Top Picks of the Melbourne Festival

By Evelyn Tadros
Melbourne Festival Logo

By Evelyn Tadros

This year, the Melbourne Festival program is bold, edgy and diverse. It includes not just top-notch international acts, but also some excellent local acts that have started to make it big overseas but are still relatively unknown here. Also, they’ve put some of the best Australian Indigenous artists front and centre in their program (rather than as a token aside). Best of all, the festival presents a strong mix of shows that creatively explore political and human rights issues.

With a program this full, it’s easy to get a little swamped. But I’ve made it easy for you, by handpicking my top shows of the Melbourne Festival:


Eclipse – Amadou & Mariam (Music)


Melbourne Recital Centre, 23 – 25 October at 8pm

Full $59 – $79 / Concession $25

Amadou & Mariam are one of my favourite bands so definitely a show I’m super pumped about! Having travelled around Mali, I can tell you that Amadou & Mariam’s signature mix of afropop, blues and soul music blasts from every cab in town propelling anyone within ear shot to smile, dance and sing along. But they are not just local stars; the husband-and-wife duo have collaborated with international artists as diverse as TV on the Radio, Santigold and Manu Chau. Both blind since a young age, one thing that is utterly unique about this show is that it will be staged in complete darkness so not only will you be able to experience their concert just as they would, you’ll really get to dance as if nobody is watching! 


The Shadow King (Theatre/Dance/Music) 

Shadow king

Malthouse Theatre, 11 – 27 October (various times)

Full $30 – $59 / Concession $30 – $48

I do love a bit of Shakespeare and I’m incredibly intrigued by this Indigenous adaptation of King Lear co-created by Tom E. Lewis and the former Artistic Director of Malthouse, Michael Kantor. Even more so after speaking to Tom on Right Now Radio – his jubilation about sharing Indigenous stories, language, dance and music with a Melbourne audience was just palpable. Featuring an all star Aboriginal cast with Tom E. Lewis as the lead (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith), Jimi Bani (Mabo), Natasha Wanganeen (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Rarriwuy Hick (Redfern Now) and Frances Djulibing (Ten Canoes), as well as a live score played by the talented Bart Willoughby (Yothu Yindi) and his band, The Shadow King will be a creative force to be reckoned with at Melbourne Festival. If you want to listen to Tom E. Lewis speak about the inspiration behind the play and just why making this tragedy has been so joyful, have a listen to the podcast here.


Minsk, 2011: A reply to Kathy Acker (Theatre)

Belarus Free Theatre

Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, 24 – 27 October (various times)

Full $49 – $59 / Concession $25

Orwellian. That’s all I could think of when I spent four days in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, earlier this year. A place where Stalin is still revered as the “Great Patriot”, where tanks still roll through the Lenin-littered avenues and where the KGB still operates from its original canary yellow headquarters. You know that someone, somewhere, may be watching. It’s probably one of the strangest, most fascinating places I’ve ever been to and the reason I’m so curious to see this production by Belarus Free Theatre. Exiled from its homeland for daring to challenge the oppressive and insulated regime, Belarus Free Theatre has won international acclaim for its edgy, provocative and humorous performances. Reviewed in the New York Times, Minsk 2011 was described as a “beautiful and brutal performance … steeped in an uncommon lyricism and in the hope that lies in the transformative powers of art”.


Archie Roach: Into the Bloodstream (Music) 


Playhouse Arts Centre, 18 – 19 October at 8pm

Full $49 – $69 / Concession $25 – $59

If you want a performance that will leave you feeling high about life and singing with joy, then this is the concert for you. I was extremely humbled to have a chat to Archie Roach for Right Now Radio (podcast here!) about his new album and these upcoming concerts. For him, Into the Bloodstream has been his decision to live, not just survive. After losing his soulmate and collaborator, Ruby Hunter, suffering a stroke and having half his lung removed in the past few years, he didn’t think he would be able to overcome the pain. But he did, in large part, because he started creating music again. This concert, featuring a ten-voice Indigenous gospel choir led by the Black Arm Band’s Lou Bennett, will no doubt be an inspiring and uplifting performance by one of Australia’s greatest storytellers. If you want to get a taste of his more gospel-oriented style, check out a video clip of his recent single, Song to Sing, featuring Jack Charles.


Pedro Reyes: Disarm (Visual Art/Music)

Pedro Reyes

NGV International, Federation Court, 12 – 27 October at 10am – 5pm


Imagine waking up in a world where weapons have transformed into musical instruments. Well, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes is bent on creating such a world. Working with local musicians, Reyes has carved and moulded thousands of weapons that were confiscated by the Mexican government into a curious array of quirky yet functional musical instruments. From shotgun flutes to a pistol drum set, this exhibition is a clarion call to make art, not war. Special guest musicians will be playing these instruments throughout the exhibition so make sure you check out the program for performance times. I’m pretty excited to be speaking Pedro Reyes next week on Right Now Radio, so make sure you keep your eye out for the next podcast!

