By Sonia Nair.
In a time when political, social and economic rhetoric is fraught with the question of borders, the perceived difference between asylum seekers and the larger Australian population, and what constitutes a legitimate “Australian”, The Key of Sea is an incredibly important collection of music that seeks to create a quintessentially “Australian” album, drawing upon the various strands of cultural diversity that underpin the fabric of Australian society.
Starting out as a project in 2010, the Key of Sea Volume 1 was released to critical acclaim. Each track featured a well-known Australian artist as well as an established musician from a migrant or refugee background who brought their cultural heritage from across the sea – escaping war, hardship or persecution, or, in some cases, all three. The Key of Sea Volume 2 utilises the same formula with proceeds going towards the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival and the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning (SAIL).
The result is an upbeat, rousing amalgamation of international sounds from two disparate corners of the globe set against Jinja Safari’s trademark jungle beats …
In ‘Silence of the Gun’, which kick-starts the collection of eclectic tracks, self-produced Sydney-based band Jinja Safari partners with Kinfe – a renowned Ethiopian musician who recently applied for protection under the Refugee Convention. The result is an upbeat, rousing amalgamation of international sounds from two disparate corners of the globe set against Jinja Safari’s trademark jungle beats – a fitting start to the album.
The upward lead track is followed by the heartfelt ‘The Boat’, on which musical figurehead Paul Kelly collaborated with pop group Cambodian Space Project after a chance meeting. The dulcet, haunting tones of the Cambodian Space Project complement Kelly’s spoken word in one of the album’s highlights.
‘Az Eshq Tho’ which translates to mean ‘because of your love’ is another standout track. Emerging Melbourne sextet The Tiger and Me partner with Afghan refugee Murtaza Jafari while drawing upon indie rock roots and the evocative traditional music of Jafari’s homeland. The haunting line ‘so don’t you go far away, you belong here with me’ is refashioned throughout the song against Jafari’s pleasant gravelly voice and the enchanting sounds of his dambura – a cross between a banjo and a guitar, popular among the Hazaras of central Afghanistan.
Continuing the sequence of slow, ambient songs is Lanie Lane and Adam Starr’s ‘Lively Boys’, and Sophia Brous and Kurdish-born refugee Awaz’s ‘Come Along’. In the former, Lane and Starr narrate the compelling anecdotal tale of Starr’s grandfather who came aboard Australia’s shores as a group of people whose suffering was the catalyst for the Refugee Convention – the European Jews.
A clash of cymbals and the tiptoeing of a jazz piano greet listeners upon Chet Faker and South African-based The Royal Swazi Spa’s ‘Fear Like You’. Electronica musician Chet Faker’s melodious voice melds amongst an array of instruments and builds up to an enthralling jazzy piece.
In a throwback to the 80s, the jaunty dance feature ‘Islands’, with fivepiece synth-pop band Clubfeet and Alex Toumazos, is catchy and memorable while Darwin-based electronic duo Sietta and Sunameke harmonise brilliantly in the soulful ‘Open Hands’.
The result is a stunning, artistic articulation of Australia’s multiculturalism in 11 unique collaborations that speak volumes about the ensuing outcome when Australians from all walks of life and different cultural backgrounds get together to create something beautiful.
Like ‘The Boat’, ‘Open Your Heart’ by Melbourne fourpiece Dick Diver and BCR transcends the fact that it is sung predominantly in another language to connect with listeners and in a departure from the pop, dance or electronica featured consistently throughout the album, the track Client JGT 683 pays tribute to the rock of yesteryears – evoking the sounds of U2 and Duran Duran. Waleed Aly, better known for his commentating on Australian Muslim affairs rather than as lead guitarist of Melbourne rock, funk and jazz band Robot Child, partners with local indie musician Kim Salmon who lends his voice to poignant lyrics set against a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic recording of the song.
The soothing voices of Melbourne musician David Bridie and Western Papuan musician Hein Arumisore – originating from a background where traditional music is used as a vehicle of protest and dissent – round up the extraordinary compilation of music.
Commonly perceived music categories of dance music, electronica, indie rock, hip hop and pop are deconstructed in The Key of Sea through the inclusion of peripheral sounds, music and voices that are often pushed to the sidelines of Australia’s musical sphere. The result is a stunning, artistic articulation of Australia’s multiculturalism in 11 unique collaborations that speak volumes about the ensuing outcome when Australians from all walks of life and different cultural backgrounds get together to create something beautiful. But perhaps the best part about the album is that despite featuring a strong human rights focus, the songs are never fettered or dulled by the importance of their message. They stand apart as high-quality, catchy and immensely memorable pieces, proved by the fact that some of them – such as ‘Silence of the Gun’ – have received significant airplay on mainstream radio stations.
In a testament to the pervasiveness of music as a universal medium and the beauty of Australia’s multifaceted identity, The Key of Sea is a timely reminder of the importance of social justice, acceptance and inclusion.
View the Key of Sea trailer: