This desert alive with the sound of music


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Above: Morris Stuart conducting the joint choirs Asante Sana and the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, and below on the microphone with stirring enthusiasm. 

p2474 Desert Song Morris 430The indefatigable Morris Stuart is back in town, rehearsing with the choirs he founded – Asante Sana (a seasonal Alice Springs choir since 2006) and the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir (brought together from the various community choirs) – and orchestrating a packed program for the Desert Song Festival, which was launched at The Residency last night.
Billed as “10 glorious days of music in Central Australia”, for the first time this year it adds visual art to its  celebration of “diversity”.
This is the exhibition Ananguku Ara, a cross-cultural collaboration between Barbara Stuart and Emma Stuart – wife and daughter of Morris and both of whom have exhibited previously in Alice –  and Alison Anderson (yes, the senior Luritja woman and  former Territory MLA) and Wei Luan, a Chinese-born Canadian muralist and portrait painter.
The shows opens at the Art Shed in Crispe Street on 25 August  and will be accompanied by workshops, talks, field trips and more.
p2474 Desert Song together 430The music gets underway in Friday 8 September with free events and a parade in the mall and on the Flynn Church lawns. It culminates 10 days later, Sunday 17 September, with its open air a cappella performance at Ormiston Gorge.
In between there will be multiple events at venues around the town, from the Watertank Cafe and the Stuart Town Gaol to the main stage at the Araluen, featuring local artists  and choirs as well as interstate guests, including Poco Tutti, the 20-strong ensemble from the Adelaide-Based Tutti Choir, an inclusive choir open to disabled and non-disabled singers.
The festival’s artist-in-residence, Quetzal Guerrero, is an electric violinist originally from Los Angeles, now based in Sydney. He’s described as “a prodigious genre-hopping artist” whose music reflects his Mexican/Brazilian and Native American roots.
Five years ago this festival began with four events promoted on the back of a postcard. This year’s program, as Morris Stuart, pointed out at last night’s launch runs to 12 crowded pages – much to look forward to.

– Kieran Finnane

Below: The Jacksons, a strings duo recently gracing local events, played in the Scottish folk tradition at the program launch.
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Below: Nicholas Williams (centre), son of Warren H., adds the strength of his musical heritage to the women’s choir. They are just back from a  performance at the Melbourne Film Festival, where they earned a standing ovation at the premiere of the documentary  film about their story, The Song Keepers.

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