venue,” Wilson said. “I really just hope and encourage everyone to come check out the new venue and support live music and support live theatre, and just come and be part of it.”

Songs of Freedom is on Friday May 24 in the Ian Potter Centre’s Jazz Club as part of Progress – A Festival of Ideas which comes to Monash University’s Clayton campus from Thursday May 16 to Sunday May 26. Info and tickets available at www.monash.edu/mlive.