Sunday, January 13, 2013

From White to Black: Visible Seven

[It is] of no use to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a great feeling all over Australia against the introduction of coloured persons. It goes without saying that we do not like to talk about it, but it is so.                (John Forrest, Premier Western Australia ca. 1900)

My art teacher as a youngster was one of India’s most famous painters, Frank Wesley.  He was married to an Australian woman and we were aware that they intended to move to Australia and settle permanently.  But the date for their departure came and went. More than once. It was then that I heard my parents and others mutter about something called the ‘White Australia policy’ which had banned or made immigration to Australia for non-European persons exceedingly difficult. 
Eventually, in the early 70’s Mr. Wesley was granted a visa, around the same time that the racist policy was finally and completely done away with.  Australia, today, is one of the most cosmopolitan, ethically diverse countries on earth. In the last few years South Asians became the largest immigrant community, finally knocking off the Brits and the Chinese.   Mr Wesley, who lived his final years in Queensland and passed away about 10 years ago, would have loved that!

When I first arrived in Australia I loved the international flavor of the country but was struck by just how rare it was to spot an African.  Every once in a while you might catch a glimpse of a Somali or Sudanese refugee woman shopping in the Asian markets in the western suburbs but generally, Africans were notable for their minute numbers in modern Australia.
That too has changed. Large numbers of Sudanese and Somali refugees have arrived steadily over the last 15 years, as have immigrants from all parts of the Continent.  I have three women friends who are married to Ghanians and Rwandans. So things continue to improve.
But politicians still love to sound like their century-old predecessors. Despite Australia’s marvelously diverse immigration regime, anti-asylum seeker/refugee policy and rhetoric fill the headlines and political debates.  Like America and guns, Australia and refugees are a national scandal.
The Visible Mentorship Program has been run by the government of Victoria since 2005 and was established to link African refugee/migrant musicians with local artists and music producers.  Over the years, some of the city’s and State’s most popular acts, like the Black Jesus Experience and Diafrix, have been able to find audiences, produce CDs and earn a living thanks to the support of the Visible program.  
The program, while still focused on newly arrived Africans, has expanded to include musicians from other parts of the world, such as the Pacific, Timor Leste and even Latin America. 
The collection in the spotlight tonight belongs to the latest graduating class of the Visible Program and besides some far out Ethio-jazz, Congolese gospel rumba and Sudanese rap, includes excellent folk from Tibet and sweet harmonies from Timor Leste.  

This collection makes you proud to be Australian. Despite the shameful politicians and their scandalous fear baiting.

Track Listing:
  1. Alsemi Geba Belew  [Bitsat Seyoum]
  2. Aha Gedawo [J-Azmaris]
  3. Hacia El Amor [Acucochi]
  4. The Echo of Burundi in Victoria [The Burundian Drummers]
  5. Yemegemriaye [Sinit Tsegay]
  6. Africa [M.Wol]
  7. Better Future [Macc-Too (feat. 1/6)]
  8. Open Your Eyes [Markle Gotti]
  9. Get Up and Live [Ras Jahknow]
  10. Jigeen [Kairo]
  11. Give Freedom a Go [Mystic Trio]
  12. All the Way [Aminata Doumbia]
  13. Hallelujah [Anhessa Gebrehiwot]
  14. Ayubu [Jerusalem Gospel Rumba]
  15. Phayul Dreniu [Tenzing Yeshi]

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