St Kilda’s Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee concert was a momentous celebration of Indigenous women

St Kilda’s Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee concert was a momentous celebration of Indigenous women

Indigenous photographer Wayne Quilliam
Indigenous photographer Wayne Quilliam
Indigenous photographer Wayne Quilliam
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It was a significant occasion that featured performances from Mojo Juju, The Merindas and Kalyani Mumtaz.

The Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Festival has run in St Kilda since 2006, but it’s hard to imagine it’s ever seen a better lineup of powerful, talented Indigenous women like those who graced its summer concert at Memo Music Hall on Friday February 1.

The evening was emceed by the incomparable Leila Gurruwiwi of Marngrook Footy Show fame and the Indigenous artwork projected onto the roof gave the venue, which is already a favourite, a strong presence and suggestion of things to come.

The night kicked off with a haunting performance by Pyemairrenner woman Kalyani Mumtaz. It was a soft set, just Mumtaz and a keyboard. Before her final song, she described an epiphany she had that she doesn’t care if not everyone likes her music, as long as the people closest to her, including her mob, like and appreciate it. Speaking momentously in her final song, “Someone has seen me, that’s all I need for now”, you could have heard a pin drop – it was a moving and spiritual performance.

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The first of three spoken-word performances wasn’t really spoken-word at all – it was more of a yarn. Benson Saulo is a former finalist for Young Australian of the Year and a recipient of the Youth Human Rights Medal. Saulo grew up on Gomeroi country and told the story of the Warrambul, or Milky Way, the great river in the sky. He had the whole room transfixed for the duration.

The second musical act was Squid Nebula, a five-piece band fronted by extraordinarily talented Noongar woman Amy Dowd. The crowd was up and out of their seats pretty quickly, drawn by the super smooth funky soul the group delivered. There were several spots where nerves seemed to get the better of them and things got slightly shaky, but by the end the songs were tight and it was a super enjoyable set. They were a fantastic draw-card and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they move quickly into the mainstream music consciousness.

The second spoken-word performance was delivered by Gunai/Kurnai and Gunditjmara descendant Monica Karo – the featured poet for the 2018 NAIDOC event at the Northcote Social Club. She delivered a poem she wrote in the lead up to Invasion Day on the strength and power of the women who came before her and the power they imbue her with to this day – such a power could be sensed in the room as she delivered her piece.

The Merindas were the next music act to take the stage and blew the roof well and truly off. Candice Lorrae is a Jawoyn woman born in Darwin and Kristel Kickett is a Noongar woman from Tammin in Western Australia. They’re due to release their first album this year after relocating to Melbourne and describe their sound as electronic with a lot of harmony and dancehall feel, alongside afrobeat, hip hop and R&B influences. Their best known song ‘We Sing Until Sunrise’ was the final song of their set and left everyone begging for more. Their fun costumes, soaring vocals, infectious smiles, hilarious joking between songs and lack of pretence makes them an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. Expect to see a lot more of them around Narrm – this is sure to be their breakout year. 

The final spoken-word performance of the night was by Yorta Yorta artist Neil Morris, who performs as DRMNGNOW. His piece was performed in language and English and spoke of his ancestors and his elders in a traditional spoken-word format. It was a commanding and deep performance.

Capping off the night was Mojo Juju, kicking off her set with ‘Native Tongue’, her best-known song off the album of the same name. Performing as part of a three-piece, the only instrument that mattered on stage were her vocals, which filled the entire room and commanded complete attention. It was a strong, tight set from a seasoned performer.

Overall, the 2019 Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee summer concert was a fantastic mix of genres, styles and creative programming. It’s hard to believe we were privileged enough to witness that much talent and that much fierce girl power in the one night. If you’re a fan of local music and especially the ever-emerging Indigenous talent that we’re lucky enough to have in Melbourne, put this one in the diary for next year.

Highlight: Finally seeing The Merindas live and them slaying in every single way.

Lowlight: Being designated driver.

Crowd favourite: Mojo Juju’s ‘Native Tongue’.