It seems an unlikely pairing: the legendary post-punk band from the American industrial city of Milwaukee and the family act from a remote central Australian hamlet of just 30 people.
Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie first met father and daughter desert rockers Raymond and Eleanor Dixon two years ago.
Ritchie had been invited to Alice Springs to mentor emerging talent at the annual Bush Band Bash, which unearthed the Dixon’s five-piece band Rayella and other acts from Aboriginal communities.
Today, Ritchie reunited with Rayella and brought his Violent Femmes band-mates along for a rare meeting of musical styles to promote the thriving but marginalised desert music scene.
“I expected to learn more from the musicians than they learned from me and this is what happened,” Ritchie said of his 2014 mentorship.
The two bands rehearsed at Abmusic’s studios in Waterford before a private show at the US Consul General’s residence at Kings Park, near where the Femmes wound up their national tour for A Day on the Green last weekend.
“It’s a good coincidence that Violent Femmes were playing a concert in Perth on Saturday night so we were able to stick around and meet up,” Ritchie said.
The event showcased Country Arts WA’s Sand Tracks remote indigenous music program, which tours acts and develops skills across remote WA, the Northern Territory and South Australia.
“Rayella come from a community of 30 people and now they are touring around Australia, bringing their music, their language and their talent, songs and stories to a much larger audience,” Ritchie said.
Rayella hail from Marlinja, half-way between Alice Spring and Darwin, and blend pop, rock, country and reggae in a mix of English and traditional Mudburra language. They are the first Sand Tracks band to be fronted by a woman in the male-dominated desert music scene.
Eleanor Dixon said Sand Tracks was like a modern song-line connecting desert people across thousands of kilometres and 10 language groups.
“Music is what brings us together,” the 24-year-old said.
“We are sharing stories together and we can change the world if we want to. Music is our life. It not only educates our children to our language but it educates everyone else, too, to learn about our culture. Education is the key and it It is time to start learning two-ways and what better way to do it than through music.”
Eleanor writes the songs and shares harmonies with her father, while her brother Tyrone plays lead guitar and cousins Godfrey and Adrian form the rhythm section.
Ritchie said Bush Band Bash and Desert Tracks showed how indigenous language and culture could engage with the wider world.
“These are Australian languages but they are treated as foreign languages which is not fair, it is not reasonable. Indigenous music in general is not nearly as prominently exposed as it should be in this country.”
Violent Femmes, the cult band behind 1980s hits Add it Up, Blister in the Sun and Gone Daddy Gone, started as buskers and Ritchie understood the power of grassroots music to change lives.
He now lives in Tasmania, where he runs Hobart’s cutting-edge MONA FOMA contemporary music festival.
Four Femmes – Ritchie, Jeff Hamilton, Blaise Garza and John Sparrow – played back up to Rayella with lead singer and guitarist Gordon Gano having returned home to the United States.
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- Stephen Bevis