Gurrumul: His Life and Music, with special guest Sarah Blasko (Music)


Sydney Myer Music Bowl, 12 October at 7pm

Full $40 – $80 / Concession $25 – $70

For someone who is incredibly shy, avoids all media interviews and doesn’t like talking about himself, it seems ironic that Gurrumul will perform a concert that focuses on his own life. But after chatting to Gurrumul’s producer, friend and spokesperson, Michael Hohnen, on Right Now Radio (podcast here!), it’s clear that the way to really know who Gurrumul is not through probing, personal interviews but through his music, his songs and his stories. Born blind in a remote Indigenous community on Elcho Island, off the coast of North East Arnhem land, Gurrumul sings predominantly in Yolngu languages about identity, spirit, connection with the land and ancestors. His voice has been described as “angelic”, “sublime” and one of the “greatest in Australia” by critics and fans alike. Weaved with documentary film and storytelling by his family, this concert will be a powerful, mesmerising and deeply ethereal experience.

We have two free double passes to attend the Gurrumul concert. Check out Right Now’s Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter (@rightnowinc) for details.


Opening Weekend: Tanderrum and Creation by Archie Roach (Ceremony/Theatre/Music)


Federation Square, 11 October at 6pm


A Welcome to Country like no other, Tanderrum will bring together Elders of the five Kulin Nations to meet at Federation Square for an historic ceremony that celebrates 40,000 years of our Indigenous heritage. Facilitated by Ilbijerri Theatre Company, this special Welcome to Country will fuse music, performance and storytelling. This will be followed by a free open-air concert by Archie Roach where he will showcase his life’s work backed by a ten-piece musical ensemble. Speaking to Archie Roach about Creation on Right Now Radio, he revealed he is absolutely thrilled to be opening Melbourne Festival.


Foxtel Festival Hub (Music/Speakers/Hangout)

Quique Neira

Banks of the Yarra, 10 –27 October

Sunday – Thursday 12pm – 1am; Friday – Saturday 12pm – 3am

With a 1200-capacity venue being designed and built especially for the Melbourne Festival on the banks of the Yarra, the Hub will be worth a visit just for the view and the vibe. There is so much awesome music taking place there but a few of my recommendations are: neo-soul/hip-hop/jazz outfit, Hiatus Kaiyote (Australia), soul, funk and R&B artist, Cody Chesnutt (USA), hip-hop spoken word extraordinaire, Ursula Rucker (USA) and King of the reggae scene in Latin America, Quique Neira (Chile) –  you can listen to my interview with the infectiously idealistic, Quique Neira here. Also, some of my favourite local acts are playing, DMC turntabling champion, DJ Dexter (Australia), folk brother-and-sister duo (and old friends), Tin Pan Orange and indie folk band Husky (Australia), all of whom have been taking the world by storm.


Outer Urban Projects Urban Chamber – Beyond (Music/Dance)

Urban chamber

Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, 25 – 26 October at 6pm and 8pm

“Hip-hop meets chamber music and urban dance” – that in itself has me curious! I’ve watched Massive (Australia’s first hip hop choir) grow from strength to strength over the years and I have no doubt that they will reach new heights with this show. Joined with another youth ensemble, Outer Urban Project, and led by Australian performance poet, Komninos, and Australia’s first female MC’s Mary Quisacara, Urban Chamber – Beyond will showcase the raw and diverse talents of Melbourne’s suburban youth.


Royce Ng: Somali Peace Band (Visual Arts)

Somali Peace Band

Gertrude Contemporary, 12 – 26 October, 11am – 5:30pm


At a time when asylum seekers and refugees are de-humanised and their fate hyper-politicised, it’s heartening to see an exhibition which focuses on real people and real events, and is void of political doublespeak. The Somali Peace Band was formed in Kenya by Somali refugees and enjoyed brief success until Abdi Mohammed Abdi was accepted by Australia’s refugee program. Australian artist Royce Ng creates a three-channel video installation of footage that captures his journey to Africa to record a new album with the former members, despite the distance, the dislocation and the danger.

To listen in on my interviews with some of the creative minds behind these inspiring performances, make sure you subscribe to the podcast and like Right Now on Facebook.

Enjoy the Melbourne Festival!

Evelyn Tadros has been selected by Multicultural Arts Victoria to be a cultural ambassador for Melbourne Festival.


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